Around 250,000 more dairy cattle are grazing New Zealand paddocks than in mid-2010, but sheep numbers have dropped by over a million, figures show.

Partly driven by higher milk solid payouts, the country now has more than six million dairy cattle, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Dairy cattle numbers increased by 259,000 in the year ended 30 June 2011, with most of the increase in the South Island, according to the annual Agriculture Production Survey.

"The North Island regions tend to be mature dairy farming areas and so have small annual increases, agricultural statistics manager Hamish Hill said.


"It is in the South Island regions that we are seeing the big increases, particularly in Canterbury."

Sheep numbers continue to fall, declining from 32.6 million in 2010 to 31.1 million in 2011.

Hill said the drop could partly be put down to bad weather, which affected the number of lambs born.

Lower numbers for beef cattle and deer in the year could be explained by higher prices for beef and venison, meaning farmers sent more stock for slaughter.

The area planted in kiwifruit between the two survey years (ending 30 June 2009 and 2011) dropped only two per cent, despite Psa disease.

"During this period, the biggest kiwifruit region of Bay of Plenty had little change in the area grown, even though the region was affected by Psa and conversions to other farming activities such as grazing," Hill said.

The 2011 Agricultural Production Survey is a sample survey of information from farmers and foresters.