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).

Livestock numbers drop from 2017 to 2018

In 2018, there were 38.3 million livestock in New Zealand, including sheep, dairy cattle, beef cattle and deer (Table 1). Compared to 2017, the total number of livestock decreased by about 0.7 percent (almost 250,000 animals).

Table 1: Number of livestock, by type, 2017-2018

From 2002 to 2018, the total number of livestock decreased by 25 percent, from 50.9 million to 38.3 million. The number of sheep decreased from 39.6 million in 2002 to 27.3 million in 2018, a decrease by one third. In contrast, the number of dairy cattle increased by almost a quarter, from 5.2 million in 2002 to 6.4 million in 2018 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of livestock, by type, 2002-2018

Increase in dairy cattle numbers in many regions

Dairy cattle farming can have negative effects on water supply levels as well as water quality.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of dairy cattle increased substantially, especially in the South Island in Canterbury (73.3 percent), Southland (57.4 percent) and Otago (53 percent) (Figure 2). In the North Island, the regions with the largest increase were Gisborne (19.2 percent), Manawatu-Wanganui (17.7 percent) and Waikato (12.1 percent).

Figure 2: Number of dairy cattle by region, 2007, 2012 and 2017

Livestock density by territorial authority

Livestock density gives an indication of the number of livestock per total land area. The measure does not account for the amount of agricultural land, so should be interpreted with caution. 

In 2017, New Zealand had an average livestock density of 144.4 animals per square kilometre (Figure 3). Sheep were the predominant livestock type - with an average density of 103.0 animals per square kilometre.

In 2017, Gore District had the highest density of livestock (684.5 animals per square kilometre), followed by Central Hawke's Bay District (391.3 animals per square kilometre) and Masterton District (390.6 animals per square kilometre).

Figure 3: Number of livestock per square kilometre (total land area), by type, 2017


Matamata-Piako District (211.1 dairy cattle per square kilometre), Waipa District (183.4 dairy cattle per square kilometre) and Hauraki District (118.0 dairy cattle per square kilometre) were the Territorial Authorities with the highest density of dairy cattle in 2017.

Figure 4: Number of dairy cattle per square kilometre (total land area), 2017

Information about the data

Livestock numbers

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

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