February 9, 2010 at 1:13 PM CST - Updated June 15 at 8:15 PM
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - New Zealanders who for decades have endured jokes about being outnumbered 20-to-1 by sheep have a new farm animal majority to worry about: cows.
A record 5.8 million dairy cattle were counted in the year ended June 2009, Statistics New Zealand said Tuesday - well more than one animal for each of the country's 4.3 million citizens.
In contrast, sheep numbers declined to some 32 million in 2009, less than half the peak of 70 million reported in 1982.
"Increased numbers in the milking herd have resulted in there being one milking cow for every New Zealander," farm statistics manager Gary Dunnet said. "In 2009, New Zealand had fewer than eight sheep per person."
The new figures are unlikely to do much to discourage the ribbing New Zealanders often get on the topic get when they travel abroad.
Australians in particular tease their near neighbors in the Pacific Ocean about the popularity of sheep in New Zealand, usually in jokes of questionable taste.
In the popular HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" about two New Zealand musicians living in New York, a tourism poster hangs in an office of the country's consulate showing a flock of sheep staring out and the slogan: New Zealand Ewe Should Come. The 2006 movie "Black Sheep" made fun of the disparity in a dark comedy about genetically mutated sheepwho turn on their owners on a New Zealand farm.
Statistics New Zealand said cow numbers last year were 4 percent higher than in 2008 and up 76 percent from 3.3 million in 1989.
The dairy herd's expansion was due to the conversion of sheep and other farms to the more lucrative dairy industry and to the growth in the number of milking cows in existing herds.
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