WELLINGTON, May 22, 2023 (AFP) – New Zealand’s sheep outnumber people by fewer than five to one, official figures showed Monday, clipping their lead over humans to the lowest level since the 1850s.
New Zealanders have far fewer of the woolly grazers than their Australian rivals, said the government body Stats NZ, despite frequently being the butt of their sheep jokes.
The national flock fell by 400,000 sheep — or two percent — to 25.3 million in June 2022, said New Zealand’s newly released five-yearly census of agricultural production.
“The ratio of sheep to people dropped below five to one in 2022, for the first time since the 1850s, when national sheep numbers were first recorded,” said Stats NZ analyst Jason Attewell.
“In 1982 New Zealand sheep numbers famously sat at 22 per person,” he added.
“Australia currently has three times as many sheep as New Zealand, though their ratio is only around three sheep to every Aussie.”
New Zealand, home to 5.2 million people, is one of the world’s main wool exporters, last year sending US$284 million worth overseas.
But rising farming costs and falling wool prices have seen national sheep figures dwindle from a high of 72 million in the 1980s.