Sheep station

Sheep station

A sheep station is a large property (station, the equivalent of a ranch) in Australia or New Zealand whose main activity is the raising of sheep for their wool and meat. In Australia, sheep stations are usually in the south-east or south-west of the country. In New Zealand the Merinos are usually in the high country of the South Island. These properties may be thousands of square kilometres in size and run low stocking rates to be able to sustainably provide enough feed and water for the stock.

In Australia, the owner of a sheep station is called a grazier; or formerly, a squatter, as in Waltzing Matilda.

In the Australian and New Zealand context, shearing involves an annual muster of sheep to be shorn, and the shearing shed and shearers' quarters are an important part of the station. A station usually also includes a homestead, adjacent sheds, windmills, dams, silos and in many cases a landing strip available for use by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other light aircraft. Some of these items have regional variants, usually to deal with climate extremes.

Similarly, where the climate and vegetation allow, especially north of the dog fence, cattle stations are similar but run beef cattle rather than sheep. Some properties are not exclusively sheep or cattle stations but may have a mix of cattle, sheep, cropping and even goats which makes the owner less vulnerable to changes in wool or beef prices.

Walter Peak, is a famous old sheep station that was founded in 1860 on the south Shore of Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand. It is 8 miles from Queenstown and 40 minutes steaming time on the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship.

Language use

The term generally used by agricultural and environmental professionals for sheep station forms of landholding is rangeland, but is not in general use by Australians. The term ranch is rarely, if ever, used. The term sheep run was also commonly used during the early settlement period to describe sheep stations operated by squatters.

For administrative purposes, many stations exist on pastoral leases, but in state government jurisdictions they are increasingly known as stations.

The word station is also a traditional Australian English term to denote a large and/or important landholding for any agricultural purpose.

The term Playing for sheep stations is used to denote a large or serious game.


Two well-known ninteenth century authors have written about life on a sheep station:

  • Lady Barker Station Life in New Zealand and Station Amusements in New Zealand.
  • Samuel Butler A First Year in the Canterbury Settlement and his novel Erewhon.

See also


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