Livestock

This section provides data on the number and density of livestock in New Zealand. 

Cattle, sheep, and deer farming plays an important role in New Zealand’s economy. However, poorly managed livestock and agricultural production can have a major impact on the environment. 

Recreational water bodies can be contaminated with effluent from farm animals. Faecal bacteria from this waste can cause gastrointestinal or respiratory diseases.

Livestock numbers decreased between 2018 and 2019

In 2019, there were 37.8 million livestock in New Zealand, including sheep, dairy cattle, beef cattle and deer (Table 1). Compared to 2018, the total number of livestock has fallen by 1.2%, equivalent to 470,000 animals.

Table 1: Number of livestock, by type, 2018-2019

From 2002 to 2019, the total number of livestock decreased by 25 percent, from 50.9 million to 37.8 million. The number of sheep decreased from 39.6 million in 2002 to 26.8 million in 2019, a decrease by one third. In contrast, the number of dairy cattle increased by 21%, from 5.2 million in 2002 to 6.3 million in 2018 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Number of livestock, by type, 2002-2019

The Manawatū-Whanganui region had the greatest density of livestock in 2019

In 2019, the Manawatū-Whanganui region had the greatest livestock density (264.8 animals per km2) nationwide. The region also possessed the greatest density of sheep (215.6 animals per km2).

As for other types of livestock,

  • The Taranaki region had the highest density of dairy cattle (80.9 per km2)
  • The Hawke’s Bay region had the highest density of beef cattle (31.8 per km2)
  • The Canterbury region had the greatest density of deer (5.6 per km2)

Figure 2: Density of livestock by region (animals per km2)

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 3: 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 km2 (Figure 3). Sheep were the predominant livestock type - with an average density of 103.0 animals per km2.

In 2017, Gore District had the highest density of livestock (684.5 animals per km2), followed by Central Hawke's Bay District (391.3 animals per km2) and Masterton District (390.6 animals per km2).

Figure 4: Number of livestock per square kilometre (total land area), by type, 2017

 

Matamata-Piako District (211.1 dairy cattle per km2), Waipa District (183.4 dairy cattle per km2) and Hauraki District (118.0 dairy cattle per km2) were the Territorial Authorities with the highest density of dairy cattle in 2017.

Figure 5: 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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