The sheep population has dropped and the dairy cow population has climbed according to Statistics NZ’s latest animal production survey.
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.
The increase in dairy cows was one of the reasons the sheep population dropped – down 5 percent on 2008 to 32.4 million in 2009. that’s below the peak of 70 million reached in 1982.
The beef cattle population at 4.1 million was similar to the previous year and the 1.2 million deer was 6% fewer.
If you divide the human population by that of farm animals we’d all have just under 8 sheep, a dairy cow, a beef cattle beast and 1/4 of a deer each.
It’s only a couple of decades ago that a design-a-tee-shirt- contest was won by one with the slogan: NZ, we’re “ewenique”, 60 million sheep can’t be wrong.
But New Zealand’s not the only country with a declining number of sheep. In Australia drought and conversion to cropping have led to a big drop in the ovine population. It was about 120 million in 1997, now it’s around 70 million.