Livestock numbers

  • Image, Livestock numbers.

    Archived 19 April 2018

    Livestock numbers reflect changes in the number of farmed beef and dairy cattle, deer, and sheep across New Zealand. Livestock farming is a widespread land use in this country and contributes to our economy. High livestock numbers can affect native biodiversity and soil health. High livestock numbers can also impact on water quality because nitrogen and bacteria from urine and faeces can leach into groundwater or run off the land into rivers and lakes.

    We classified Livestock numbers as a national indicator.

    Key findings

     Increasing trend in dairy cattle and total cattle

     Decreasing trend in beef cattle, sheep, and deer

    Dairy cattle increased 68.9 percent, from 3.84 million in 1994 to 6.49 million in 2015.

    • New Zealand farmed around 29.1 million sheep, 10.0 million cattle (6.5 million for dairy), and 0.9 million deer in 2015.
    • In 2015, Waikato had the highest number of dairy cattle (1,761,949), followed by Canterbury (1,253,993), Southland (731,209), and Taranaki (541,931). 
    • Dairy cattle numbers increased 539 percent (616,831) in Southland, 490 percent (1,041,501) in Canterbury, and 368 percent (302,806) in Otago between 1994 and 2015.

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    Figure 2

    Note: The current version of the Agricultural Production Survey started in 2002. Before 2002, questionnaire design, coverage, and collection method varied, and the survey was conducted only in certain years. Numbers before 2002 are shown as a dotted line to give an indication of change in livestock numbers; however the data are not suitable for inclusion in time-series analysis. The current survey population (from 2002) includes businesses registered for goods and service tax.

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    Definition and methodology

    Livestock numbers come from the Agricultural Production Census (APS) and Agricultural Production Survey conducted by Stats NZ with the Ministry for Primary Industries. The population of the current (as of 2002) census and survey is all those people or 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 full census every five years.

    We present data back to 1994; however, caution is advised when interpreting results because the APS changed its questionnaire design and farm coverage between 1994 and 2002.  Between 1994 and 1996, the APS population included businesses registered for GST and recorded on Stats NZ's Business Frame as being engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or forestry.  This population covered smaller farming units than the current APS. 

    No agricultural survey was conducted in 1997 and 1998. The APS population in the 1999 iteration 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 was changed back to Stats NZ’s Business Frame with the higher $60,000 GST threshold.

    Note that 2004–15 deer figures are not directly comparable with those from 2002 and 2003. Statistics NZ estimates an undercount of about 70,000 deer at 30 June 2002, and 50,000 at 30 June 2003.

    Figure 1 presents livestock numbers as far back as 1972 to provide historical context only. Before 1994, the population for the agricultural production surveys was businesses recorded on Stats NZ's Business Directory that engaged in horticulture, cropping, livestock farming, or exotic forestry operations.

    Data quality 

    Topic Classification   Relevance Accuracy 
     Resource use and management, and other human activities  National indicator



    See Data quality information for more detail.


    Statistics NZ (2015). Agricultural production statistics: June 2015 (final). Retrieved from

    Archived versions

    See Livestock numbers (archived April 2017)

    Updated 27 April 2017

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