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Canterbury lamb gives way to dairy

7 May 2019

Canterbury has seen a 42 percent increase in livestock per hectare in the past 15 years, though Waikato and Taranaki are the most intensively farmed regions, Stats NZ said today.

The rise in livestock intensity reflects both an increase in stock units in the Canterbury region, and a significant fall in the amount of land used for livestock in Canterbury since 2003.

“There are more animals on less pastoral or grazing land,” agricultural production statistics manager Stuart Pitts said.

Text alternative for map, Change in stock density per hectare between 2003 and 2018, by regional council.

Canterbury had the equivalent of 7.8 stock units per hectare in 2018, compared with 5.5 per hectare in 2003, indicating the increase in the land’s productivity. In 2018, Canterbury had about 15.3 million stock units, up 8 percent from 14.2 million in 2003.

(A stock unit is based on the annual feed needed for a 55kg ewe rearing a single lamb. A dairy cow is the equivalent of about seven ewes, so is counted as seven stock units, compared with just one stock unit for a ewe.)

Over the same period, the amount of pastoral grassland and tussock country in Canterbury declined from 2.6 million hectares to about 2 million hectares.

“Traditionally Canterbury has been known as a sheep farming region but this livestock mix has changed. There are far fewer sheep and many more dairy cows in Canterbury than 15 years ago,” Mr Pitts said.

In 2018, there were about 4.4 million sheep in Canterbury – nearly half the 8 million sheep that were there in 2003.

In 2018, there were about 1.3 million dairy cattle in Canterbury – more than double the 560,000 dairy cattle there in 2003.

“Canterbury’s dairy cattle increase has been supported by an increase in irrigation,” Mr Pitts said.

Irrigated land in Canterbury increased to 478,000 hectares in 2017 (the last year irrigation data was collected), almost double the area that was irrigated in 2002. The Canterbury region accounted for almost two-thirds of all irrigated land in New Zealand during the year ending June 2017. (See the irrigated land indicator.)

Waikato and Taranaki are the most intensively farmed regions, both had 13.7 stock units per hectare in 2018.

Text alternative for map, Stock density in 2018, by regional council.

While Canterbury and some other regions in the South Island have seen more intensive farming of animals, the stock density in some North Island regions has fallen since 2003.

The biggest fall in stock units per hectare was in the Auckland region, down 25 percent. While the amount of pastoral land has declined, the number of stock units has declined even more.

The other notable decline was in the Hawke’s Bay region, with a 20 percent fall in stock units per hectare between 2003 and 2018. Stock units in the region fell about 2 million to 5.3 million in the period.

“These falls in stocking density may reflect improved animal performance as farmers are now able to produce more from fewer animals,” Mr Pitts said.

“For example, lambing rates have improved steadily over time, so farmers can get the same number of lambs with fewer ewes. Milk yields for dairy cows have also gone up.”

Sheep and dairy numbers declined in some regions in 2018

The dairy milking herd changed little from 2017, down 1 percent or 33,000 cattle. There are now 5 million cows that were either in milk or calf as at June 2018. The number of dairy cattle nationally was down 2.2 percent on the previous year, now about 6.4 million.

Waikato remains the region with the most dairy cattle (1.8 million, down 3 percent from 2017), followed by Canterbury (1.3 million, up 1 percent).

Nationally, beef cattle numbers were up 3 percent from 2017 at about 3.7 million.

Manawatu-Wanganui has the most beef cattle (554,000, down 2 percent), closely followed by Waikato (517,000, up 6 percent), and Canterbury (512,000, up 10 percent).

Nationally, the sheep flock remained relatively steady at about 27.3 million in 2018, down 1 percent on 2017.

The regions with the most sheep – Manawatu-Wanganui (5.1 million, unchanged from 2017) and Otago (4.9 million, up 8 percent) – helped offset a slight dip in Canterbury (4.4 million, down 1 percent).

For more information about these statistics:
• Visit Agricultural production statistics: June 2018 (final)


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