Cows and farms
Southeast Australia's climate and natural resources are generally favourable to dairying and allow the industry to be predominantly pasture-based, with approximately 60-65% of cattle feed requirements coming from homegrown feed in a year of normal seasonal conditions. This results in efficient, high quality milk production.
Most dairy production is located in coastal areas where pasture growth generally depends on natural rainfall. Nevertheless, there are several inland irrigation schemes, most notably in inland northern Victoria and southern New South Wales.
Total mixed ration (TMR) dairying remains the exception in Australia, although the use of
supplementary feed (grains, hay and silage) is widespread and has increased significantly over the past decade as farmers have had to adapt to drier conditions in many dairying regions. Such changes in production systems have introduced an additional level of risk in the variability of farm returns.
According to the 2016 National Dairy Farmer Survey, 97% of dairy farms fed an average of 1.6 tonnes of grain, grain mixes or feed concentrates per cow during the 2015/16 season. With the exception of South Australia and Western Australia (slight decrease and increase, respectively), this was unchanged from the average usage recorded in the previous two seasons. Drier seasonal conditions across many dairying regions and higher hay and grain prices meant that farm outlays on supplementary feeding increased markedly across Australia in 2015/16.
The number of farms has fallen by more than two-thirds over the last three decades from 19,380 in mid-1985 to 6,102 in mid-2015. The trend in farm numbers will often follow the trend in farmgate milk prices from season to season, with strong prices either slowing the rate of attrition or even reversing the long-term trend. At times of low farmgate milk prices, farmers do choose to leave the industry or else cease dairying operations until market conditions improve.
Nevertheless, falling farm numbers do reflect a long term trend observed in agriculture around the world, as reduced price support and changing business practices have encouraged a shift to larger, more efficient operating systems.
Number of registered dairy farms
Source: State milk authorities
Average herd size has increased from 93 cows in 1985 to an estimated 284 currently. There is also a steady trend emerging to very large farm operations of more than 1,000 head of dairy cattle.
The dominant breed in Australia is the Holstein, accounting for around 75% of all dairy cattle. Other important breeds include the Jersey, the Holstein/Jersey cross, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and local breeds, the Australian Red and the Illawarra.
Number of dairy cows (000 head)
|At March 31|
Source: ABS and Dairy Australia
* For 1999 and 2000, QLD state figure includes NT cow numbers
** From 2001, census date is June 30, NT and ACT numbers are included in the national total
*** Change in ABS data collection