March 5, 2012

0137 NEW ZEALAND - Sheep farming

The first European who reached New Zealand was Abel Tasman in 1642, but the islands weren't visited again until 1769, when James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Captain Cook was also the one who brought the first sheep in New Zealand, in 1773, 41 years before that the first Christian missionary to set foot on the shores of the North Island. Wool was New Zealand’s major agricultural export during the late 19th century, and even in 1960s it made up over a third of all export revenues. Since then, its price has steadily dropped relative to other commodities and wool is no longer profitable for many farmers. Thereby the sheep population decreased from 70 million in 1982 to about 32 million in today, which mean that however the number of sheep in New Zealand is 8 times greater than the number of inhabitants.

The intensive raising of sheep is well organized in New Zealand. Grazing areas are divided into fenced plots, with parcels scientific established, in relation with estimated production and the flock to be entered. The sheep aren't milked, and the production is on the zones. On the lowlands bordering the coast, where is more rain and the vegetation is richer, are bred sheep for lean meat and strong wool (Romney breed), in the hilly area are bred sheep for medium wool (moderately soft) and meat (Corriedale breed), and in the mountains, where rainfall is scarce and vegetation is poor, are bred sheep for fine wool (Merino breed). Concerning the reproduction and the selection, is practiced harem system, in a flock of selected sheep being introduced a single ram. Theoretically, the number of females can reach 240, but in practice this number is lower.

Related to the shearing, I have to remember that The New Zealand Farmers Federation, a rural lobby group, claims that sheep shearing it should be included in the Olympics. In this country shearing is recognised as a sport by SPARC, the government's Sport and Recreation Council. In fact the world's first (since 1961) and most prestigious sheep shearing event is the Golden Shears Championship, which is held in March each year in Masterton, Wairarapa region. Since 1977 there is even a shearing World Championships, hosted by different countries every 2–3 years. The first Machine-Shearing winner was Roger Cox (New Zealand), and his conational, David Fagan, is the most successful competition sheep shearer, setting 10 world records and winning 5 world, 6 world team, and 16 national titles. 

With such importance to New Zealander, the sheep couldn't miss in the popular culture. For exemple there are a large number of sheep jokes, some take differences in the accent into account or using "ewe-phemisms". As befitting the trans-Tasman rivalry, Australians tell said jokes about New Zealanders, and New Zealanders tell them about Australians, even at the highest diplomatic level. During the 1980s, then Prime Minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon was asked about the increasing exodus of New Zealanders leaving the country to work in Australia. His comment was that by doing so, they were raising the average IQ of both countries.

Probably the most famous New Zealander sheep is Shrek, who came to public attention in 2004, when he was found in a mountain cave in southern New Zealand, after in 1998 he has wandered from the flock. Shrek, a Merino wether, had five times more wool than a ordinary sheep (27 kg) and his shearing was broadcast live on national television. After becoming famous, the wether has walked around the country, winning $ 16,000 at each occurrence, and in May 2004 he was taken to parliament to meet the New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark. He was euthanized on 6 June 2011 on the advice of a veterinary surgeon, because he was very old (17 years) and sick.

Of course that the sheep meat is an important element of New Zealand cuisine, even if the foods aren't necessarily specific to this country, such as slow cooked lamb shoulder with caramelized onion sauce and mashed Kumara (sweet potato so popular in New Zealand), lamb chops with eggplant, peas and miso or lamb fillets in blood with orange and fennel salad.

About the stamps
First stamp on the left is part of Scenic Definitives set, issued on May 9, 2007, and containing 7 stamps:
Whakarewarewa, Rotorua (0.05 NZD)
Central Otago (0.10 NZD) - it’s on the postcard
Rainbow Falls, Northland (0.20 NZD)
Lake Coleridge, Canterbury (0.50 NZD)
Rangitoto Island, Auckland (1.00 NZD)
Abel Tasman National Park (2.50 NZD)
Tongaporutu, Taranaki (3.00 NZD)

The second and the third ones are part of KiwiStamp Set (non-denominated stamps), issued on 2011 and containing 5 stamps. The last stamp is one of two “heart health” 60 cent stamps designed by New Zealand Post, which is a supporting sponsor of the Heart Foundation.

Sheep farming in New Zealand - Wikipedia
Sheep shearing - Wikipedia
Golden Shears - Wikipedia
Shrek (sheep) - Wikipedia

sender: Lee / Gordonsmummy (postcrossing)
sent from Tauranga (North Island / New Zealand), on 14.02.2012

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