The last dairy season was the best on record, latest figures from Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and DairyNZ confirm.
The 2011-12 season will go down as the most productive thanks to strong pasture growth, with milk flows rising 11.3 per cent on the previous year.
In other milestones, average production per cow hit a record of 364 kilograms of milk solids, and milk production per hectare hit 1028kg, beating the 1000kg mark for the first time. Waikato had the highest average milk-solids production per hectare in the North Island, at 1057kg.
The figures are posted in 2011-12 New Zealand Dairy Statistics, a report jointly released by LIC, a dairy genetics co-operative company, and DairyNZ, an industry organisation.
Twenty per cent more cows being milked nationwide saw dairy companies process 19.1 billion litres of milk in the year to May 31, 2012, containing 1.69 billion kilograms of milk solids. Total cow numbers increased by 105,500 to 4.6 million, compared to the previous year. The number of herds increased by 63 to 11,798, the fourth consecutive season of small increases. Herds under sharemilking agreements fell to 4034 herds, comprising 34 per cent of the total. Within this, 2218 herds, or 19 per cent of all herds, are run as 50-50 agreements.
The national average herd size grew. In 2011-12 it was 393, up seven cows on the previous season, and more than tripling in the past 30 seasons. The average herd size a decade ago was 271.
The most common herd size is 200 to 249 cows, making up 15 per cent of herds.
Twenty-five per cent of herds have 500 or more cows, compared to only 9 per cent a decade ago, and 10 per cent of all herds now have 750 or more cows.
The North Island average herd size is 327, compared to the South Island average of 596. South Island farms are also, on average, larger than in the North Island and have, on average, higher per-herd production, the report says.
Regional figures show 25 per cent of all dairy cows are in Waikato, followed by 12 per cent in North Canterbury, 11 per cent in Southland, and 10 per cent in Taranaki. It is the first time Southland has overtaken Taranaki in cow numbers.
The trend of crossing holstein-friesians with jerseys continues to increase. The cross makes up 41 per cent of the national herd, compared to 23 per cent a decade ago.
Holstein-friesians have reduced to 40 per cent of the national herd, compared to 54 per cent a decade ago. Across all four breeds, 6-year-old cows are producing more milk solids than any other age group.
Dairy land prices have been relatively steady for the past two seasons, the report says. The weighted average sale price of dairy farms rose 9 per cent in 2011-12 to $4.53 million. The weighted average sale price per hectare of $32,123 was similar to the previous two seasons.
The report sources data from the LIC database, dairy companies, animal evaluation database, Animal Health Board annual report, Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, and Statistics New Zealand.