The 2018-19 cow census shows that while total numbers have remained relatively stable, New Zealand's cows are producing more milk than ever before.
The latest New Zealand Dairy Statistics released today by DairyNZ and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) revealed farmers' focus on productivity and efficiency was paying off with milk production increasing despite cow numbers stabilising.
New Zealand reached record milk production per herd and per cow this year, with dairy companies processing 21.2 billion litres of milk containing 1.88 billion kilograms of milk solids – both up 2.4 per cent on the previous season.
The latest count showed that New Zealand has 4.946 million milking cows – a decrease of 0.9 per cent from the previous season.
DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said New Zealand's dairy sector was continuing to evolve, and the days of significant cow number growth may be over, as numbers have remained fairly stable over the past five years.
"Farmers have been focusing on improving their environmental management in recent years and they have been doing this while stepping up their on-farm efficiency to produce more milk from fewer cows. More efficient milk production has benefits in areas such as greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient losses".
The report revealed an increased uptake of herd improvement services, as farmers looked for higher performing, healthier and more efficient cows through the use of herd testing and artificial breeding (AB).
LIC chief executive Wayne McNee said this increased investment in herd improvement showed farmers' commitment to better the quality of their herd assets to drive superior sustainability and productivity outcomes.
"New Zealand farmers are farming with improved precision and taking advantage of herd improvement services to produce more with less" said McNee.
A total of 3.67 million cows were herd tested in 2018/19, up 1.6 per cent from the previous season and the highest on record.
The number of cows mated to AB increased by 1 per cent to 3.59 million cows.
The most significant increase was in the number of yearlings mated to AB which jumped up 11 per cent to 230,497 – the highest in the past nine seasons.
Although the sharp increase in the number of yearlings mated to AB showed farmers wanted to maximise genetic gain across the whole herd, it was also likely to have been influenced by Mycoplasma bovis, McNee said.
"Farmers are looking to reduce their farm's biosecurity risks wherever possible, which has seen some farmers choose to extend their artificial breeding period to avoid bringing bulls on-farm for mating".
Mackle said the success of Kiwi dairy farmers had real benefits for New Zealanders.
"The dairy sector employs 46,000 workers and earned New Zealand $18.1 billion in export revenue for the year to June 2019".
Read the full report here.