♥ Global milk production There are around 250 million cows producing milk across the world. The European Union is the largest milk producer and has about 23 million dairy cows. This compares with 10 million in North America and over 6 million in Australia and New Zealand. Milk production is also on the increase in South-East Asia, including countries not traditionally noted for their milk consumption, such as China, which now has over 12 million cows producing milk.
♥ Higher milk yield Over the last fifty years, dairy farming has become more intensive to increase the amount of milk produced by each cow. The Holstein-Friesian, the type of dairy cow most common in the UK, Europe and the USA has been bred to produce very high yields of milk. Around 22 litres per day is typical in the UK. The average yield in the US is even higher at over 30 litres per day. Milk production per cow has more than doubled in the past 40 years. If they were producing just enough to feed their calves, as nature intended, this would be about 3 or 4 litres a day.
♥ Grazing and housing In the UK most dairy cows still have access to grazing on pasture for part of the day in summer, but more cows are being kept indoors for longer, or even all year round. This is known as ‘zero grazing’, and is increasingly used in North America and parts of the UK for large and high yielding herds.
♥ There are about 17,000 dairy farms in the UK, largely in the west. Average herd size is 86 cows in England, 75 in Wales and 102 in Scotland. Most cows are milked twice a day, and an average dairy cow yields 6,300 litres a year. The most important dairy cattle breed is the ubiquitous British Friesian, which has largely replaced the Dairy Shorthorn in British dairy herds thanks both to its high milk yield and the relatively high quality of the beef it produces.