Log in



Sustainable farming - what livestock to keep and how many

In a nutshell


  • This question is of greatest concern to small lifestyle farmers.
  • There is such a wide choice of species - some of which do not have their feeding needs well established.
  • The interaction between species is important, especially in relation to internal parasites that can affect more than the one species.
  • Then there is the question of what classes of stock to keep within each species.
  • Fencing and water supply must be considered.
  • Soil type and drainage is also an important point to consider.  Livestock do not like mud, especially those prone to feet problems like sheep and goats.

How can you tell if you have a problem?

  • Stock that are always looking thin and ill thrifty.
  • Dead stock visible around the farm.
  • Stock that are always breaking out due to hunger.
  • High death rates especially in winter and spring.
  • High veterinary costs.
  • Poor reproductive performance - eg low lambing and calving percentage.
  • Stock that will not finish for slaughter.
  • Stock that are always scouring and are full of internal parasites.
  • Sheep that grow poor wool showing fibre break, yellowing and cotts.
  • Low liveweights at critical times of year, eg. mating.
  • Low quality milk.
  • Emergency sales of capital stock.
  • Low prices for store stock sold.
  • High culling rates of all classes of stock, not just the old ones.
  • Pastures that pug severely in winter.
  • Pastures that are permanently overgrazed.
  • Hill slopes that are eroding and slips appearing after heavy rain.
  • Fence lines that collapse.
  • Drain edges that fall in.
  • Stock crossings that get bigger as the banks erode.
  • Waterways that are always coloured with sediment.
  • Fences that are badly designed for stock movement and cause soil and pasture damage.

How can you tell if you're doing well?

  • Stock that always look healthy.
  • No dead stock on the farm.
  • Stock that are always well fed and contented.
  • Low death rates especially in winter and spring.
  • Low veterinary costs.
  • Good performance from the stock judged by high lambing and calving percentages, good growth and good slaughter weights.
  • High quality milk all year round.
  • High fleece weights of good quality wool.
  • Stock at optimal weight and in good condition at critical times, eg mating.
  • No emergency sales of capital stock.
  • Store stock offered for sale in good condition and not ill thrifty.
  • No erosion especially on steep slopes.
  • Waterways that run clear, even after heavy rain.
  • A well fenced property with gates in places that do not cause erosion or pasture damage.

What can you do to improve things?

  • Get some help from a consultant to check how many stock the farm should carry.
  • This should be the "winter carrying capacity" for the farm in "livestock units" or "ewe equivalents".
  • Take note of what species of farm animals are kept in your area, and the class of stock run on farms similar to yours.
  • Do regular feed budgeting and feed monitoring on the farm.
  • Have a complete review of the soils on the farm, and their fertiliser requirement.
  • Check that your soils are suitable for the stock run on the farm.
  • Have a special grazing programme for areas prone to slips.
  • Fence off vulnerable areas and plant them with trees (preferably native species).
  • Place gates and crossings in strategic and safe places.
  • Employ experienced stock persons and encourage training.
  • Keep a regular track on the weather for your area and be prepared for variations.
  • Be vigilant in periods of bad weather - heavy rain, floods and snow storms.

Where can you go for help?


  • Regional Councils
  • County Councils
  • Federated Farmers of NZ
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Department of Conservation


Go to top

Sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Get all the latest news along with practical tips and expert advice.