Does New Zealand Have Twenty Two Times More Sheep Than People?
The oft-quoted statistic, that New Zealand has 22 sheep for each human, is wrong! Nowadays it’s only about 7 to 1. Sheep numbers have gradually declined since the mid-1980s, due to factors such as depressed wool prices, droughts in the 1990s, and competition from other land-intensive farming activities (e.g. dairy and forestry).
From the early 1980s, when New Zealand was home to over 70 million sheep, the population has declined to around 31 million (2013 data). While sheep numbers stabilized and even grew slightly in the mid-2000s, numbers soon decreased again, reaching the low of 31.1 million in 2011. This means that the sheep-to-person ratio has fallen to a third of its level 25 years ago. It now stands at a little over seven sheep per person. This myth is busted. The information is now out of date.
However, it is still true that people in New Zealand are greatly outnumbered by sheep, and there sheep-to-person ratio is high relative to other countries. It’s twice as high as Australia’s, for example, which currently has less than five sheep per person. As with New Zealand, this is due to declining sheep numbers and a growing human population. The number of sheep in Australia fell 40.7 million between 1994 and 2006, while the human population grew 2.7 million.
New Zealanders have also long been outnumbered by cattle, although not to the same extent as by sheep. There are currently 6.2 million dairy and 3.9 million beef cattle in New Zealand. While the cattle population is growing at a slower rate than the human population, there has been a notable shift in the make-up of the cattle population. In 1994, 43.2 percent of cattle were dairy cattle. By 2011, that proportion had increased to 61.40 percent.