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War Economy

Declining Dairy Cow Numbers

Declining Dairy Cow Numbers

After 1934–35, dairy herds, which had increased year by year for nine years, started to decrease in numbers and continued to decrease until 1939–40, by which time they were 5 per cent below 1934–35. There was a slight recovery in 1940–41, which was sustained into the following season, but in 1942–43 the number of cows in milk fell again, to reach its lowest level since 1932–33. There were fewer still in the last two wartime seasons, and the war ended with 2 ½ per cent fewer cows in milk than in the immediate pre-war season 1938–39. This was in marked contrast to breeding ewe numbers, which increased by 10 per cent over the war period.

Farming activities were undergoing a distinct change in emphasis. For each dairy cow in milk, there had been 16·1 sheep in 1934–35. In 1938–39 there were 18·5 and in 1944–45 20·2 sheep.

page 198

Chart 42 shows in clearer perspective the change in emphasis in farming:

chart of agricultural statistics

Chart 42

In the war years, livestock on dairy farms declined quantitatively as well as relatively. Between 1938–39 and 1944–45 the number of dairy cows fell by 45,000, while the number of sheep increased by 2,100,000. It is not surprising that, whereas the 1944–55 production of wool was an all-time record, the 1944–45 production of butterfat had been bettered in five preceeding seasons, including one as far back as 1935–36.

In terms of war requirements, the change in emphasis did not necessarily represent the most advantageous use of farm resources.1 Butterfat production, at a time when it was most urgently needed by the United Kingdom, in 1942–43 and 1943–44, fell well below its pre-war volume. On the other hand, wool production exceeded requirements and was stockpiled to an embarrassing extent during the war. A more desirable consequence of increasing sheep numbers

1 In the United Kingdom the tendency was in the opposite direction. Sheep numbers decreased while cow numbers increased. A contributing influence in New Zealand may have been a declining yield of hay and silage for winter feed, brought about by the gradual effect of fertiliser shortages and by scarcity of labour.

page 199 was higher lamb production. The number of lamb carcasses exceeded the pre-war figure in every war year. Lamb was New Zealand's most important meat export and played a major part in filling out the meagre United Kingdom meat ration.

The wartime diversion from dairy to sheep farming played little part in bringing about the reduction in farm labour needs. On the basis of pre-war manpower requirements, the 7 per cent increase in sheep numbers would have needed rather more than 2000 extra men on farms, whereas the 3 per cent reduction in dairy cow numbers would have reduced requirements by about the same number of men. However, as is clearly shown by the 1936 to 1951 census comparisons, and by the other surveys mentioned above,1 mechanisation and methods changes were considerably increasing the number of sheep, and still more the numbers of cows, which could be handled by a unit of labour.

1 pp.190 and 191. There was unemployment in 1936 and labour shortage in 1951 but, even when allowance is made for this difference, the censuses reveal a very material increase in stock per labour unit on farms.