This section provides data on the number and density of livestock (sheep, dairy cattle, beef cattle, deer) in New Zealand.
Livestock play an important role in the New Zealand economy. But poorly managed livestock production can have a major impact on the environment.
Water contaminated with faecal matter from animals or humans can cause water-related illnesses (such as gastrointestinal illnesses).
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In 2016, there were 38.6 million livestock in New Zealand, including sheep, dairy cattle, beef cattle and deer (Table 1). Compared to 2015, the total number of livestock decreased by almost 4 percent (1.5 million).
From 2002 to 2016, the total number of livestock decreased by 24 percent, from 50.9 million to 38.6 million. The number of sheep decreased from 39.6 million in 2002 to 27.6 million in 2016, a decrease by almost one third. In contrast, the number of dairy cattle increased by over one quarter, from 5.2 million in 2002 to 6.6 million in 2016 (Figure 1).
Dairy cattle farming can have negative effects on water supply levels as well as water quality.
Between 2002 and 2012, the number of dairy cattle increased substantially, especially in the South Island in Canterbury (121 percent), Southland (88 percent) and Otago (64 percent) (Figure 2). In the North Island, the regions with the largest increase were Gisborne (37 percent), Manawatu-Wanganui (15 percent) and Waikato (10 percent). Auckland was the region with the largest decrease in dairy cattle numbers (22 percent).
Livestock density gives an indication of the number of livestock per total land area. The measure does not account for amount of agricultural land, so should be interpreted with caution.
In 2012, New Zealand had an average livestock density of 160 animals per square kilometre (Figure 3). Sheep were the predominant livestock type - with an average density of 118 animals per square kilometre.
In 2012, Gore District had the highest density of livestock (724 animals per square kilometre), followed by Central Hawke's Bay District (485 animals per square kilometre) and Tararua District (414 animals per square kilometre).
Figure 3: Number of livestock per square kilometre (total land area), by type, 2012
Matamata-Piako District (208 dairy cattle per square kilometre), Waipa District (180 dairy cattle per square kilometre) and Ashburton District (70 dairy cattle per square kilometre) were the Territorial Authorities with the highest density of dairy cattle in 2012.
Figure 4: Number of dairy cattle per square kilometre (total land area), 2012
Information about the data
Source: Statistics New Zealand - New Zealand Annual Agricultural Production Surveys, and five-yearly Agricultural Production Censuses. For more information, visit the Statistics New Zealand Agricultural Production Statistics webpage.