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Dairy cattle numbers in the South Island have increased by 1.3 million in the decade from 2003, which translates to enough milk to fill about 415 milk tankers each day.
In contrast, sheep numbers have plummeted by more than 5.3 million in the South Island in the same period.
Statistics New Zealand yesterday released its 2013 agricultural production survey, conducted in partnership with the Ministry for Primary Industries.
At June 30 last year, there were nearly 6.5 million dairy cattle nationally, a 1% increase on the previous year.
Sheep were down 476,000 to 30.8 million and beef cattle were down 36,000 to 3.7 million.
Deer decreased by 3% to 1 million, with Otago and Southland registering the largest falls, of 10,000 and 17,000 respectively.
Drought in the summer of 2012-13, mainly in the North Island, contributed to livestock decreases in some regions.
The South Island dairy herd has been steadily increasing in recent years and was up 3%, or 84,000, in the year to June last year, with Canterbury second only to Waikato in numbers.
Federated Farmers Otago dairy chairman Stephen Crawford, of South Otago, said the dairy industry was obviously having a strong period.
Challenges in the sheep and beef industry meant people looked at alternative land uses.
''I think dairying has had its highs and lows, too, but people, I think, have seen opportunities in dairying where they haven't seen it perhaps had they stayed in sheep and beef,'' he said.
Whether the expansion of the industry would continue would depend on economics, and there were environmental constraints.
Farmers were ''probably some of the biggest environmentalists out there'' and did not want to be doing any harm.
Mr Crawford was the third generation on his family farm and he was hopeful his children might be the fourth generation.
The last thing he wanted to see was the environment ruined, he said.
He also hoped the sheep industry would strengthen.