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Does New Zealand Really Have More Sheep Than People

New Zealand is an island nation located to the east of Australia. It has been inhabited since the 13th century and European contact was made in the 17th century. Sheep were first introduced by the British sometime between 1773 and 1777. It is thought that British explorer James Cook brought these animals to New Zealand to feed the whalers operating in the area. Sheep have been farmed in New Zealand since this time, but sheep farming did not become a boom industry until 1856. This boom in the industry saw the number of sheep in the country reach a peak of 70 million animals in 1982. For more than 130 years sheep farming was the single most important industry in New Zealand, but the industry is now in decline due to falling wool prices and other factors.

So are there more sheep than people in New Zealand?
A flock of sheep behind a fence.
It has often been said that there are more sheep in New Zealand than people and, despite the decline in the industry, this is actually a true fact. In 2007 the United Nations recorded the number of sheep in New Zealand at 39 million. The population of New Zealand at this time was about 4.1 million people. This means that there were about 9.5 sheep for every person in the country! The number of sheep has dropped since 2007 (there was an estimated 31.1 million sheep in 2011), but New Zealand still produces about 24 million lambs each year, which means the sheep population remains significantly more than people. This means that New Zealanders will have to put up with sheep jokes for many more years!

Did you know?
There is a country with more sheep than New Zealand. Australia, a friendly neighbor and rival of New Zealand, actually has about 80 million sheep. This means that there is approximately 3.5 sheep per person in Australia. The sheep farming industry in Australia is also in decline, after reaching a peak population of about 170 million sheep in the 1980’s. Other countries with more sheep than New Zealand include: China, India, Iran, Sudan and Nigeria.

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