Intensive winter grazing

Updated 10 May 2022 to include Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Freshwater) Amendment Regulations 2022.

Good intensive winter grazing practices can reduce nutrient and sediment run-off and help with soil productivity.

Under the new Essential Freshwater regulations, you can practise intensive winter grazing as a Permitted Activity under the following conditions:

Cows in paddock

If you can’t meet these requirements, intensive winter grazing will require a certified Freshwater Farm Plan or resource consent. Any increase in the land area used for intensive winter grazing above that used between 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019 automatically requires resource consent.

Before 1 May 2022, you will need to comply with any rules relating to farming land use consents, discharge to waterbodies or stock exclusion in the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP).

There may also be zone-specific restrictions that you need to consider.

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.

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 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.

Current consents and Farm Environment Plans

From 1 November 2022, you will need to meet the requirements of the new Essential Freshwater regulations or obtain a new intensive winter grazing consent, even if you currently have a Farm Environment Plan.

We’ll provide further information on consents and how they will work with current processes and frameworks as soon as information is available.

Certified Freshwater Farm Plans

The standards and process for Freshwater Farm Plans and intensive winter grazing are being developed nationally. We’ll provide more information on this soon. In the meantime, the Essential Freshwater requirements must be met.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the new Essential Freshwater regulations for intensive winter grazing contact your zone’s Land Management Advisor.

More information

Other rules relating to intensive winter grazing

We have strict land-use rules throughout Canterbury requiring farmers to manage a range of environmental issues, including those caused by intensive winter grazing.

Stock exclusion from beds of rivers, lakes and wetlands

Cattle and deer that are break-fed on winter feed crops, pigs and all dairy cows cannot access the bed of a river, lake or wetland without resource consent. The rules also prevent other stock from causing pugging or sediment loss to water where there is a change in water quality or clarity. 

Find out more about stock exclusion rules.

There are also sensitive areas such as freshwater bathing sites, drinking water protection zones and īnanga (whitebait) spawning sites that all cattle, deer and pigs are prohibited from accessing.

There may also be zone-specific restrictions, so it is best to double-check the rules that apply to your farm.

Discharges of sediment or drainage water 

In addition to your consent and FEP requirements, no farmer is permitted to allow the discharge of sediment and other contaminants into waterways.

There are several good management practices that can be used to manage the risk of sediment discharge into waterways.

Farming land use consents

Nutrient rules require all farmers to implement good management practices on their farms. Some farmers require a farming land use consent and a Farm Environment Plan that needs to be regularly audited if their intensive winter grazing area exceeds plan limits.

Find out what rules apply to your farm - view zone-specific rules and information.

Farm Environment Plans (FEP)

The best way to better manage nutrient loss from your current farming system is to prepare an intensive winter grazing plan as part of your Farm Environment Plan.

It’s expected that you plan well ahead for where and how you're going to carry out intensive winter grazing on your farm. This is to ensure any environmental risks are identified and managed to industry-agreed Good Management Practices (GMP). 

Having something documented will give others, whether it is an FEP Auditor or a compliance officer, greater confidence that you have planned sufficiently for the season. It also helps with your own planning, management and making sure you've thought about every aspect of your intensive winter grazing. It can be as simple as completing a template, such as this one from DairyNZ, or including a basic plan within your existing FEP.

Get in touch with us or your farm advisor if you need assistance. You can also read our winter forage crop grazing and wet weather management guidelines for FEP auditors (PDF File, 1.38MB).

Good Management Practices for intensive winter grazing

Here are some ways to protect soil structure and reduce the leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways on your farm.

  • What's your plan for bad weather? Having practical bad weather mitigations must be part of planning your winter feed management. For example, what will you do to stop soil damage and increased run-off entering waterways during storm events?
  • Paddock selection for winter is crucial – it's best to choose paddocks away from waterways and wet areas prone to pugging to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient run-off.
  • When planting the crop, leave grass buffer strips around critical source areas, such as gullies and swales, where the run-off collects and flows out of the paddock.
  • Have a good look at the landscape and ensure there are larger buffers around the waterways. This can really help reduce sediment and nutrient loss into waterways.
  • Graze strategically by protecting any critical source areas. Leave them in the pasture or graze last, when it is dry, if they need to be grazed at all.
  • It's also a good idea to back-fence stock off the land that has already been grazed, to even further reduce run-off. Strategic grazing and careful management of critical source areas can reduce losses of sediment and phosphorous (P) by 80–90%.
  • In wet conditions, practice on/off grazing to minimise pugging damage to the soil and distribute nutrients from dung and urine more widely.
  • Plant a cool tolerant follow-up crop, such as oats or rye, as soon as possible after grazing. This can soak up nutrients from the soil, rather than them being leached if the paddock is left fallow.

Find out more about industry-agreed Good Management Practices.

What’s an annual forage crop?
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 type of crop should I resow?

Resow is an important aspect of intensive winter grazing and can significantly reduce the risk of soil erosion and nutrient leaching from the paddock.

There are no rules around the type of crop to be replanted under the new Essential Freshwater regulations, as it can depend on soil type, climate and what the replanted crop is used for.

Industry bodies such as DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb can provide helpful guidance around replanting.

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