Dairy Farming in Australia

The following topics in this chapter explain dairy farming from past to present:

The History from Origins to Today

Dairy cows are not native to Australia. The first cows arrived in New South Wales in 1788 with Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet, to provide milk and meat. On board were two bulls and seven cows, which escaped into the bush on arrival. However, they managed to survive, despite the poor conditions and difficulties of the early years.

After six years the original nine animals had multiplied to become 61, and by the turn of the century, Australia had a population of 322 bulls and 712 cows.

From these small beginnings has grown a very large and important industry.

Over the past century there has been a shift in farming because of the growing population and the need to provide more food from less land. Small family farms have found it difficult to build successful businesses and make a profit.

Like the rest of the world, Australian farmers have moved away from subsistence farming to commercial farming. Subsistence farming essentially meant that families produced on their land what they needed to live. They hand-milked a cow for their daily requirements, bred chickens for eggs and meat, and raised other animals for their meat.

They hand-milked a cow for their daily requirements, bred chickens for eggs and meat, and bred and killed other animals for their meat.

Changes in the nature of farming have also resulted in changes in the nature of farm families. Traditionally, the eldest son used to live on, look after and inherit the farm, but this is not always the case today. While the majority of farms are still owned by the family, any of the children may make the decision to stay on the farm and enjoy its unique lifestyle, or leave the farm to seek employment and education opportunities in larger towns or cities. Farmers must then hire labour to assist with farm duties and, in some cases, choose to farm-share, where two families share the workload, allowing them to share the responsibilities of running the farm operation. These arrangements allow farmers to choose the hours and duties that suit the lifestyle they want, perhaps deciding to manage the office duties and have other staff look after the milking, caring for the cows and the land. While running a dairy farm is hard work, it offers a flexible lifestyle for people who enjoy the outdoors, being with animals and producing quality milk that benefits the whole community. New technologies and farm systems are always being introduced to assist farmers with managing their farm and staff more efficiently, saving themselves time to do other things.


Dairy Farm Facts

Dairy farming is now a serious and highly technical business venture and contributes greatly to the Australian economy. Farmers today are able to raise more animals at a lower cost, in a monitored and protected environment, while using less land.

Today there are 6,770 registered dairy farms in Australia. The average size of a dairy farm herd has increased from 85 cows in 1980 to 235 cows in 2012.

Today there are approximately 1.6 million dairy cows in Australia and in the last year, Australian dairy cows produced approximately 9,479 litres of milk. 

The table below highlights key dairy farm statistics, from the number of cows and farms, to the amount of milk produced per state.

Dairy Farms  778  4556  555 275  162  444  6,770 
Number of
dairy cows (000 head)
200  1,030  94  92  50  144  1,610 
Production (million litres
1,086  6,212  485  570  338  788  9,479 

Source: Dairy Australia


Dairy Farming Regions

All states and territories have dairy industries that supply fresh drinking milk to nearby cities and towns. Although dairy farms can be found all over Australia, milk production mainly occurs in the south-eastern corner of Australia (80% in the three states of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania).

South-eastern Australia's climate is ideal for cows as they like cool to warm temperatures and areas where there is plenty of water to grow the rich pastures that they love to eat. Dairy farms are also found inland, where water for irrigation is available, and pastures are easy to grow.

Now go to About Dairy Cows.