A NA­TION OF SHEEP KEEP­ERS

Element - - Primary Industry -

The Žrst 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 Žbres and a shift to ex­port­ing sheep meat rather than wool.

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