A NSW Government website

Extensive Livestock

Extensive Livestock in NSW

In NSW, livestock grazing occurs on approximately 41 million hectares, ~78% of the total area of NSW1. NSW is home to 20% of Australian cattle and 37% of Australian sheep2, producing almost a third (32%) of Australian lamb and almost a quarter (22%) of Australian beef and veal3. The livestock sector employs over 50,000 people directly in NSW2. In total, livestock commodities produced in NSW are valued at over $5 billion4.

From a climate perspective, the livestock sector is affected by changing climate conditions through impacts on both pasture production and animal health.

Current Climate Impact Trends


Climate change is already having an impact on pastures in NSW. In the NSW slopes and tablelands regions, average temperatures were higher and average rainfall lower between 2000 and 2009 observed a 20-40% decrease in pasture production between 1991-2007 compared to 1961-1990 in western NSW. While eastern regions have been less affected and some areas have even experienced a 5-20% increase in pasture production over the same period of time, soil water has reduced across most of NSW by 5-40%6.


Livestock are affected by climate change through changing temperature conditions. An increase in the number of heat stress days and consecutive heat stress days has been noted in parts of NSW. The overall impacts of changing temperature conditions are difficult to decipher as improved genetics and production systems have also taken place in recent years, potentially offsetting some of the impacts of rising temperatures to date. An important question is whether these improvements can continue to keep pace with changing climate conditions in the future.

Future Climate Change

Climate change projections suggest that the livestock sector will continue to be pressured by further increases in temperature, changes in rainfall and increasingly frequent extreme events such as droughts, extreme heat, and intense rainfall events. Under all emissions scenarios for 2030, temperatures for southern and eastern Australia are expected to increase and rainfall is expected to decrease, particularly winter rainfall7. This can affect livestock and pastures directly as well as influencing the prevalence of pests and diseases.

Vulnerability Assessment

The NSW DPI Climate Change Research Strategy is working to develop a comparable analysis of climate change impacts for a range of key primary industries across NSW. For extensive livestock, the Vulnerability Assessment project is analysing climate change impacts for sheep, cattle, high rainfall zone pastures, rangelands and the mixed cropping zone. In addition, the project is also analysing climate change impacts on related pests and diseases such as blow flies and Culicoides (the vector for blue tongue disease) as well as pasture-impacting weeds such as serrated tussock.

This work will help to provide a picture of potential climate change impacts to the livestock sector across NSW, looking ahead to 2050. It is intended that this work will help identify adaptation needs and priorities that can guide research and development activities over the next 30 years to increase resilience of this critical sector to a changing climate.

Livestock commodities

The Vulnerability Assessment project will analyse the impacts of climate change for the following pastures and livestock:

  • High rainfall zone pastures
  • Rangeland pastures
  • Mixed cropping zone pastures
  • Sheep (Merino)
  • Cattle

Livestock Biosecurity Risks

The Vulnerability Assessment project will also analyse the impacts of climate change on the following livestock parasites and invasive weeds:

Livestock parasites

  • Culicoides biting midge (Culicoides brevitarsis (vector for Blue Tongue disease))
  • Cattle tick (Rhipicephalus microplus)
  • Blowfly (Lucilia cuprina)
  • Buffalo Fly (Haematobia exigua)
  • Barbers Pole Worm (Haemonchus contortus)

Invasive Weeds

  • Parthenium weed (Parthenium hysterophorus)
  • Serrated Tussock (Nassella trichotoma)


1 ABS. (2018). 7121.0 - Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2017-18. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accessed from: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/7121.02017-18?OpenDocument

2 Ernst & Young 2018.  State of the industry report 2018: the Australian red meat and livestock industry. Meat and Livestock Australia. Available at:  https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/prices--markets/documents/soti2018.pdf

3 MLA 2019. The red meat industry. Meat and Livestock Australia. Available at: https://www.mla.com.au/about-mla/the-red-meat-industry/

4 ABARE 2019b. Beef farms. Australian Government, Department of Agriculture. Available at: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/Pages/Beef.aspx#detailed-debt-and-equity-findings

5 RIRDC n.d. Southern Livestock Adaptation 2030. New South Wales. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. Available at: http://sla2030.net.au/producer-locations/new-south-wales/

6 McKeon, G.M., Stone, G., Syktus, J., Carter, J., Flood, N., Ahrens, D., Bruget, D., Chilcott, C., Cobon, D., and Cowley, R. (2009) Climate change impacts on northern Australian rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues. The Rangeland Journal 31(1), 1-29.

7 CSIRO 2016. Climate change in Australia; Projections for Australia’s NRM regions. Available at: https://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/en/climate-projections/future-climate/regional-climate-change-explorer/super-clusters/?current=SSC&popup=true&tooltip=true