Land-use change, including forestry conversions, is continuing to impact livestock numbers in New Zealand, according to a study by Beef and Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).

The B+LNZ stock number survey, which provides an assessment of the country’s sheep flock and beef cattle herd, shows the breeding ewe flock dropped by almost 1% this year.

This followed a 5.2% reduction in breeding ewes last year.

“The breeding flock is the key indicator of the future flock size,” Julian Ashby, B+LNZ chief insight officer, said.

“It’s trending down and is expected to continue to decline. One of the contributing factors is land-use change.

“The amount of sheep and beef farmland being converted to forestry, along with the cumulative impact of a range of other policies on farm viability, is concerning,” he said.


An updated analysis of land-use change from pastoral farming to large-scale forestry, recently published by B+LNZ, showed that more than 200,000ha of sheep and beef farms had been sold into forestry in the last five years.

The group estimates that there will be a further 88,000ha of new planting in 2023.

Ashby believes that this rapid conversion rate is now being reflected in livestock numbers.

“We have been saying for some time that there needs to be specific limits on the amount of forestry that can be used to offset fossil fuel emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).”

“B+LNZ is not anti-forestry, we know many farmers are interested in integrating trees into their farms, but there must be some balance.”

B+LNZ noted that the forecast for lambing is expected to slightly increase this spring which will be good news for farmers and exporters.

Meanwhile, the total number of beef cattle on June 30, 2023 in New Zealand was estimated at 3.81 million, which is down 2.4% when compared to last year.

The number of breeding cows and heifers increased 1.1%, with the South Island, mostly, leading the increase.

Breeding cow numbers lifted as farmers chose to reduce weaner and trading cattle numbers

The number of beef cattle weaners decreased 3.2% overall, but Southland farms bucked the trend and replenished weaner numbers by over 20% following two years of dry conditions.