The Big Picture

NZ Dairy timeline.

Pre 1900


First cows to New Zealand.


First export of cheese from New Zealand.


First dairy cooperative formed in Otago.


The first refrigerated shipment of meat and butter left Dunedin for London.


The first Holstein Friesian cow was imported to the South Island by Canterbury farmer John Grigg.


The Anchor brand was born.


Anchor butter was first exported to Australia and Hong Kong and won a prestigious award at Melbourne’s Centennial International Exhibition.


A Scottish mechanical milking machine was trialled in Mangere.

1900 to WW2

Early 1900s

First milking machines in usage.


Organised herd testing began at the Dalefield Dairy Company, Wairarapa - testing the fat content of milk to stop unscrupulous farmers adding water.


The country’s first lactose factory is built at Edendale, Southland, for the New Zealand Sugar of Milk and Casein Company. A growing market for casein develops, and within a few years 22 factories are producing curd for cheese manufacturing.


The government begins a programme under its Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act to provide potential farming land for 9,500 soldiers returning from WW1.


By the end of WW1, 7600 milking machines had been installed around New Zealand.


New Zealand Dairy Control Board created to market dairy products overseas.


Dairy Research Institute established, the first of New Zealand’s specialised research institutions.


The number of cooperative dairy companies grows to more than 400.


Keeping records of the production from offspring of a cow (progeny testing), and relating this to the bull parent (sire surveying), begins.


Bill Gallagher Senior makes his first electric fence.


Ruakura and Wallaceville research stations set up to help increase animal productivity.



Over 50 percent of New Zealand farms using milking machines. Walk Through predominant dairy type.


Over the next 10 years, some 10,000 ex-servicemen are placed on the land under a Government rehabilitation programme.


Cow population totals 1.7 million.


The British-made Ferguson tractor arrives in New Zealand and revolutionizes many aspects of farming in New Zealand



Introduction of tanker delivery of whole milk from farms to the factory.


Waikato farmer, Ron Sharp develops the herringbone dairy, cutting milking times in half.


New milking machine developed at Ruakura featuring stainless steel and automatic cleaning.


Cooling of milk on-farm is introduced.


Britain agrees to allow the free entry of New Zealand dairy products until 1967.

1960s and 1970s


Cow population totals 2 million.


New Zealand Dairy Board established to market dairy products.


Taranaki farmer, Merv Hicks, develops the first turnstyle dairy, the forerunner to the rotary (14 cow capacity).


The Government introduces a range of subsidies and incentives to encourage diversification of markets.Cow population steady at just over 2 million.


Dairy exports face troubling times as the United Kingdom joins the European Economic Community.


Supplementary Minimum Price scheme (SMPs) introduced to guarantee minimum income for farmers.

1980s and 1990s


More than 80 percent of farms milked through herringbones and average herd size is 130 cows.


Labour government begins phasing out agricultural support and subsidies (SMPs).


Ruakura Milk Harvester developed - many of the features of modern day milking appear on this system.


At the start of the 1990s 7 percent of dairy cows are farmed in the South Island. By 1999 this has risen to 22 percent of the national herd.


The New Zealand Dairy Board is the world’s largest marketing network.


Amalgamations of existing operations means only 12 cooperative dairy companies remain.


The Dairy Board is dissolved with its assets transferred to the ownership of the cooperative dairy companies.


The cow population reaches 3 million with an average herd size of 308 cows.



By 2000 more than 95 percent of the industry is represented by the two largest dairy companies - the Waikato-based New Zealand Dairy Group and Taranaki-based Kiwi Co-operative Dairies.


Dairy Industry deregulated. The two largest dairy companies merge to form Fonterra - the world’s largest dairy exporter.


First cow milked with Automatic Milking System in New Zealand. Dexcel (now DairyNZ) researchers develop new farming method incorporating automatic milking into New Zealand pasture-based farming system.


Cow population almost 4 million.  In 2007, 21 percent of dairies were rotaries - milking up to 800 cows in 2 hours with 2 people. Average herd size 327 cows.


First commercial farms in New Zealand adopt automatic milking - Southland and Canterbury.


Approximately as many cows in New Zealand as there are people (just over 4 million).


New Zealand’s dairy cow population is increasing at a greater rate than the resident human population.  In the year ending June 2011 the total number of NZ dairy cows increased to just over 4.5 million cows, whereas the resident human population was 4,403,000.

The average herd size in New Zealand is 386 (year ending June 2011).


New dairy industry strategy launched focused on competitive and responsible diary farming.

First industry-wide Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord agreed with a commitment to water quality.

Average herd size 402 cows.


New Zealand earns a record $18.1 billion of export revenue from dairy farming as cow numbers reach 4.9 million.

Numbers employed in dairying on-farm and in processing and wholesaling reach 40, 700 employees.

39% of NZ’s cows are now located in the South Island.

200 years since the first dairy cows arrived in NZ.

The Future

Genomic selection for pasture varieties will go hand-in-hand with the genetic identification of the most efficient dairy cow, leading to a leap forward in farm production efficiency.

The dairy industry is continually coming up with innovative ways to use resources more efficiently so that our milk is sustainable. Every innovation that makes it on farms which can lower our environmental footprint gives New Zealand’s milk a competitive edge.

A more coordinated approach to supporting staff training will ensure New Zealand dairy farmers continue to innovate and apply new technologies and maintain their worldwide leadership of pastoral farming

World class research, by scientists who understand dairy farming, will continue to advance the productivity and sustainability of the New Zealand industry.

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