Go to our new-look site, it combines the Biotechnology and Science Learning Hubs with a new look and new functionality. This is our legacy site and is no longer maintained.

Skip to page content

Site navigation

History of New Zealand dairy farming

Dairy farming has changed significantly over the centuries, from hand milking to machine milking. The size of farms and the expectations on farmers have also changed with time. Could fully automated farming systems be the way of the future?



Samuel Marsden brought a bull and two heifers to New Zealand. Cows milked by hand in sheds.



Dairy products first exported from NZ.



Refrigerated shipping begins.

Early 1890's


Cream separators are installed in cow sheds.

The introduction of electricity leads to machine milking.

Milk factories are built.



Farmers begin to use electric fences on their farms.



There are 1.7 million cows, 40,000 farmers and 409 dairy factories in New Zealand.



The first milk tankers appear.



The herringbone shed is invented. This shed allows a much larger number of cows to be milked at once. The farmer works in a pit below - he no longer had to keep bending down to attach and detach cups.



There are 2.3 million cows, 25,000 farmers, and the number of dairy factories has dropped to 229.
The rotary shed is invented by Merv Hicks in Taranaki. This is a round shed that has a rotating platform. It allows even more cows to be milked in similar time frames as before.



There are 2.7 million cows, 15,000 farmers and 27 factories.



The average farm size is now 105 hectares (ha) and 286 cows, compared to 72ha and 166 cows in 1990. There is not enough skilled labour to meet the farm needs.

The Greenfield Project is set up to determine the viability of automatic milking on NZ farms.

Get information sheet: Setting up the Greenfield Project's research farm.


Return to top