Change in livestock numbers

  • Image, Livestock numbers.

    Livestock farming is a widespread land use in New Zealand and contributes to our economy. High livestock numbers and the distribution of livestock across land environments can affect indigenous biodiversity and soil health (eg compaction). High livestock numbers and density in some land environments can also affect water quality, as nitrogen and bacteria from urine and faeces can leach into groundwater or run off the land into rivers and lakes.

    We measure changes in the numbers of farmed livestock (eg beef and dairy cattle, deer, and sheep), and map the distribution of farmed livestock across regions in New Zealand.

    We classified Change in livestock numbers as a national indicator.

    Key findings

    Increasing trend in the number of dairy cattle and total cattle 
    Decreasing trend in the number of beef cattle, sheep, and deer

     

    The total number of dairy cattle increased 68.6 percent, from 3.84 million in 1994 to 6.47 million in 2017. However, from 2012 this increase slowed to 0.45 percent (up 28,826 in 2017 from 6.45 million in 2012). The rate of decline in sheep, deer, and beef cattle numbers has also slowed in recent years.

    • New Zealand farmed 27.37 million sheep, 10.08 million cattle (3.61 million beef cattle and 6.47 million dairy cattle), and 0.85 million deer in 2017.
    • Between 2012 and 2017: 
      • total sheep numbers were down 12.45 percent (3.89 million)
      • deer numbers were down 19.91 percent (211,180)
      • beef numbers were down 3.40 percent (126,841)
      • dairy cattle numbers were up 0.45 percent (28,826).

    Regional changes between 2012 and 2016:

    • Waikato (1,855,170) and Canterbury (1,271, 057) had the most dairy cattle in 2016. Parts of these regions, and parts of Taranaki, also had the highest densities of cattle numbers across New Zealand (see figure 1).
    • Dairy cattle increased in Canterbury (up 5.90 percent), Waikato (up 1.24 percent) and Southland (up 5.7 percent) between 2012 and 2016, while they were down in Taranaki by 8.08 percent for the same period.
    • Manawatu-Wanganui had a 10.20 percent decrease in sheep numbers between 2012 and 2016, but is still the region with the most sheep (5,040,174) in 2016.
    Figure 1
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    Figure 2

    Figure 3 

     Note: Livestock numbers by region for 2017 were not available when we prepared this report.

    Figure 4

    Note: Livestock numbers by region for 2017 were not available when we prepared this report.

    Figure 5

    Note: Livestock numbers by region for 2017 were not available when we prepared this report.

    Figure 6

    Note: Livestock numbers by region for 2017 were not available when we prepared this report.

    Figure 7

    Note: Livestock numbers by region for 2017 were not available when we prepared this report.

    Definition and methodology

    Livestock numbers come from the agricultural production censuses and surveys conducted by Stats NZ with the Ministry for Primary Industries. The population of the census and survey is all businesses registered for goods and services tax (GST threshold is $60,000 from 2010; between 2002 and 2010 the threshold was $40,000) and classified by Stats NZ’s Business Frame as being engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or exotic forestry operations. Annually, approximately 30,000 of the total 70,000 businesses involved in agricultural, horticultural, or forestry production are selected to participate in the survey, with a census every five years. Farms report the number of livestock on the farm, and count all livestock for primary and any secondary farm activities. Farm area (extent) includes run-offs, all other land that is part of the farm, and any land leased from others.

    We present livestock numbers data back to 1994; however, we advise caution when interpreting trends as the census and survey changed their questionnaire design and farm coverage between 1994 and 2002 and there were breaks in time series. Between 1994 and 1996, the census and survey population included businesses registered for GST (threshold was $30,000) and recorded on Stats NZ's Business Frame as being engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or forestry. This population potentially covered smaller farming units than the current census and survey. No agricultural survey was conducted in 1997 and 1998. The survey population in the 1999 survey was AgriQuality New Zealand's national database, AgriBase. Agribase covered all units recorded as holding livestock and/or engaging in grain/arable cropping. In 2002, the population changed back to Stats NZ’s Business Frame.

    Note that 2004–17 deer figures are not directly comparable with those from 2002 and 2003 due to an undercount in deer numbers of about 70,000 deer at 30 June 2002, and 50,000 at 30 June 2003.

    The 2017 national figures are provisional.

    Data quality 

    Relevance

    Image, Direct relevance. This national indicator is a direct measure of the 'Resource use and management, and other human activities' topic.

    Accuracy

    Image, High accuracy. The accuracy of the data source is of high quality. 

    See Data quality for more detail.

    Archived versions

    See Livestock numbers (archived April 2018)

    See Livestock numbers (archived April 2017)

    Updated 19 April 2018

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