A NATION OF SHEEP KEEPERS
The rst sheep in New Zealand were set ashore by Captain James Cook on 22 May 1773. He dropped a couple of merinos off in Sheep’s Cove in the Marlborough Sounds. They dropped dead within 24 hours. Later, in 1814, Samuel Marsden introduced merinos into his mission station in Waimate North and major shipments of sheep begin in 1834. Farmers soon discovered the Merinos were better suited to the dry high country of the South Island rather than the wetter North Island. Later British immigrants brought other breeds of sheep with them, and the industry took shape. Wool became New Zealand’s main export earner from the 1850s until the start of the 20th century, and produced almost 90 per cent of total export income in 1860. Between 1971 and 1989 wool export prices outstripped the accelerating prices in other commodities, rising by more than 800 per cent. The number of sheep peaked in 1982 at 70 million, with earnings topping out around $1.8 billion in 1989. Since then wool has fallen in importance, with the rise of synthetic bres and a shift to exporting sheep meat rather than wool.