The Sheep Farming Experience

Sheep farming

The first sheep arrived in New Zealand with Captain Cook in 1779. They died within two days. Sheep were introduced to Northland by Samuel Marsden in 1814, but it was 1834 before the first commercial flock was established, on Mana Island near Cook Strait. From the 1840s, sheep, mainly from Australia, were introduced in considerable numbers and by 1850, sheep farming was firmly established.

Most early sheep were Merinos, farmed almost exclusively for their wool. Wool was ideal for export because it was easy to store and ship on the sailing ships of the time. There was strong overseas demand due to an expanding textile industry.

In 1882 an important event would have a big impact on our sheep industry. This was when our first shipment of refrigerated meat went to London. This opened an important market opportunity. ‘Dual-purpose’ sheep such as the Romney now became dominant in New Zealand. These sheep were bred to efficiently produce both meat and wool. Their wool was much coarser than Merino wool but was ideal for heavier fabrics and carpets.

The early sheep farm development was mainly in the South Island. It came later to the North Island, largely because the extensive forest cover was expensive to clear.

The Wool Shed is a wonderful way to catch up with some basic New Zealand History. See you there?


Commercial aerial top dressing for spreading superphosphate fertiliser began in 1949. This greatly improved land fertility and productivity and helped progress sheep farming, especially in the North Island.

Our country is famously referred to as a place of more sheep than people. This is of course, absolutely correct. New Zealand’s population is around 4.4 million people and there are approximately 30 million sheep – about seven sheep for every person.

Experience the history of sheep farming when you visit The Wool Shed.