New Zealand has millions and millions of sheep. Visitors can’t help but notice this as sheep are everywhere in the country. Sheep have a very important history and purpose in New Zealand so let’s talk about sheep!
The first time sheep were brought to New Zealand by Captain Cook on his boat in 1773. In the 1850s and 60s, the number of immigrants increased exponentially, people cleared forests for farms. Sheep, were well suited to New Zealand’s green grass and mild climates and so their numbers also exploded.
Initially sheep were mainly farmed for their wool but once refrigeration was invented frozen meat could be sent all over the world. The first shipment of frozen lamb left Dunedin in 1882 bound for England. Nearly all lamb produced in New Zealand was exported to England and this contributed significantly to New Zealand being called “Britain’s farmyard”. Frozen sheep meat made New Zealand wealthy and at its height there were more than 70 million sheep in New Zealand, compared to just over 3 million people! Although almost all our lamb went overseas, many New Zealanders couldn’t afford it and grew up eating mutton, older, tougher and cheaper sheep meat.
Then, in the mid-1970s Britain joined the European Union, and almost overnight the bottom fell out of the market. New Zealand set about finding other markets, most notable the middle-east and growing the number of dairy and beef farms. Now there are less than 30 million sheep, about 10 million cows and almost 5 million people!