China has a massive sheep population with an estimated 250 million strong flock. This is the fourth time in recent years that Australian livestock exporter Wellard Group has been tasked with sourcing sheep for the country.
“Our clients in China have a breeding program and want to access Australian genetics to speed up the genetic development of their breeding program,” said Wellard’s Middle East general manager Harold Sealy.
The buyer of the specialist Australian ewes is believed to be a private group based in the Shangxi province, around 500km from China’s capital Beijing. The sheep will be used to bulk up China’s flock, and integrated into an advanced breeding programme to develop livestock that are more resistant to animal disease. Some of them will also be used for meat production in China.
On why the genetics of Australian sheep are so sought after by meat producers in China, Sealy added: “Australia is a source of high-performance genetics and, from a country that is free of major livestock diseases, our sheep tend to perform well in the Chinese breeding environment.”
As the sheep sent to China are a “speciality airfreight consignments of high-value breeding stock”, it’s unlikely that it will help Australia export bulk quantities of sheep to China in the future, said Sealy.
Since 2015, China’s imports of sheep meat and live animals have dipped as increased domestic production has been able to adequately cover China’s appetite for lamb. In the first half of last year, imports of Australian-bred sheep fell by 22% to 43,500 tonnes, according to data from UK levy board AHDB Beef & Lamb.