A Brief History of Sheep (in New Zealand).
Sheep still out number people in New Zealand, but not quite so dramatically as they once did. The total sheep population is now estimated at 29 million, with the human population at roughly 4.5 million. In 1982, at the height of the sheep boom, there were 70.3 million sheep in New Zealand to only 3.18 million people. Since the 1980’s Sheep numbers have steadily reduced, mainly as there has been an increase in non-sheep related land use. Cows, grapes and trees now use a lot of the land that was once the domain of sheep. Farmers are essentially businesses people, so with low wool prices on offer many farmers have looked for alternative and more profitable land uses.
As far as Europeans are concerned it all started back on the 13th of December 1642 when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed into Golden Bay, but was frightened off by the Maori and never went ashore. Apparently there was a bit of a fracas and Tasman decided not to become a casserole.
127 years later in October 1769 the English Navigator, Captain James Cook landed at Poverty Bay and set about mapping the islands. On a later Voyage to New Zealand Cook took along a few sheep, however these did not last long. It wasn’t until the 1840’s that sheep were imported to New Zealand in significant numbers. It started with Merino’s from Australia, which were then crossbred with British breeds to create longer fibre suitable for worsted cloth. Roll on to today and New Zealand still has lots of white fluffy sheep, The main breed being Romney (almost half) with Perendales, Coopworth and Corriedale making up much of the remainder. The vast majority of New Zealand sheep have a white fleece, which has been purposely bred for interior textiles. Merino sheep make up about 5% of the population. These are perfect for producing fine wool for apparel and tend to thrive in the South Island’s high country. New Zealand wool is of course, awesome. Each sheep produces about 5.4kg each of fluffy wool. There is still well over 100 million kilograms of wool available. Wool is however a tiny fraction of Earth’s textile fibre produced each year which is estimated at 85.5 million tons. New Zealand wool although approximately 11% of global wool production is less than 0.2% of global fibre production. We have a very niche fibre, which is reserved for very special products.