Dairy Farming In Australia – Australian Cow Breeds

Dairy farming in Australia

Dairy farming provides a good opportunity for the self-employment of unemployed youth in Australia. Also, it is an important source of income generation for small/marginal farmers. Australia’s 3rd largest rural industry is the dairy sector, and the main export destinations are China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and the Middle East. Australian dairy products are trusted by consumers around the world who are looking for premium quality, nutrition, and safety. Then, this global reputation for quality is backed by stringent biosecurity and food safety systems and a transparent supply chain in Dairy farming in Australia.

The dairy farming business is a safe business for the following reasons;

  • The requirement for skilled labor is relatively less for dairy farming.
  • The dairy product market is active around the year and minimum investment in inventory.
  • An entire establishment can be shifted to a new place (if the need arises, e.g. Fire, Floods, etc.)
  • The demand for milk has always increased.
  • Compared to products from other industries, marketing milk is easy.
  • The dairy business is the only industry where income is guaranteed every month.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Dairy Farming In Australia

Guide to Dairy Farming In Australia
Guide to Dairy Farming In Australia (Image source: pixabay)

Information about the Australian Dairy Industry

  • Dairy is Australia’s fourth-largest rural industry
  • Average annual milk production per cow – 6,169 liters
  • 35% of milk production is exported
  • Annual per capita consumption – 98.6 liters, 13.5 kg cheese
  • Australian dairy herd – 1.44 million cows
  • Average herd size – 276 cows
  • Annual production of main commodities – cheese – 381,111 tonnes, milk powders – 224,107 tonnes, Butter – 73, 322 tonnes

Most dairy production in Australia occurs in south-eastern Australia. However, all states have dairy industries that supply fresh drinking milk to nearby cities and towns. A range of high-quality consumer products is produced in most states.

Australia’s dairy sector gives fresh and processed milk products. Australia has expertise in temperate and tropical dairy farming, focusing on pasture-fed operations and open versus shed-based or intensive herd management. Australian dairy herds are predominantly pasture-fed, and the industry is highly efficient. Also, the Australian dairy industry is recognized globally for its expertise in livestock genetic research, breed development, and reproductive physiology, as well as food product traceability and electronic farm management methods.

Australian dairy farming services support all necessities of the farming community, particularly dairy productivity, genetics and herd quality, animal health and nutrition, pasture improvement, soil management, waste management, and other specialized farming needs. Usually, Dairy Australia is funded by the Dairy Services Levy, a tax paid by farmers based on milk production. It acts as a funding body through which the federal Agriculture Department provides funding for rural research and development in Australia. Australian dairy attracts funding at the project level from state governments, universities, and other dairy support organizations. It was known as the Dairy Research and Development Corporation.

Key Points to Dairy Farming in Australia

The dairy industry’s key points regarding innovation are;

  • Innovation on a national scale requires strategic investment in knowledge/technology platforms and capability.
  • Government investment aims to overcome barriers and fill gaps that stifle innovation.
  • Commercial and industry organizations are strategically investing in innovation in a manner that attracts support from the government. There are many interests in these investment relationships, especially where combined investments in pre-competitive and industry-good activities have national economic, social, and environmental benefits.
  • The government continues to have a critical role, primarily as an enabler of innovation. Investment decisions by governments provide clear signals for prioritization of effort, capacity building, and infrastructure used to reduce risk at pivotal moments in the innovation procedure and to encourage collaboration and networking.

Australian Dairy Cows

A dairy herd is made up of four groups of cattle:

Cows – These are the females who give birth to calves and produce milk.

Bulls – Only a few are required on a dairy farm; these days, most dairy farms use artificial insemination instead.

Heifers – Young female cattle. They are the ‘teenagers’ of the herd and haven’t had a calf or one calf only, and they are the second biggest group in the herd.

Calves – Baby cattle and female calves grow into heifers and then milking cows. Male calves can be sold for veal production or raised as breeding bulls.

The famous dairy breed in Australia is the Holstein and Friesian. These black and white color cows, origin from the Netherlands via America, are known for their high milk production, large size, and docile temperament. Also, these are the most popular breed worldwide, so farmers have the most extensive choice of sires (males) for their cows.

The second most popular breed in Australia is Jerseys. Originating from the English Channel Island Jersey, these cows are smaller in stature and also caramel-colored, producing a smaller volume of milk, which is rich in butterfat and protein. These cows are popular, especially on grass grazing farms, because of their hardiness, size, fertility, and, again, the high butterfat and protein in their milk.

There are many other dairy breeds available in Australia: Australian Reds, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and many others, which all have their benefits. Also, many farmers have cross-bred cows, which may be a mix of two or more breeds. Cross-bred cows are known for their hardiness, heat tolerance, fertility, and good production.

There are several breeds of dairy cows in Australia. Holstein, Jersey, and Aussie Red are the most popular dairy breeds with distinctive characteristics.


  • Originally, Holstein cows came from Northern Europe. Many breeding animals now come from North America.
  • These cows are mainly black and white.
  • It is the most popular breed in the world and Australia; nearly 1.4 million of Australia’s 1.65 million dairy cows are Holsteins.
  • Holstein cows produce milk in large quantities. Some Holsteins produce 10,000 liters in a year. That’s equal to 5000 two-liter milk cartons.


  • It originally came from the island of Jersey and was brought to Australia in 1829.
  • It is the second most common breed in Australia.
  • Jersey milk is especially creamy, making it ideal for making butter.
  • Jerseys are the most miniature dairy cows, weighing about 500kg.

Aussie Red

  • Aussie Redcows are medium-sized and mainly red, with white markings.
  • Aussie Redis is an extremely hardy breed that produces milk with high protein and medium milk-fat content.


  • The Illawarra cattle are a dual-purpose breed that originated in Australia and is raised for milk and meat production.
  • Developed in the Illawarra region of New South Wales by crossbreeding some breeds, they were recognized as a new Australian cow breed in 1910.
  • It is rich red with a bit of white on the flanks.
  • These cows produce large quantities of milk; many Illawarra’s produce more than 40 liters daily.

Brown Swiss

  • The Brown Swiss, also known as Braunvieh, is an American breed of dairy cattle.
  • These are good, persistent milkers and produce milk of average butterfat content compared with other dairy cattle breeds.
  • It is originally from Switzerland.
  • Solid brown, changing from light to dark.


  • Guernsey cattle are fawn-colored, marked with white, and larger than the Jerseys.
  • It is originally from the Isle of Guernsey, a tiny island on the English Channel.
  • Fawn in coloring with white markings.
  • Milk is a distinctive golden color.
  • On average, a Guernsey produces 22 liters of milk per day.
  • By age 3, Guernsey cows weigh about 600 kg.


  • The Ayrshire is an efficient grazer noted for her vigor and efficiency in milk production.
  • Ayrshires are medium-sized cattle and must weigh over 1200 pounds at maturity. They are strong and rugged cattle that adapt to all management systems.
  • It is well known for its foraging ability in all terrains and climates.
  • The Ayrshire milk is high in protein with an ideal fat/protein ratio for the modern milk market.
  • Color changes from light to deep cherry red, brown, or a combination of these colors with white, and some are all white.

The Different Types of Milking Sheds in Australia

The common types of milking sheds in Australia are herringbone and rotary sheds. There are a smaller number of robotic sheds emerging, and each dairy farm has a milking shed where machines milk the cows. Then, the milk is held in a vat before it is collected each day and taken to the factory by a milk tanker.

One of the most common milk sheds is the herringbone shed, which has a central sunken pit and a raised platform on each side where the cows stand while being milked. The milking machines are located within or above the pit, and the operators apply one set of 4 cups of the milking cluster to the udder. However, herringbone sheds change in length depending on the herd size and range from as small as 6 cows per side up to 30 or even more cows per side.

A rotary shed is a large circular platform that rotates like a carousel while the cows are being milked. The cows walk onto the raised platform at the entrance, and an operator applies the milking machines. Then, each cow is in an individual stall, and the platform slowly rotates, so milking is completed by the time the cow has completed the circle.

There are a small number of robotic dairies, also called Automatic Milking Systems in Australia, where a robot milks the cows without human involvement. The dairy cows walk to the dairy at their desire and enter the milking booth, where they are rewarded with feed. Then, the robot washes the udder, and sensor-guided cups are applied to milk the cow. The robot sprays disinfectant onto the teats after milking, and the gate opens to allow the cow to leave. Robotic milking booths are expensive to install and only handle a limited number of cows each day.

Climate Change Impact on Dairy Farming in Australia

The science of climate change is precise and recognized by governments and industries worldwide. It poses both opportunities and risks to the Australian dairy industry, and dairy Australia is committed to supporting its response to the opportunities and challenges of climate change.

Climate change is threatening essential resources that support life on earth, with the global warming impacts already being felt. This is recognized by governments and industries all around the world. At the same time, the demonstration of dairy’s mitigation efforts is non-negotiable and is already a fundamental part of business planning.

Climate change poses critical new challenges for Australian agriculture. The dairy industry supports a comprehensive government and industry response to climate change. Though the interaction of any new policy initiatives with commercial markets and existing trade policies will be complex and multi-layered, investing in understanding industry value chains will be essential to help avoid unintended consequences. Inadvertent imposts of government approaches on export-exposed industries, which do not have the opportunity to recover costs, can significantly affect the international performance and competitiveness of Australian food industries.

Live Dairy Cattle and Dairy Products in Australia                                          

Australia exports live dairy cattle, mainly pregnant heifers, to numerous countries worldwide, for example, China, the Middle East, South-East Asia, and Mexico. Australia is recognized as free of many serious cattle diseases like foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Australia has a different number of live dairy cattle exporters and related organizations who can help with all aspects of the export-import process.

Fresh milk – Australian fresh milk consumption has been steadily increasing, and demand is shifting from regular milk to modified milk types such as reduced and low-fat milk. The Australian fresh milk market is now dominated by 2 major milk processors, National Foods and Parmalat.

Butter – Australian butter production changes yearly due to milk availability and international commodity prices. Also, butter includes anhydrous milkfat (AMF), simply dehydrated butter. Anhydrous milkfat is used for export and domestic food processing.

Milk powder – Australia produces various milk powders, including whole milk powder (WMP) and skim milk powder (SMP). This milk powder production has decreased significantly over recent years due to falling milk production. However, strong milk powder prices have increased production over the last few years. The export market consumes over 80% of Australia’s milk powder production due to the ready supply of fresh milk within the domestic market. Domestically, milk powder is used as a food ingredient.

Cheese – It is a significant product of the Australian dairy industry. Although this product is important to the dairy industry, its importance diminishes. Then, due to lower milk availability, production decreased.

Whey products and Casein – Whey is defined as the residual product after milk is processed. Casein is the chief protein in milk, and also it is the essential ingredient of cheese. The domestic market consumes about 30% of Australia’s whey production, and the remaining 70% is exported to markets such as China, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan.

Nutritional Requirements for Dairy Farming in Australia

Dairy foods are a primary source of nutrients in the Australian diet. Milk is one of the most complete foods, containing nearly all the constituents of nutritional importance to humans. Dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet and are essential contributors to protein, vitamins A, B, riboflavin, and zinc.

Usually, Australia has a long history of research and development into the role of nutrition in improving dairy farming productivity. By integrating pasture, forages, and crops with supplementary feeds into the herd’s diet, dairy farmers can achieve optimal productivity, feed conversion efficiency, and health.

Dairy cattle fodder includes oats, barley, corn, wheat, and cotton seeds. Oaten hay, wheaten hay, and vetch are grown for grazing and fodder conservation, along with Lucerne, ryegrass, and clover. Oaten hay has been the most popular fodder export in recent years. Due to its sweetness and soft texture, oaten hay has proved to be readily eaten, highly digestible, and a good source of fiber for stimulating rumen function, maintaining animal health, and increasing milk production.

These have enabled Australia to remain free of foot-and-mouth disease, helping Australian-grown fodder achieve worldwide recognition as a safe fiber source with low fertilizer and chemical inputs. The dairy industry also provides consumers with a safe and highly nutritious food source embedded in the Australian culture.

Health and nutrition policies must aim to promote the health and well-being of Australians. They should encourage the consumption of nutrient-rich core foods like dairy foods (which are under-consumed in the Australian diet), which are associated with positive health outcomes and reduced incidence of adverse health outcomes.

Water Availability and Quality for Dairy Farming in Australia

Dairy farmers rely on a secure and safe water supply to keep stock fed and watered and to produce safe and healthy food. Water is used for three main activities: growing pastures, dairy shed operations and cleaning, and drinking by the dairy cattle.

Key points for the dairy industry include the potential for;

  • Groundwater contamination
  • Surface water contamination
  • Reduced water quantity for dairy production
  • And transparent independent assessment, monitoring, and remedy of water quality.

The main consideration with water use and potential contamination is that water resources are not confined to a particular farm or well site. Any contamination of water resources will have a wider regional impact on several farms and potentially a large part of the dairy industry. A milking dairy cow drinks about 30 to 50 gallons of water each day, and during periods of heat stress, water intake may double. Water weighs about 8.35 lbs/gal, so milking dairy cows consumes as much as 420 lbs or more water daily.

Water is an important nutrient for the milking cow, and water intake is critical to obtaining maximum production from dairy cows. Without proper water intake, productivity will decrease, leading to economic loss. The quantity of water dairy cows consume is vital. Limiting water availability to dairy cattle will lower production rapidly and severely. The water quality problems that affect dairy production in Australia include high concentrations of minerals (excess salinity), high nitrogen content, bacterial contamination, and heavy growth of blue-green algae, pesticides, or fertilizer products. Monitoring of water quality during periods of reduced production or nonspecific diseases must be one aspect of an investigation of herd health and production problems.

New Challenges for the Australian Dairy Industry

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Dairy Farm
Dairy Farm (Pic source: pixabay)
  • Increased market and climate volatility have made the operating dairy environment more complex for all parts of the industry.
  • Recent drought events have impacted dairy regions, driving farm exits higher in general, particularly in the Murray region and northern states.
  • Productivity growth has slowed and increased the difficulty of managing conditions in which input costs have increased faster than milk prices.
  • Many dairy manufacturers are short of milk, resulting in higher costs as plants are underutilized.
  • There is a growing milk shortfall in traditionally ‘domestic market’ focused regions, filled by the traditional ‘export market’ regions (VIC).
  • The Australian share of global trade in dairy products is now 6%, and we are the world’s 4th largest exporter, leading some to question our relevance on the global market.
  • Shortage of feed/fodder – There is an excessive number of unproductive animals that compete with productive dairy animals in the utilization of feeds and fodder.  The grazing area is being reduced markedly every year due to industrial development, resulting in a shortage of supply of dairy feeds and fodder to the total requirement.
  • Health – Veterinary health care centers are located in far-off places for dairy animals. The ratio between the cattle population and veterinary institutions is wider, resulting in inadequate animal health services. No regular and periodical vaccination schedule is followed, and the regular deworming program is not done as scheduled, resulting in heavy mortality in calves, especially in buffalo.
  • Hygiene Conditions – Many cattle owners do not provide proper shelter to their cattle, leaving them exposed to extreme climatic conditions in Australia. Unsanitary conditions of cattle shed lead to mastitis conditions. Also, unhygienic milk production leads to a reduction in the quality and spoilage of milk and other products.

Finance for Dairy Farms in Australia

In Australia, dairy farm invests in research and analysis on dairy farm economics, profitability, industry trends, and sustainability. It cooperates with other organizations and the private sector, including Agriculture Victoria and the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC). Bankers have a mutual interest in the dairy business success of farmers. Annual summaries of financial performance plus monthly cash flow statements underpinned by assets, milk production, and longer-term plans are important things to take to a bank meeting.

Other key documents include;

  • About 3 years of financial reports from the accountant
  • Corresponding year’s annual milk statements
  • Statement of assets and liabilities
  • Bank statements for the past 12 months
  • Last year’s Dairy Base report
  • A business plan, including risks and how they will be managed, budget, and cash flow
  • An income estimation from your processor
  • Budgets for the next 12 months are underpinned by dairy milk production

Government Policies for Dairy Industry in Australia                                      

The development of a National Food Plan offers the opportunity to comprehensively and consistently observe the issues affecting the future of the food industry in Australia. Then this is a joint submission from Dairy Australia and the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC).

The ADIC is the policy for the Australian dairy industry, and it represents all sectors of the industry on issues of national and international importance. Its constituent organizations, the Australian Dairy Farmers Limited (ADF) and the Australian Dairy Products Federation (ADPF), represent the interests of dairy farmers, manufacturers, processors, and traders across Australia, respectively.

Dairy Australia is a dairy industry-owned service company whose members are farmers and industry bodies, including the ADF and the ADPF.

  • The dairy industry is a major rural industry business.
  • The industry’s integrated farming and processing systems contribute to the economic and social well-being of rural Australia.
  • Dairy is a highly nutritious food source.
  • Increased productivity and profitability will ensure Australians continue to have access to nutritious dairy products.

The dairy industry believes the National Food Plan should support competitive and sustainable food industries to continue providing a nutritious, secure food supply. An integrated government framework will be required, focusing on factors the government can influence while remaining aware of how these actions can affect the viability of food industries. Given the right environment, the dairy industry in Australia will continue to innovate to improve environmental and health outcomes and support prosperous regional communities.

Climate change policies should not discourage food production but address the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food-producing systems and boosting productivity to meet increasing world food demand.

Increasing the flexibility of export markets and improving Australia’s access options and opportunities is critical to giving farmers and companies confidence in their long-term viability and driving future growth and investment.

Water policy must apply consistently and equitably across all major water users so land use change does not undermine agricultural productivity.

Dairy Animal Health and Welfare in Australia

Farmers want to do what’s best for their cows and ensure that, regardless of the situation, they are proud of the way they treat their cows. Some common diseases of dairy cattle are Johnes Disease, Facial Eczema, Facial Eczema Spore Count Data, Conditions of the eye, Down cows, Conditions of the reproductive system, Lameness, Botulism, Sudden Death, Calf Scours, Skin Conditions, Sudden Drop in Milk Production, Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Virus, Conditions of the digestive system, and Theileria.

Many animal diseases can be prevented through good herd management, proper nutrition, and vaccinations. Cattle receive specific vaccinations like vaccinations for anthrax, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), and many other diseases.

Disease prevention helps to avoid animal suffering and death, transmission to other animals or people, and production losses for farm animals. Also, regular vaccination can help reduce bacterial disease, meaning vets can safeguard precious tools like antibiotics for use only when necessary.

Education and Training in Dairy Farming in Australia

  • Australia offers a broad range of education and training with specialized capability in dairy farming, as well as research and development (R&D) related to dairy farming and dairy agribusiness.
  • The National Centre for Dairy Education Australia delivers vocational education and training for the dairy industry business.
  • Australia’s national science agency works with the dairy sector in R&D areas, including milk production, product innovation, animal health, and genetics.
  • It supports farmers in building the knowledge, skills, and capabilities of their people.
  • The Australian dairy industry runs workshops through its regional teams to assist farmers in up-skilling both themselves and farm workers in the dairy farming business.


If you live in Australia and plan to start Dairy Farming, this article may help you to understand the process of starting a Dairy Farm from scratch


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