Cow & Farms Data



Dairy farms are located in all states of Australia. However, most of Australia's milk production takes place in the south-east corner of the country.

South-east Australia’s climate and natural resources are generally favourable to dairying and allow the industry to be predominantly pasture-based. In an average year, approximately 60%–65% of cattle feed requirements in south-eastern Australia comes from grazing. This results in cost efficient, high-quality milk production.

Most farms are in coastal areas where pasture growth is generally reliant on rainfall. Nevertheless, there are several inland dairying areas reliant on irrigation, most notably in northern Victoria and the New South Wales Riverina.

Farm numbers

Since 1979-80 the number of dairy farms in Australia has fallen by almost three quarters, to 5,055 in 2019–20. The trend in farm numbers has previously followed changes in farmgate milk prices from season to season. Strong prices tend to either slow the rate of attrition or even reverse the long-term trend. Periods of weaker farmgate prices and/or adverse seasonal conditions can accelerate the trend, as more farmers choose to sell their properties, or transition to other farming activities such as beef cattle production. 

Nevertheless, falling farm numbers reflect a trend in agriculture around the world. Changing business practices have encouraged a shift to larger, more intensive farming systems with greater economies of scale.

Number of registered dairy farms in Australia

YEAR

  NSW

  VIC

  QLD

 SA

  WA

  TAS

  AUST

1979–80

3,601

11,467

3,052

1,730

622

1,522

21,994

1989–90

2,220

8,840

1,970

969

496

901

15,396

1999–00

1,725

7,806

1,545

667

419

734

12,896

2005–06

1,024

5,892

802

383

245

498

8,844

2006–07

924

5,346

734

354

222

475

8,055

2007–08

886

5,422

664

332

186

463

7,953

2008–09

860

5,462

648

320

183

451

7,924

2009–10

820

5,159

621

306

165

440

7,511

2010–11

807

4,588

595

286

170

437

6,883

2011–12

778

4,556

555

275

162

444

6,770

2012–13

731

4,284

518

268

160

437

6,398

2013-14 

710 

4,268 

 475

264

156

435

6,308

2014–15

704

4,127

448

252

157

440

6,128

2015-16 

690

4,141

421

246

151

430

6,079

2016–17

661

3,998

406

240

148

427

5,771

2017–18

626

3,881

393

228

159

412

5,699

2018–19

575

3,516

356

212

150

404

5,213

2019–20 (p)

534

3,462

327

206

135

391

5,055

Source: State Milk Authorities

Herd size

While the number of farms across Australia has decreased, the average herd size is growing. In 1985 the average herd size was 93 cows and in 2019–20 it had grown to 279. There is also an emerging trend of large farm operations of more than 700 dairy cattle.

Despite the increase in average herd sizes over the longer term, one of the variables placing a limitation on total milk production in recent years has been a decreasing national herd. One factor contributing to this situation is the increased volatility in farm cash incomes. This has led many farmers to participate in the export heifer trade or sell dairy cows for slaughter in an attempt to stabilise farm income. In 2019/20 the national herd decreased as a challenging start to the year resulted in an increase in farm exits and a move to smaller herd sizes on many farms.

The dominant breed in Australia is the Holstein, accounting for around two thirds 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 in Australia

145

145

YEAR

  NSW

  VIC

  QLD

 SA

  WA

  TAS

  AUST

At March 31

1979–80

311

1,047

247

103

71

103

1,880

1989–90

238

968

201

89

64

92

1,654

1999–00

289

1,337

195

105

65

139

2,171

New Series

2005–06

222

1,217

127

104

67

143

1,880

2006–07

210

1,150

121

114

60

140

1,796

2007–08

195

1,055

100

103

54

134

1,641

2008–09

201

1,061

107

106

52

149

1,676

2009–10

203

1,014

98

92

55

134

1,596

2010–11

195

1,010

97

90

59

138

1,589

2011–12

204

1,115

101

76

57

148

1,700

2012–13

210

1,096

96

77

62

148

1,688

2013-14 

181 

1,093 

 98

73

66

137

1,647

2014–15

177

1,147

91

68

59

147

1,689

2015-16 

182

1,005

89

78

60

149

1,562

2016–17

164

975

86

71

64

160

1,520

2017–18

166

1,023

85

67

56

149

1,547

2018–19

149

898

78

72

56

175

1,428

2019–20 (e) 

145

895

65

69

54

182

1,411


Source: ABS and Dairy Australia

Supplementary feeding

Total mixed ration (TMR) dairying continues to be less common in Australia, but the use of supplementary feed – grains, hay and silage – is widespread. Supplementary feeding has increased significantly over the past decade as farmers adapt to drier conditions. Such changes in production systems have introduced an added input cost and additional level of risk in the variability of farm returns.

The 2020 Dairy Australia National Dairy Farmer Survey showed that nearly all dairy farmers engaged in some level of supplementary feeding. In 2019/20 the national average was around 1.7 tonnes per cow per year, up slightly from the previous year. Feeding moderate to high levels of concentrates remains the most common feed system and in 2019/20 supplementary feeding increased in all regions. Supplementary feeding grew especially strongly in South Australia, to an average of 2.1 tonnes
per cow per year.


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