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Impacts of climate change on sheep and beef

The effect of climate change on animals will likely depend on the changes that occur in locations with shifting climates and subsequent pasture adaptions.

Pests and diseases that have climate specific preferences may become more prevalent as regions with climates in which they were not previously found become more suitable. For example, facial eczema could become more problematic in the North Island and in areas of the South Island that become warmer.   In western parts of New Zealand where the climate may become warmer and wetter, internal parasite problems may increase.

An increase in heat stress for animals may become more common especially in northern and eastern parts of the country.  

Changed seasonal pasture growth

With changing temperatures and rainfall in most regions over time, it is expected that there will be reduced summer-autumn pasture growth and a substantially increased level of pasture growth in spring. 

This will have management implications for farmers in regards to when home grown feed is available.  Lambing may need to be brought forward and stocking rates made more flexible to align with feed availability.  Feed will need to be stored to meet deficits on the shoulders where they did not occur previously. 

Breeding programs to select for faster lamb growth rate and increased reproductive efficiency would assist farmers to adjust to this changing climate and associated pasture responses.  Another consideration may be out of season lambing. 

Where the land is suited to irrigation, this may be an option for extending pasture growth at key stock growth times.

Variable Feed Supplies

It is expected that an increase in the variability of pasture production between different years will occur, particularly in the Hawke’s Bay.  Farmers will need to become increasingly resilient to this planning well in advance with stock numbers and stored feed.  

Options for the future may involve moving stock between different regions to avoid feed shortages in one region and capitalising on excesses in other regions, or increasing the farm size to reduce the stocking rate per hectare.  Farmers may even consider changing their farming location altogether to retain their preferred farming style rather than having to work within such an unpredictable climate.

Again, breeding programs selecting for faster lamb growth and efficiencies would aid farming in this new environment as would identifying pasture genetics that would grow effectively under climate stresses.  Examples of these might include drought tolerant species or C4 grasses which tend to grow better under warmer conditions in some places.  Precautions must be taken to ensure that these new species are vetted to the stock feed needs in terms of ME rather than solely a focus on DM accessibility.


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