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Intensive Winter Grazing

Winter is a critical period to ensure good condition of cows and sheep. We are working with farmers to support good practice.

What is intensive winter grazing?

Under the National Environmental Standards Freshwater (NES-F), intensive winter grazing is grazing livestock (including sheep) on an annual forage crop at any time in the period that begins on 1 May and ends on 30 September of the same year.

An annual forage crop is a crop, other than pasture, that is grazed in the place where it is grown. Annual ryegrass is a pasture, so isn’t considered an annual forage crop.

What are the regulations?

The Government’s September 2020 Essential Freshwater Regulations include new rules about winter grazing of animals (including sheep).

In April 2022 the Government announced the final Intensive Winter Grazing regulations, after some changes to the original regulations from feedback received.

The regulations come into effect from November 2022, therefore apply to the grazing of winter crops in 2023.

Your intensive winter grazing must meet (or plan to meet once your intensive winter grazing activity starts) all the following requirements from 1 November 2022.

If you can’t meet these requirements, you will require a certified Freshwater Farm Plan (once available)  or to have applied for a resource consent by 1 May 2023.

Permitted Activity Requirements

Land area

Land area used for intensive winter grazing must meet both of the following conditions:

  •  The area used for intensive winter grazing must not exceed 50ha or 10% of the farm, whichever is greater.
  •  The total area used for intensive winter grazing must be no greater than the maximum area used for intensive winter grazing in any single season between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 (reference period).

If you can’t meet either of these requirements, you will require resource consent.


  • Land with a maximum slope of less than 10 degrees (as defined above) may be used for intensive winter grazing activities, subject to satisfying other conditions.
  • Intensive winter grazing on land with a slope of more than 10 degrees will need either a resource consent or certified freshwater farm plan.


  • You are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to minimise the effects of pugging on freshwater.

Distance from waterways

  • Livestock must be kept at least 5m from the bed of any river, lake, wetland, or drain, regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time. An exception to this rule applies to subsurface drains, where the 5m distance requirement does not apply.

Find out more about stock exclusion rules.


  • You are required to establish vegetation as ground cover as soon as practicable after grazing.

Critical source areas

  • Anyone undertaking intensive winter grazing activities must protect critical source areas. All critical source areas:
    – must be left ungrazed;
    – must have vegetation as ground cover; and
    – must not be used to grow forage crops.

Any expansion of winter grazing beyond what was done in hectares over the reference period (2014-2019) requires consent.

We are working closely with farmers to encourage best practices in winter grazing, ahead of the new regulations coming into effect next year.


Do I need a consent?

Landowners who do not meet the permitted activity standards detailed above, or who want to expand their winter grazing area beyond what was grazed between 2014-2019, are required to apply for a discretionary activity consent with strict conditions.

Anyone who is unsure if they need a consent is encouraged to get in touch with our Consents Team. We can also email or post you the resource consent application form.

What is the IWG farm module?

On 27 April the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment released the 2021/22 Intensive Winter Grazing Module.

The new module includes an easy-to-use template for farmers who don’t already have a written plan for their winter grazing.

It provides solutions farmers can take to mitigate the effects of grazing livestock on fodder crops during the winter months.

The four key steps that you as a farmer can take: plan, do, check, reflect and review.

Plan – you need to have a winter management plan now
Do – during the winter, if things are not going to plan, change your plan
Check – check your plan as the season progresses, and ask for help if you need
Reflect and Review – It’s important to look back on what went well and what didn’t

Cows eating winter crops 4

The Ministry for the Environments Intensive Winter Grazing Factsheet can be found here.

Good winter practice

  • supports good animal health and welfare
  • minimises contaminant loss to the environment
  • complies with Hawke's Bay Regional Council regulations
  • protects valuable topsoil
  • complements the overall dairy system and the work of the team on farm.

This guide has tips on managing paddock selection, overland flow, cultivation and strategic crop grazing.


More information and wintering resources can found at: and 

Concerned about winter grazing practices?

If you are worried about winter grazing practices you can call:

  • 0800 FARMING supported by industry and councils and provides an opportunity for the community to give feedback.
  • MPI’s animal welfare hotline 0800 00 83 33 

Cows eating winter crops


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