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Red meat and wool

$12.1 billion

annual export earnings (updated Dec annually)


average workforce


in core production



What is the red meat and wool sector?

Red meat and wool includes sheep, beef and deer farming, beef, sheep and venison processing and wholesaling, shearing, scouring, wool and hide processing and textile manufacture.

This information expands on and interprets our data visualisation for all sectors, which can be filtered by sector and parts of it, like processing or production.

How many work in red meat and wool?

Data for year ending 31 March 2022.
Data for year ending 31 March 2022.
Designation Count
Core production 46,183
Core processing/manufacturing 24,375
Strongly connected 5,292
Relevant 396
Total 75,996

Designation workforce counts won't necessarily sum to the total - some people may work in more than one designation. The total indicates the overall unique average number of people who work in the sector. 

Seasonal change: Workforce over a year

Our data visualisations show average workforce counts across a year for the red meat and wool sector.

Roles and skill levels

MPI and NZIER's report 'The food and fibre workforce: Data on its size and composition' from June 2022 sets out the proportion of managers, semi-autonomous and managed staff in the red meat and wool sector.

Core production

Sheep, beef, goat and deer farming

Beef + Lamb New Zealand told us most farmers are owner-operators with some full year workers, and part-year workers from October to March. The owner-operator model means a high percentage of managers. Most farm workers are semi-autonomous, with high skill levels.


Shearing can be a full-time job if you follow the seasons in New Zealand and overseas. How much work depends on how often farmers shear – once, twice a year or every eight months. A typical shearing gang for a 750 hectare property is four shearers and a presser.

A wool handler or head shearer manages the wool shed operation and a shearing contractor arranges jobs and employs the shearing gang.

New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association provided these workforce role and skill estimates. Most shearing gangs are managed, but their skill level is high.

Core processing/manufacturing

Red meat

New Zealand processes most meat in Canterbury, Waikato and Southland.

In 2019, there were 45 meat processors spread across the country. Work is seasonal. Season length depends on weather conditions like rainfall and drought.

Processors broadly classify workers as entry level, medium skill and high skill. We’ve grouped medium skill and high skill as semi-autonomous and entry level as managed.

Around half the workforce is semi-autonomous and relatively highly skilled.

Wool scouring

Wool scouring removes excess moisture and contaminants like grease from raw wool. Other wool is shipped offshore or to specialist operators like Icebreaker for wool clothing.

Most wool scouring happens in Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay. Over half the workforce is managed, but specialists and managers make up a relatively high proportion, reflecting the specialism needed.

Wool manufacture

Wool manufacturers develop and make wool products, from textiles and yarns to high end residential and commercial interiors.

Around a third of the workforce are managers – a high proportion reflecting many small businesses.

Strongly connected

Wool brokering

Wool brokers buy wool and sell it at auction or privately. Roles in wool brokering include wool salespeople, store operations, store staff and part-year workers. Around a third of the workforce are managers.

Wool exporting

Wool exporters tend to work in teams. A manager trades, wool buyers secure product, shipping clerks arrange logistics and administrators ensure the work happens smoothly. Staff have some autonomy, but it is a highly directive operation. A large proportion of managers (over half) reflects small business size.

Private wool merchants

Private wool merchants trade nearly half of New Zealand's wool. They're usually small local firms in niche positions, buying direct from growers and competing with wool brokers. Managers make up around a quarter of their workforce.

Wool testing

Wool testers independently certify the wool trade, guaranteeing wool quality and quantity – tested wool tends to sell for higher prices. Testers give specific information to customers, facilitating trade by bringing certainty.

Most wool testing staff are managed.

Video: Meat your career

Businesses included in the red meat and wool sector

Core production

Sheep farming (specialised)
Beef cattle farming (specialised)
Beef cattle feedlots (specialised)
Sheep-beef cattle farming
Grain-sheep or grain-beef cattle farming
Deer farming
Shearing services

Core processing/manufacturing

Meat processing
Wool scouring
Natural textile manufacturing
Leather tanning, fur dressing and leather product manufacturing

Strongly connected

Cured meat and smallgoods manufacturing
Textile floor covering manufacturing
Wool wholesaling
Meat, poultry and smallgoods wholesaling


Cut and sewn textile product manufacturing