Dairy Info Dairy Info

Dairying in Queensland

What is the size of the dairy cow population in Queensland?

Approx 175 000

What are the main breeds of dairy cow?

  • Holstein Friesian - large black & white cows (make up approx 70% of Qld herd)
  • Jersey - medium sized, light brown
  • Illawarra - large, red or red & white
  • Swiss Brown - large, brown
  • Ayrshires are red and white, actually the red colour is a reddish brown mahogany

What is the physical difference between dairy and beef breeds?

Dairy breeds have been selected for milk production and as such have large udders for producing milk in quantities far in excess to what is required by her calf.

Beef breeds are selected for weight gain to economically produce meat. In contrast to the dairy cow, the beef cow produces milk to feed her calf on demand and does so in far less quantities than the dairy cow. She has a much smaller udder. The beef animal has muscling that is selected for in order to maximise meat production per animal. Dairy breeds are leaner in appearance.

Do dairy cows have different requirements to beef cattle?

Both dairy and beef animals require good nutrition to produce what is required - meat and milk.

The dairy cow's diet consists of good quality summer and winter pasture and up to 6 kg of grain per day and rarely would the proportion of grain to other feed such as pasture exceed 40 percent of the diet.

Beef animals are raised in a variety of situations from intensive feedlots to large areas of open grazing on natural pastures. The system used depends on the market that is being supplied. If high quality meat is required, this will be produced in the feedlot where the diet can be up to 90 percent grain, far in excess of what a dairy cow could handle.

If the beef cows are reared on properties in western Queensland or in the Gulf, only pasture is used. These properties may supply cattle to the feedlots where they are prepared for the selected markets such as Japan.

At what age do you start milking a dairy cow?

2 to 2 and a half years of age

How much milk does a cow produce daily?

  • In an average day, a dairy cow will: Eat about 40 kg of feed / Drink a bathtub full of water / Produce 18 - 20 litres of milk a day (about 80 medium size glasses of milk).
  • There are approximately 100 squirts in a litre of milk.
  • To get the same amount of calcium provided by a litre of milk you would have to eat 1.5 kg of peas, 27 oranges, 50 tomatoes or 50 slices of whole wheat bread
  • The average dairy cow weighs about 650kg
  • Cows have four stomach compartments and eat about 40 kg of feed a day. Dairy farmers milk their cows at least twice a day, every day
  • If people ate like cows, they would have to eat about 360 cheeseburgers and drink 400 to 800 glasses of water each day!
  • Cows spend an average of six hours each day eating, and an additional eight hours ruminating or chewing their cud. Most cows chew at least 50 times per minute
  • If all ice cream consumed in one year was put into cones and stacked up, the tower would reach to the moon and back.

How does a cow physically produce milk?

A mature cow eats, on average, 40 kg and drinks 100 -200 litres of water a day.

A cow initially chews just enough to swallow. The food goes into the first chamber (called the rumen) of its four-part stomach. Later, the cow burps up small amounts of food and chews it again. The food then goes into the next chamber (reticulum) before passing through the final two chambers (abomasum and omasum), where bacteria and stomach acids work on it.

Food provides cows with protein, energy, vitamins, minerals, and bulk. It is also the raw material that makes milk.

However, to begin producing milk, a cow must first give birth. The hormones released at birth and the sucking of the calf stimulate the cow to lactate (produce milk) for her calf. Cows produce the greatest amount of milk right after they give birth. If a cow is not milked, she will stop producing milk.

Milk is made and stored in the cow's udder, which is divided into four separate quarters, each having its own milk supply. When laden with milk, each section can be drained through one teat. First the farmer spray-washes the cow's udder with a warm iodine solution to control diseases. The milking machine cups are then attached and draw the milk from the udder into a system of pipes that transports the warm milk to a large storage tank for cooling. This milk is known as raw milk.

If a cow was not milked regularly, what would happen? Would the cow swell up?

The udder would swell and cause discomfort for a few days. When cows complete a lactation, the farmer dries the cow off by ceasing to milk her and reducing her feed. After a few days of not having the stimulus of being milked, the cow's udder reduces in size and milk production ceases.

If the cow was not milked regularly and at consistent times throughout the lactation, milk yield would be erratic from day to day and total milk yield would decline.

Does cow's milk taste different depending on what they've been eating?

For the feeds that are purposely fed, the taste of the milk does not change. These feeds include grass pastures such as Rhodes grass, rye grass, clover, grain - corn, barley, sorghum and maize silage. Milk that has not gone to the factory for processing may taste a little different if the fat content varies. Once the milk is processed, it is standardised at 3.3 percent fat and homogenised, resulting in a standardised product or fat reduced products of varying fat content are produced.

The taste does change when cows eat certain weeds that taint the milk- give it a taste. This is to be avoided as it effects the final product for sale. In most cases, the diet of the dairy herd is managed by the farmer to supply good pastures and grain. Weeds are controlled to avoid cows eating what are considered undesirable or even poisonous plants.

How long can a cow continue to produce milk? What is their average life span?

Farmers aim to have each cow have a calf each year. After calving, the cow will be milked for about 300 days. If she is pregnant, she will be 'dried off' as described in point 8, so that she can have a rest of about 8 weeks before she is due to calve again. On calving again, the cycle is repeated.

To maintain this cycle, the farmer aims to have the cow pregnant any time from 9 weeks after calving. Most cows have 6 to 8 calves, thus giving 6-8 lactations. 8 lactations would mean the cow would be about 10 years of age.

How smart are dairy cows?

Cows become used to their routine from doing the same thing each day eg being mustered for milking, the milking process, feeding if done while they are milked, and taken back to the paddock. They will know to walk back to the paddock, from which they have come, and will recognise when the farmer gives them a new section of the paddock of fresh feed. They will become excited if they see the farmer shifting an electric fence that will allow them assess to a new section of fresh pasture. They learn through familiarisation.

Is cow's milk used for anything apart from dairy products to eat?

Around 80 per cent of Australia's milk is used by dairy manufacturers to make a wide selection of dairy products. Around 7.5 billion litres of milk was processed into dairy products in 1997/98, with the focus on butter, cheese and milk powders. More recently, however, manufacturers have increased production of specialty and short-shelf life products in response to changing consumer demands.

For more information on Australia's dairy industry visit the Dairy Australia website