BeefNZ Homepage
Sire Selector
BeefNZ Photo Gallery


Pervious Page  RESEARCH
Commercial Beef Cattle in New Zealand

Paul L. Charteris
Institute of Veterinary, Animal & Biomedical Sciences,
Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

The composition of the national beef cattle herd has implications for various participants in the beef industry including commercial beef cattle farmers, (availability of cattle by breed, age and sex), processors (since carcass and meat quality attributes differ between breed-types) and registered breeders (via demand for breeding bulls). This document outlines the status of the major beef cattle breeds in New Zealand.

Each beef cattle breed has strengths and weaknesses for traits depending on the production and marketing circumstances in question. The composition of the national beef herd provides an indication of the ability of the beef industry to meet the demands of current and future beef markets.

The last major beef cattle breed survey was undertaken in New Zealand in 1987 by Statistics New Zealand, some results of which are shown in Figure One. Cattle classified as unspecified arose from farms in which breed was not specified by the farmer. Included in this survey are 4.80 million beef cattle represented by 1.39 million beef breeding cows and 1.95 million steers and non-breeding bulls. Over all classes of cattle, the predominant breeds were Angus (23%), followed by Angus x Hereford (14%) and Hereford (13%). Within identified breeds, 16.6% of cattle were of dairy or beef x dairy breeds, the majority being Friesian (10.7%). Of cattle identified as dairy and dairy-cross the majority (68%) were steers or non-breeding bulls.

Predominant Beef Cattle Breeds

Figure Two shows the predominant beef cattle breeds on 500 survey farms in the National Sheep and Beef Farm Survey in 1992-1993 conducted by the Meat and Wool Board's Economic Service (NZMWBES). The breed representations should be used as a guide only to composition within the commercial beef cattle farming sector in New Zealand. The predominant breeds (across all classes of cattle) were similar to that of the 1987 survey, namely Angus, Angus x Hereford and Hereford, comprising 21.9, 13.5 and 12.5% of cattle on the sample farms. Friesian cattle comprised 10.9% of beef cattle, similar to that in the 1987 survey (10.7% of all cattle). A large proportion (35.4%) were classified as mixed.

Treating cattle classified as "mixed" and cattle of specified crosses together as "crossbred" from the 1992-1993 NZMWBES survey gave a total of 50% of cattle being crossbred. From the 1987 survey, a total of 32% of cattle would be classified as crossbred. The results suggest an increased proportion of crossbred cattle in New Zealand over the period 1987-1992/93. Care should be taken however in interpretation of the results since the survey's differed greatly in terms of sample size and method of reporting breeds.

Table One shows the number and percentage of beef breeding cows aged over two years, classified by breed. In terms of numbers, the predominant breeds were: Angus, Angus x Hereford and Hereford cows with 28.7 18.5 and 17.8% of cows respectively. Thus, the majority of beef cows are of British breeds.

Within the 1.1 million cows for which a breed or breed-cross was specified in the 1987 survey, about 67% were straightbred, suggesting approximately two-thirds of breeding cows were not themselves benefiting from heterosis -termed maternal heterosis. Furthermore, the production of 344,000 and 173,000 straightbred Angus and Hereford steers and non-breeding bulls, respectively suggest the immediate opportunity to increase the use of crossbreeding in the commercial beef cattle industry.

Angus and Hereford cattle and their crosses remain a central feature of the national beef cattle herd. In terms of proportion of total cattle, both the 1987 survey and the 1992-1993 survey reveal that Angus and Hereford and their crosses are the predominant beef cattle breeds in New Zealand. Comparing the census figures from 1987 with the 1992 NZMWBES results, the proportion of crossbred cattle appears to have increased from 32% to nearer 50%. However, we will have to wait for the 1997 census for a more definitive picture of beef cattle breeds in New Zealand.

Table One: Number and percentage of cows over two years of age, bred from as at 30 June 1987 (Statistics New Zealand 1987)

Breed Beef Cows
Number Percentage
400 990
Angus x Hereford
258 587
261 330
254 519
37 102
30 698
Friesian x Hereford
24 261
110 340
1 395 903

Manawatu Beef Packers Data

Data was obtained from Manawatu Beef Packers, AFFCO Feilding. A total of 48,300 steers were represented. Predominant breed of steers were: Angus, Angus-cross, Hereford, Hereford x Friesian and Simmental-cross, as shown in Figure Three. On a percentage basis, breed of steers slaughtered at Manawatu Beef Packers in 1994-1995 approximated breed composition from the 1987 census and 1992-1993 NZMWBES survey.

Predominant breed of steers at Manawatu Beef Packers

Care should be taken however when comparing Manawatu Beef Packers data with that from national surveys since cattle slaughtered at Feilding arise from a relatively small catchment area, in addition there may be breed misidentification of cattle at slaughter.

Table Two: Steers slaughtered at Manawatu Beef Packers (1994-1995) classified by breed-type and breed

Breed Number of steers processed
13 853
10 239
4 462
2 225
Other British breeds and their crosses
1 990
Total British breeds and their crosses
32 859
3 405
1 069
Other Continental breeds and their crosses
Total Continental breeds and their crosses
5 840
Hereford x Friesian
4 092
2 077
1 058
Other dairy breeds and their crosses
Total dairy breeds and their crosses
7 467

Major beef cattle and breeds of cattle are shown in Table Two. From Manawatu Beef Packers data, 68% of steers slaughtered were identified as British breeds or their crosses, 15% were Dairy breeds and their crosses and 12% were of Continental breeds and their crosses. The remaining 5% were either mixed (4%) or bos indicus (1%). Of steers and non-breeding bulls included in the 1987 survey 60% were British breeds and their crosses, 36% were Dairy breeds and their crosses and 4% were Continental breeds and their crosses. Manawatu Beef Packers data is from steers alone, whereas the 1987 survey included non-breeding bulls.

Differences exist between breeds for carcass and meat quality traits. In order to meet Asian beef market requirements, meat pH, meat colour and fat colour are important criteria. At Manawatu Beef Packers, carcasses which meet the quality requirements of seafreight must have a fat colour and meat colour of 5 or less (meat colour and fat colour being measured on a 1 to 7 scale with 1 being more desirable) and a meat pH the next working day following slaughter of 5.8 or less. From Manawatu Beef Packers data (1994-1995) a higher proportion of carcasses from Angus, Continental and British x Continental breed steers were of seafreight quality than steers of Dairy or Dairy x British breeding. The percentage of steers meeting seafreight quality criteria are shown in Table Three.

From Manawatu Beef Packers data it was found that farm management factors such as stock handling and nutrition had a greater effect on variation in meat quality attributes than breed choice alone. Coat colour was a poor predictor of meat quality and should not be used as a selection criterion in any breeding programme aimed at improving meat quality.

Table Three: Percentage of steers processed at Manawatu Beef Packers (1994-1995)meeting seafreight quality criteria for different breeds

Breed or breed cross Percentage of steers of seafreight quality
South Devon and cross
Murray Grey
Hereford -cross
Hereford x Friesian

The Registered Sector

Industry statistics presented so-far have been for cattle from predominantly commercial beef cattle herds. Cattle arising from registered herds are purebred (through requirements of registration). Numbers of beef breeding cows within registered herds is shown in Table Four. Breeding cows were chosen as a basis of comparison between Breed Societies since different Breed Societies have different registration requirements for bulls and heifers.

In terms of registered dams, there are more Hereford cows (including both Horned and Polled cattle) than Angus cattle, the reverse being true in commercial beef cattle industry statistics. Hereford breeders sell a large proportion of yearling bulls to dairy farmers, each bull being kept for usually one mating season. This high turnover of bulls requires a large number of breeders to maintain a bull supply.

Table Four: Number of registered cows by breed for the major beef cattle breeds in New Zealand

Breed Number of registered dams As a percentage of registered dams
20 000
18 000
8 400
South Devon
4 200
3 000
3 000
2 500
Murray Grey
2 200
3 400
64 750

The number of cows registered by breed is indicative of the role of breeds within New Zealand's beef cattle breeding industry, breeds such as the Simmental, Charolais and Limousin are preferred as terminal sire breeds, most progeny of these bulls would be slaughtered. Thus, in self-replacing breeding cow herds, surplus cows not required to generate replacements would be mated to a terminal sire-breed bull. The market for terminal sire-breed bulls is thus limited by the number of commercial farmers selling all progeny of cow and buying in female replacements and the number of large self-replacing herds for with adequate numbers of surplus cows to mate to terminal sire bulls. In contrast, a larger market exists for bulls of British breeds where heifer progeny may be retained for rebreeding and surplus female progeny sold.

Funding for Breedplan Research and Extension Support is provided by the Meat Research and Development Council (MRDC)

BeefNZ Websites are designed and hosted by BeefNZ
New Zealand Charolais Cattle  Society

BeefNZ Breeders are our VIP Clients
Massey Agriculture

Top of Page
  Massey University
E-Mail comments to Webmaster Pages © Massey University 2006.
This site was designed by
Matt Alexander