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Dairy cattle farming


  • South Africa’s dairy industry compares favourably with the world’s top dairy industries in farming methods and processing of dairy products.
  • Although dairy farming occurs throughout South Africa, it is concentrated in the coastal provinces, with 85.8% of production coming from the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape (MPO, 2023).
  • In January 2023 there were 301 producers in the Western Cape, 186 in KZN, 155 in the Eastern Cape, 95 in the Free State and 61 in the North West province (MPO, 2023). The national figure was 891 producers (as opposed to 1 053 in January 2020).
  • Increased national production despite the inputs price squeeze and drop in the number of producers is attributed to the use of technology and increased scale of, and investment in, operational units.
  • Dairies that produce their own maize, soybeans and animal feed are more competitive. Sufficient economies of scale are a further characteristic of sustainable dairy farms.
  • Average daily milk production per cow was 16.1 litres in 2022. Ninety-nine percent of unprocessed milk was delivered to the market. The balance was used for on-farm consumption (MPO, 2023). Processors and distributors of milk and milk products process milk from the farmers and sell it to consumers nationwide.
  • Holstein Friesians and Jerseys are the predominant breeds, followed by Ayrshires, Guernseys, SA Dairy Swiss and Dairy Shorthorn.

International business environment

  • The top countries for cows milk production are the EU, India, China, Russia, Brazil and New Zealand (USDA, 2023).
  • Africa is responsible for only 1% of the world’s dairy output, and half of that comes from South Africa.


Further reference:

  • Find the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) annual overview of the global dairy market at
  •, website of the International Dairy Federation provides global dairy statistics. Its sister website, provides “a global framework for a holistic approach to sustainability in the dairy value chain”.
  • Find the current world production, market and trade reports at
  •, “the globally connected marketplace for dairy”
  • The annual Lacto Data from the Milk Producers’ Organisation (MPO) provides useful perspectives on the global dairy situation. Find these at
  • The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP)’s annual Baseline analyses the domestic outlook in context of what is happening globally. Find the document at
  • Rabobank produces a Dairy Quarterly. See


South Africa: imports and exports

  • View this heading on the “Dairy processing” page.
  • Lacto Data and the monthly Dairy Market Trends provide the latest statistics on the dairy industry, including breakdowns of imports and exports. Find it on The Quarterly Review, prepared by the MPO and SAMPRO (see “Associations involved” heading), does the same. Find it at
  • The duty free imports of products from the EU continue to limit the growth potential of the domestic dairy industry (Van Heerden & Kirsten, 2022). Van Heerden & Kirsten (2022) look at five specific funds EU farmers, on top of other subsidies that dairy producers enjoy there.

Local business environment

Find the annual Lacto Data and monthly “Dairy Market Trends” at, and the Quarterly Review at

Dairy producers have a number of marketing opportunities:

  • Sell direct to consumers. Producers can build a sound relationship with local customers.
  • Sell to a retailer e.g. a small café or supermarket
  • Sell to a processor.
  • Value adding through processing (see the “Dairy processing” page in the Value Add section of this website)
  • Value adding through packaging. Put milk or other product in attractive and functional packaging (see the “Packaging & handling systems” page in the Farm infrastructure section of this website).

Milk Recording

The benefits of participating in the milk recording scheme

Milk recording is of utmost importance not only to the individual farmer, but also to the entire dairy industry.

  • Milk recording provide the farmer with up-to date information on milk yield and milk composition (fat and protein %, lactose, Urea and somatic cell counts). This information provides the basis for informed herd management and profitability;
  • It increases herd profitability through maximising genetic improvement;
  • It helps the farmer maintain low herd somatic cell count by monitoring individual cow SCC and taking appropriate action in time;
  • It creates the possibility of corrective pairing;
  • Producers who join the scheme get an increase in the value of their animals (buyers are inclined to pay more for animals where additional information such as performance test results and breeding values is available.


Joining the scheme Participation does not require exceptional skills. The farmer only needs to keep basic records such as the testing date. Since not all farmers can afford the time and /or manpower to do milk recording, Agricultural Research Council (ARC) technicians/milk recorders can do the test for you. The farmer pays for the delivery and testing of the samples, the control and maintenance of standards and the processing of the data.

In addition to the ARC, SA Stud Book also runs a milk recording schemes. See here.

For the newcomer

Helpful publications are:

  • The Dairy Farming Handbook, compiled by experts, is a roadmap for sustainable milk production for both commercial and small holder farmers. Find it on the Western Cape Department of Agriculture website.
  • The Milk SA Guide to Dairy Farming (2nd edition), available at
  • The Transformation Handbook for the South African Dairy Industry 2014/15 which “serves as a practical guide for people who would like to become involved in empowerment and transformation of black people in the South African dairy industry, and for black entrepreneurs who need practical guidance in this regard”. It can be downloaded at
  • The Code of Practice for Milk Producers is also available on the Milk SA website. This sets out requirements for the milking shed, the milking parlour, the milk room, and also lists good dairy farming practice.


Find the many publications at  These include:

  • Applied Ruminant Nutrition for Dairy Cows
  • Breeding and Selection of Dairy Cows
  • Breeds of Dairy Cattle
  • Calf Rearing
  • Characteristics of Common Roughages for Dairy Cows in KZN
  • Concentrates for Dairy Cattle
  • Condition Scoring of Dairy Cows
  • Dairy Farm Record Keeping
  • Dairy Herd Structure – Dairy Herd Dynamics
  • Dairying in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Fodder Production
  • Planning for the Dairy Herd
  • Grass Silage Mineral and Vitamin Nutrition Of Dairy Cattle
  • Oestrus Detection
  • Pasture Systems for Dairying in KZN
  • Practical Feeding of the Dairy Cow
  • Rearing Dairy Replacement Heifers
  • Ruminant Digestion
  • The National Dairy Cattle Performance and Progeny Testing Scheme
  • Total Mixed Rations for Dairy Cattle


The 6th of the Agricultural Marketing Extension Papers on is the document about Dairy Marketing. Find more on this and other documents from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) under the “Websites & publications” heading below.

National strategy and government contacts

Find government links under “Featured links” at

  • Find information about the various directorates of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD) at
  • National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC)
  • International Trade Administration Commission (Itac) Itac’s core business is to create an enabling environment for fair trade through customs tariff investigations, trade remedies and import and export control.
  • Competition Commission
  • Department of Health

“The South African dairy industry is a critical contributor to food security, and production expansion has already exceeded the targets set for 2030 in the National Development Plan. … To unlock its potential and accelerate growth over the coming decade, a comprehensive strategy towards herd health and biosecurity will have to be adopted also through full implementation of the South African Veterinarian Strategy and an animal identification and traceability system. Furthermore, to improve competitiveness across the value chain, service delivery and infrastructure maintenance at municipal level need to be urgently addressed”. Source: BFAP Baseline 2021-2030

Associations involved

The Members of Milk SA comprise the Milk Producers’ Organisation (MPO) and the SA Milk Processors’ Organisation (SAMPRO). Find details under the “Role players” heading below.

  • Contact details of MPO management in the provincial branches, events and news by province and at national level can be found on the website.
  • Find details of SAMPRO on the “Dairy processing” page.

  Animal welfare The National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) and the dairy industry have been devising the South African National Standard: SANS 1694, The welfare of dairy cattle. This Standard aims to standardise the dairy industry in terms of animal welfare.

Training and research

For dairy processing training (making yoghurt, cheese etc) see the “Dairy processing” page.

  • Future Farmers Foundation is one of the great success stories in South African agriculture. Find the article “Future farmers: a coming of age” and the CEO’s letter to the Agri Handbook here.
  • The Provincial Departments of Agriculture work closely with the Agricultural Colleges to present short courses on Dairy Production, often in an African language e.g. the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Cedara offer a small-scale dairying course in Zulu, Dairy Production (basic and advanced) and Dairy Processing. Glen College offers dairy management courses. Find contact details for all Agricultural Colleges on the “Agricultural education and training” page.


Find details of training providers and researcher institutions under the “Role players” heading below.


Role players


Note: Click to expand the headings below. To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

Kwikelec – Installation of dairy farm (including processing) equipment
Amadlelo Agri – Hands-on training offered to black farmers from around the country. Amadlelo Agri has invested in, and supports, several dairies including Fort Hare Dairy, Middledrift Dairy, Ncora Dairy and Shiloh Dairy. Find notes on the website.
 Representative Bodies
 Training, Consulting & Research Service Providers
 Community, NGO and NPO Service Providers

Find providers of dairy software on the “Animal Improvement & breeders” page. Additional companies involved are also listed on the dairy processing page.


Websites and publications

View the sources listed earlier on this page e.g. the MPO’s Lacto Data.

  • Find the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development web pages at The excellent Agricultural Marketing Extension publications are under the “Resource Centre” option. Training Paper No. 6 covers dairy marketing. Under the “Info Paks” option on the same website find “Rules for clean handmilking”, “Methods of tick control in cattle”, “How to estimate the age of cattle” and “Condition scoring of cattle.” See whether the Directorate Marketing has resumed its annual Dairy Market Value Chain Profile which were published until 2019.
  • Find the Milk SA Guide to Dairy Farming – 2nd edition and many other publications, videos and podcasts on the Milk SA website,
  • The Dairy Mail is a monthly publication for dairy farmers. Visit
  • Contact the ARC in Irene at 012 672 9111 for the Annual Milk Cattle Bulletin (complete set of Bulletins, available in Afrikaans or English)
  • Call 012 842 4017 or email iaeinfo [at] for the following publications, available from the ARC in Silverton: (i) Handleiding oor melkbeesfasiliteite (ii) Dairy cattle facilities manual (iii) Lae-koste melkverkoeling (iv) Small-scale milking shed (v) Kleinskaalse melkstal.
  • Find the WWF SA “Measuring for irrigation efficiency A case study of water use on pasture-based dairy farms” (2022) download at
  • Kejafa Knowledge Works has numerous livestock publications including Getting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleDairy Cattle Manual, Udder Health and Natural Cattle Care. Visit
  • The consumer education project by Milk SA,
  • Watch the Nation in Conversation episode on the dairy industry (February 2017) on YouTube.
  • The International Dairy Federation (IDF) has produced several publications aimed at improving environmental performance. Visit One of these is its Guide on Biodiversity for the Dairy Sector. The free download seeks to assist dairy industry role players in improving biodiversity management.
  • Dairy Herd Management (USA)


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