By Elizabeth Hayes
The iconic image of the singlet-clad, gumboot-wearing Kiwi sheep farmer may soon be replaced by an apron-wearing cow cocky.
The country now boasts the biggest milk processing factory in the world, and with more and more sheep farms converting to dairy, there are now 1 million more dairy cows in new Zealand than there are humans – a figure that may force scriptwriters and comedians to think again.
"The people who make the jokes up are going to have to change their focus aren't they, to the dairy industry instead of the poor old sheep farmer who's always been the butt of the jokes," says sheep farmer Elliot King.
In the past 10 years more and more sheep farmers have converted to dairying, which has seen the number of cows in the country boom while the sheep numbers drop from a high of 70 million in the 1980s to around 32 million today.
To accommodate all that milk, Fonterra is opening the biggest dairy factory in the world on Friday in tiny Edendale in Southland.
The swing to dairying was obvious at today's bi-annual Waimumu Farmers Field Day just up the road from Edendale.
"There's a lot more dairying displays at the Field Days now than it used to be years ago," says Mark Dillon.
Even long-time local sheep farmers seem to have accepted their black and white neighbours.
"Some of us old fellas who were never going to get into dairying were a bit negative about it," says sheep farmer Trevor McCall, "but I think we've all changed and I think that's for the better."
"Sheep farmers were a bit thinking, 'Oh Jesus, what's gonna happen?'" says Mr King, "but now we've just gotta realise that they're here to stay."