In this paper, we consider whether ‘intensification’ of pastoral land use is always the problem behind environmental impacts in Australasian pasture-based livestock systems, as is often assumed, or whether it can sometimes be a solution. We consider changes in land use, as well as intensification of current land use, using insights from the application of a process-based model of environment-soil-plant-animal interactions to a range of scenarios. The New Zealand dairy industry provides a good case study here because both land use change and intensification (defined as using more inputs to increase production from the same unit of land) have occurred during industry development over the last 2-3 decades. The individual effects of expansion and intensification are often conflated, which introduces confusion and the risk of mis-identifying the true nature of the problem. Conclusions from empirical research in both dairy and sheep/beef systems in New Zealand and Australia are presented alongside the model analysis to explore how the critical principles translate through practice into changes in environmental states.