14 / Sheep

Sheep were first introduced – unsuccessfully – to New Zealand by James Cook in 1769. Missionaries also brought sheep here in the early 1800s, but the first real flock was established on Mana Island, near Wellington, in 1834. At first New Zealand’s sheep were farmed mainly for their wool and to supply the local market with meat, but with the introduction of refrigerated shipping in 1882, farmers now had new opportunities. Britons had a huge appetite for imported sheep and lamb, and the animal became central to the New Zealand economy. The most profitable sheep provided the best possible wool as well as the best carcass for freezing, and the demand led to the New Zealand sheep population reaching an all-time high of 70.3 million in mid-1982, leading to the myth that ‘New Zealand has 20 sheep for every person’. New Zealand is currently home to around 31 million sheep.

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