The Evolution of Australia’s Dairy Farming Industry
Australia has a flourishing dairy industry, with dairy cattle making up a large percentage of livestock numbers and an important part of the national economy. While dairy is strong, national beef herds remain the largest percentage for cattle, and sheep and lambs far outnumber cattle in terms of sheer numbers.
Our livestock and agricultural industry remains one of the most successful in the world, with Australia a globally significant agricultural exporter. But it hasn’t always been this way. Our modern agriculture industry is still relatively young, with the introduction of domestic livestock in the late 1700’s.
History of dairy farming in Australia
Dairy cows arrived in New South Wales with the First Fleet, with just two bulls and seven cows making the long trip by sea. Not long after arriving, the cattle escaped into bushland and within six years they had become a herd of 61.
While they were not entirely suited to the delicate balance of Australia’s ecosystem, they quickly acclimated to the climate in the southern states and the dairy industry rapidly grew. By 1800, through both breeding and importing, the population in Australia had grown to 322 bulls and 712 cows.
The agricultural industry was managed manually around this time, with ploughs and harvesters pulled by bullocks and livestock fed by hand.
By the late 1800s and early 1900s, the invention of machinery like the stump jump plough and the header harvester enabled much larger areas to be cropped and higher crop production. This also led to faster and easier livestock management, with hay feed out carts and other machinery used in farms across the country.
At this time, the majority of farms were small, family run operations, with many people having a small head of cattle to provide for their family and local communities. Now, the dairy farming industry has expanded and the majority of farms are run by large commercial operators.
How many dairy farms are in Australia now?
The number of dairy farms in Australia has increased dramatically from the early days of cattle farming. There are now approximately 5,700 dairy farms spread across eight dairying regions in the country. The main regions are generally in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania.
The increase in the amount of dairy farms in Australia has directly led to an increase in production and growth of national exports. Dairy farms now produce around 8.8 billion litres of milk, and directly employ approximately 46,200 people.
Dairy farming is the fourth-largest industry in rural Australia, generating around $4.4 billion in farm gate value annually and helping to support rural employment. In terms of milk production, the majority of this occurs in the south-east seaboard in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. These regions are generally cooler in climate and receive sufficient rainfall.
As well as providing milk to the country’s growing population, Australian dairy farms export approximately 35 per cent of its milk production, with an export value of $3.2 billion annually. However, it’s not just milk that makes up dairy exports, it also includes milk products like cheese, butter, milk powders, and ultra-heat treated milks that are exported around the world.
Benefits of new dairying technology
As dairy farming technologies have advanced and the machinery currently used in the industry has become more automated and high-tech, the heavy manual requirements from the early days of cattle farming have decreased dramatically.
What once took several people and bullocks can now be completed by a machine, helping to reduce the time and physical impact of farming practices.
This means that tasks like feeding or milking dairy cattle can be completed faster and for much larger herds with the same amount of effort. This has allowed farms to expand their herds and production while still remaining manageable and profitable.
Machinery like automated hay feed out carts and milking equipment have had huge benefits to farmers by helping them manage their business more sustainably, efficiently, and cost-effectively, which have a range of lifestyle benefits and growth impacts on the industry.
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