Selection for high levels of prolificacy has allowed substantial improvements in the production efficiency of New Zealand (NZ) sheep farms, but the consequences on ewe lifetime performance are mostly unknown. In this study, the relationship between the level of prolificacy early in ewes’ productive lives and their probability to survive later (i.e. stayability) was evaluated in two contrasting NZ flock environments. Records were obtained from 6605 ewes from four ram breeder flocks representing either a moderate (n=2) or a highly variable (n=2) nutritional environment. All ewes lambed for the first time at 2 years of age and were mated the following year. The number of lambs born during the first 2 years of productive life (NLB2–3) was used as a measure of early prolificacy. Effects of NLB2–3 on stayability to 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old were analysed using logistic regression. Curvilinear effects (logit-transformed) were detected (P<0.05) until stayability to 6 years and to 8 years old in the highly variable and the moderate environment, respectively. The NLB2–3 that resulted in maximum expected stayability to various ages was 3.9 to 4.2, and 4.5 to 4.7 lambs in the highly variable and in the moderate flock environments, respectively. In addition, ewe stayability was reduced when the proportion of the litter that survived from birth to weaning (i.e. ewe rearing ability) was submaximal during the early productive life. High prolific ewes had a low rearing ability whatever the environment whereas the rearing ability of lowly prolific ewes was apparently more sensitive to the nutritional environment. The poor maternal performance of ewes with low levels of NLB2–3 led to a premature culling by breeders whereas the high early reproductive effort associated with high levels of NLB2–3 seemed to be at the cost of ewes’ survival, even in the moderate flock environment. In conclusion, the flock environment influenced the level of early prolificacy beyond which ewe longevity was reduced. It is suggested that further selection for high and early prolificacy in NZ flocks is likely to impair ewes’ lifetime productivity.