Canadian Dairy Commission
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From 2011 to 2016, the national dairy herd remained fairly stable (-0.6%), while total milk production increased by 8.9%. In the 2011 dairy year total Canadian production was 77.8 million hectolitres while in 2016, it reached 84.7 million hectolitres. These adjustments reflect ongoing restructuring at the farm level. There are fewer farms but more cows on each farm. Since 2011, the number of cows per farm has risen by about 12.1% and the average Canadian dairy farm now has 85 cows. Better feeding, disease control and genetic advancements have increased the amount of milk produced per cow.

Farm Cash Receipts

As a key contributor to the Canadian economy in the 2016, dairy production ranked third behind grains, oilseeds and meats in terms of the value of its manufactured shipments. It generated $6.17 billion in total farm cash receipts.

Farm cash receipts from milk and cream sold off farms

Milk Markets

Canadian dairy producers supply two main markets:

  • the fluid milk market, which includes flavoured milks and creams and,
  • the industrial milk market which uses milk to make products such as butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and milk powders.

In 2015-2016 dairy year, the fluid market accounted for approximately 28.9% of total producer shipments of milk, or 97.8 million kg of butterfat.1 The industrial market accounted for the remaining 71.1% or 240.2 million kg of butterfat. In 2016, 82.2% of Canada's milk production was concentrated in Ontario and Quebec.

Milk production by province

Organic Milk

Canadian production of organic milk is increasing steadily in Canada and volume is now 23.8% higher than it was five years ago. The production of certified organic milk is concentrated in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The 2015-2016 dairy year saw 222 farms produce 1,110,664 hectolitres of organic milk, which represents 1.4% of total Canadian dairy output. In 2014, organic raw milk premiums paid by processors ranged from 16 to 30 cents per litre. Organic producers are often required to pay additional administration and transportation fees. These fees are often deducted directly from the premium paid by processors and average between $0.08 and $0.12 per litre.2

Production of of organic milk and number of producers

Number of Farms

The industry has experienced a 23.1% per cent decline in the number of dairy farms over the past decade, from 14,660 in 2006 to 11,280 in 2016. However, individual farming units have grown in size and have become more effective in operation. From 2007 to 2016, the average production per farm has increased significantly by 38,8%.

Number of farms by province

Number of Cows

The overall number of cows has decreased over the past 5 years, however the production per cow has increased by 9.7%. In 2011, there were 965,600 cows in Canada producing an average of 80.5 hl of milk per cow. In 2016, there were approximately 959,100 dairy cows in Canada, producing an average of 88.3 hl of milk per cow.

Number of cows by province

Typical Canadian Dairy Farm

The typical Canadian dairy farm is quite specialized, with most of its revenue coming from milk production and the sale of dairy cattle. It is a family-owned operation with a herd of about 77 Hosltein cows. Dairy farm operators typically range in age from 45 to 54.

As farm size increases, operations require more than a single farmer and part-time family help, and the availability of skilled farm labour is an issue in communities across the country. There is a trend for milking facilities to get larger and more automated. Many feature new technology such as rotary parlours, animal identification system and automatic cow-sorting devices. More and more dairy producers use robots to milk cows, the goal of these technologies being to reduce production costs. Producers can save money on labour and can expand without increasing labour requirements.3

Originally released in 1990 and updated in 2009, the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle was developed by Dairy Farmers of Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council in collaboration with scientists and government experts and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. It is a national guideline to promote sound dairy cattle management and welfare practices through recommendations and requirements for housing, management, transportation, processing and husbandry practices used with dairy cattle.

1. Milk production in Canada is expressed in kg of butterfat at 3.6 kg of butterfat per hectolitre.
2. Organic Dairy Industry in Canada, 2012
3. Farm Credit Canada. Dairy Facts. June 2011