Owner-operated farms continue to dominate the Australian dairy industry. Share farming is employed on around 18% of farms; while corporate farms make up just 2% of the total.


The number of farms has fallen by two-thirds over the last three decades from 19,380 in mid-1985 to 6,128 in mid 2015. The trend in farm numbers will often follow the trend in farm gate milk prices from season to season, with strong prices either slowing the rate of attrition or even reversing the long-term trend. At times of low milk prices, farmers do choose to leave the industry or else cease dairying operations until market conditions improve.


Nevertheless, falling farm numbers do reflect a long-term trend observed in agriculture around the world, as reduced price support and changing business practices have encouraged a shift to larger, more efficient operating systems.

Average herd size has increased from 93 cows in 1985 to an estimated 284 currently.  There is also a trend emerging to very large farm operations of over 1,000 head of cattle.


The dominant breed in Australia is the Holstein, accounting for around 65 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.


Australian Dairy At A Glance (2014/15)

National Dairy Herd

1.74 million cows

Average Herd Size

284 cows

Milk Production

9,731 million litres

Average Annual Milk Production Per Cow

5,730 litres

Dairy - Australia's 3rd Largest Rural Industry

$13 billion farm, manufacturing and export industry

Milk Utilisation

Cheese 31 per cent
SMP/butter 27 per cent
Drinking milk 25 per cent
WMP 8 per cent
Other 9 per cent

Production Of Main Commodities (tonnes)

Milk Powders 332,900
Cheese 344,000
Butter 118,700

Dairy - Major Export Industry

$2.88 billion (2014/15)
 6 per cent of world dairy trade

Percentage Of Australian Milk Production Exported

34 per cent (2014/15)

Major Markets For Australian Dairy Products (Tonnes)

Australia 3,033,000
(including drinking milk)
Greater China 136,400
Japan 103,900
Singapore 86,600
Indonesia 59,400
Malaysia 51,100

Per Capita Consumption

Drinking milk 105 litres
Cheese 13.6 kilograms

Dairy Industry Workforce

Direct employment of approximately 39,000