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Dairy cattle numbers continue to rise
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  09 February 2010

Agricultural Production Statistics: June 2009 (provisional)  –  Media Release

New Zealand's dairy cattle numbers hit a record high in 2009 and there was one milking cow for every New Zealander, Statistics New Zealand said today. Sheep and deer posted lower numbers than in 2008, according to provisional results of the 2009 Agricultural Production Survey. Beef cattle numbers remained stable.

Total dairy cattle numbers hit a record high of 5.8 million in 2009, 4 percent higher than in 2008. Since 1979, numbers in the overall dairy herd have doubled according to the annual survey, which collects information on livestock and arable farming, horticulture, forestry, and selected farming practices, including fertiliser and cultivation.

At 4.6 million, the 2009 milking herd, identified as cows and heifers in milk or in calf, was 250,000 larger than in 2008. This expansion was due to both dairy conversions and growth in the number of milking cows in existing herds. “Increased numbers in the milking herd have resulted in there being one milking cow for every New Zealander", said agriculture statistics manager Gary Dunnet.

Meanwhile, the national sheep flock was down 5 percent on 2008 to 32.4 million in 2009. "Numbers were below half the peak of 70 million reached in 1982", said Mr Dunnet. “In 2009, New Zealand had fewer than eight sheep per person”.

Numbers in the sheep-breeding flock have also declined since the 1980s. In 2009, 23.9 million ewes and ewe hoggets were mated, slightly more than half of the 42.5 million mated in 1989. This fall in the national breeding flock was partly offset by an increase in the lambing percentage.

Beef and deer numbers at 30 June 2009 also posted flat or reduced figures:

  • Beef cattle numbered 4.1 million in 2009, similar to the previous year.
  • Deer numbers were estimated at 1.2 million, 6 percent fewer than the previous year. The deer farming industry has grown in the last thirty years from just 42,000 deer in 1979.

The survey uses a sample of farmers and foresters and was conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. This release contains provisional results on key livestock numbers, arable and horticulture crops, and forestry harvestings and plantings. Final statistics, including those at a regional level, are due for release on 13 May 2010.

A second media release – Harvests increase for wheat, barley, and maize grain – was released on Thursday 18 February 2010.

Geoff Bascand 9 February 2010  
Government Statistician


For media enquiries contact: Gary Dunnet
Wellington 04 931 4600 Email:

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