A record high average lambing percentage in the North Island led to the improved numbers.
There were 11.7 million lambs tailed, up 551,000 or 4.9% on last year. Lambing rate was 128%, up 8.6%, helped by good climate and ewe condition at mating and through lambing. More lambs bred from hoggets also helped the numbers.
Nationally, 23.7m lambs were tailed, up 436,000 or 1.9%. The average lambing was 127.2%, up 4.4% year-on-year and well above the 10-year average of 120.8%, B+LNZ chief economist Andrew Burtt said.
The South Island average rose marginally to 126.4% but total lamb numbers tailed slipped 115,000 or 1% to 12m, mainly because of a fall-off in Southland where fewer ewes were mated, the percentage was lower and fewer hoggets were mated. Lamb survival was also below average in North Canterbury and Marlborough but better than usual in Otago and Southland.
The number of lambs available for export was expected to be 19.27m, similar to the 19.25m last season.
Difficult post-lambing conditions in many areas with excessive rain held back lamb growth, accounting for the expected lower average carcase weights. That meant a change from the initial forecast in early October when it expected a slight increase in total tonnage.
Nationally, the number of breeding ewes at July 1 fell 1.9% to 17.8m compared to a year earlier. The most significant decrease was in Taranaki-Manawatu where very good mutton prices led to higher numbers of older ewes being culled, Burtt said.