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The nation's milking cow population has overtaken the human population - the 4.4 million cows now outnumber the 4.39 million New Zealanders.

Dairy statistics released today by animal genetics company Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) showed that the national herd - up 144,000 animals on the previous season - boosted milkflows to 16.5 billion litres.

This milk contained 1.44 billion kg of milksolids, a 3.3 per cent lift compared to 1.39 billion kg processed in the previous season. The South Island now accounts for 39.3 per cent of total milksolids produced.

The widespread drought in 2009-2010 summer caused a 1 per cent drop in milk production/hectare, to 912 kg, as production per cow dropped by 1.5 per cent in the 2010 season to an average of 318kg milksolids.

The highest average production per dairy herd (280,935kg of milksolids), per hectare (1283kg) and per cow (384kg) were recorded in North Canterbury.

South Island farms have, on average, more than twice the per-herd production than average herds in the North Island, reflecting a combination of larger herd sizes, a higher stocking rate, and high kilograms of milksolids per cow. In the North Island, Hawke's Bay recorded the highest average herd production of 198,202 kilograms of milksolids.

Since 1979/80, total herd numbers have declined at an average rate of 160 herds per year, but for the second consecutive year, the total number of herds in the 2010 season increased by 73 (to 11,691).

At the same time, the average herd size continued to increase: herd sizes in 2010 grew on average by 10 cows, bringing the national herd average to 376. Nearly half (49 per cent) of all herds - 5762 herd - had more than 299 cows, and 3 per cent - 400 herds - had over 1000 cows.

The average herd size has tripled in the last 30 years and increased by more than 100 cows in the past eight years.

The number of farms sold in the wake of widespread recession in consumer markets dropped dramatically 19 per cent lower to $2.6 million, and the average sale price dropped to $31,323/ha.

- NZPA