How big are Australian dairy farms? And what is a “mega dairy”?

There’s a lot of talk of factory farming at the moment. Animal activists use the phrase to shock us and judging by the comments in response to John Bunting’s Journal, average US dairy farmers are afraid of being overtaken by “mega dairies”.

While Australia’s dairy farms are getting bigger, I haven’t heard of anything on the scale discussed by our American counterparts, so I thought I’d ask the gurus at Dairy Australia for the official stats.

It turns out that the vast majority of Australian dairy farms are still family-owned. Only 2 per cent are corporate. This does not surprise me. As leading farm consultant John Mulvany points out, corporate investors demand higher returns on their assets than the meagre 1 or 2 per cent that most dairy farms achieve. Second, paid labour is both expensive and inflexible in this highly volatile industry. This bothers me because it assumes that farm families should not expect the same standard of living as their employees.

The average Australian dairy herd has 220 milkers and here is the breakdown of herds across the spectrum:

small

medium

large

x-large

xx-large

total

% farms

26%

38%

24%

6%

5%

100%

% milk

8%

27%

31%

13%

20%

100%

What’s perhaps even more interesting (and heartening) are the definitions of size.

Small: Herd size of less than 150

Medium: Herd size between 150 – 300

Large: Herd size between 301 – 500

X-large: Herd size between 501 – 700

XX-large: Herd size greater than 700

So, when the US talks of mega-dairies milking thousands and thousands of cows, Aussies talk of XXL dairies milking more than 700.