Dairy Farming In Canada – Canadian Dairy Breeds

Introduction to Dairy Farming in Canada

Dairy Farming In Canada – Canadian Dairy Breeds

In Canada, dairy farming is one of the largest agricultural sectors and this is one of the oldest established industries of Canada. Dairying for the most part is centered on large cities, because of marketing facilities. It mostly plays a small part in the average Canadian farmer’s enterprise, but owing to the decline in grain prices and production in the past few years dairying has increased in the Prairie Provinces. In this article we also covered the below topics about dairy farming in Canada;

  • Is dairy farming profitable in Canada
  • Why is Canadian milk so expensive
  • Where are most dairy farms in Canada
  • How to start a dairy farm business in Canada
  • Key features of the Canadian dairy industry

A Step-by-Step Guide to Dairy Farming In Canada

Dairy Farm

The Canadian dairy industry is a strong and viable industry business in Canada. In Canada, about 98% of dairy farms Canada are family-owned and operated. Dairy farms can be found in each province across Canada with a large concentration of about 81% located in Ontario and Quebec, 13% in the Western provinces, and 6% in the Atlantic Provinces. The average Canadian dairy farm milks about 73 cows.

The dairy industry in Canada is represented by the DFC (Dairy Farmers of Canada), a national lobbying organization.  The Canadian dairy industry is known for its high quality and safety standards. Many milk safety and quality programs and services help farmers across Canada to produce the highest-quality dairy products for consumers. Also, Canada controls the amount of milk produced through supply management and quotas.

Advantages of Dairy Farming in Canada

Dairy farming in Canada is subject to the system of supply management. Under supply management, which includes the egg and poultry sectors, farmers manage their production so that it coincides with forecasts of demand for their products over a predetermined period. While taking into account certain imports that enter Canada, and as well as some production which is shipped to export markets. The Dairy Farmers of Canada, a dairy advocacy group, claims that the system is essential for farmers to provide quality milk to consumers. The advantages of dairy farming in Canada are given below;

  • Milk is a natural and pure product.
  • The initial investment in the dairy farming business is low in comparison to other farming industries.
  • It is an environment-friendly business.
  • The demand for milk production is increasing rapidly in Canada.
  • The dairy industry is not dependent on rainfall, and milk production is possible even on days when the weather is very dry and hot.
  • The milk demand has always increased.
  • Compared to products from other industries, marketing milk is easy.
  • The dairy farming business is the only industry where income is guaranteed every month.
  • Dairy farmers utilize dairy practices through soil conservation, setting limitations on the amount of energy and water in dairy production, and utilizing renewable energy technology on their farms.

Dairy Products in Canada

Primary Canada’s dairy products include pasteurized, packaged fluid milk and cream; cheese; condensed, evaporated or powdered milk or cream; creamery butter, butter oil, and whey butter; ice cream, ice-cream mix, and ice-cream novelties; and frozen desserts (eg, sherbets, ices).

Cheese – The cheese industry is an important product. With the increase of demand for whole milk, the production of butter and cheese has steadily declined, but an export surplus of cheese has been maintained.

Butter – While dairy butter and farm-made cheese were predominant, the butter export trade was the more important.

Other Dairy Products – With the increase of the urban population the sale and consumption of fresh milk and cream has steadily increased until it constitutes more than half the total value of dairy products in Canada. The dairy farms for this purpose are situated near the cities concentrate on the fresh milk market.

The Milk and Dairy Products Industry in Canada

Usually, raw milk is a combination of water, fat, proteins, lactose, and minerals. Production of manufactured products from raw milk involves the disaggregation and transformation of its constituent parts. The broad range of products derived from basic raw milk includes processed dairy products themselves, functional and nutritional food ingredients for use in other food and beverage processing industries, and industrial inputs for a variety of non-food manufacturing.

Demands for dairy products range from lower value, relatively undifferentiated, standardized products, to higher-value, differentiated, specialized, and premium-priced products. The industry has traditionally produced a wide range of consumer dairy products, such as fluid milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt.

The milk and dairy products industry in Canada has operated within a heavily regulated policy environment. Domestic industry operations under a national supply management system have been largely insulated from international markets by a combination of quotas, tariffs, and other import control, industry support, and price stabilization arrangements.

Milk production in Canada is split mainly into two commodity markets: the “fluid milk” market and the “industrial milk” market. Fluid milk products consist of standard milk about 3.25% butterfat, lower-fat milk, buttermilk, chocolate milk, and fresh creams. Industrial milk products are divided mainly into two categories. They are 1) hard products like hard cheese, butter, and skim milk powder, and 2) soft products like ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Statistics of Dairy Framing in Canada

Dairy Farming

The total number of dairy cattle means cattle raised for milk in Canada is estimated at 940,000 animals. There are over 12,000 dairy operations across Canada. On average, Canadian dairy cows will give birth to 2 to 4 calves. After this when their milk production starts to decline and dairy cows are slaughtered and their meat is used for beef, usually ground beef or lower quality beef. Canadian dairy cows are sent to slaughter by 5 to 6 years of age, which is much younger than their natural life expectancy of about 15 to 20 years. In the dairy industry, a dairy cow produces an average of about 30 liters of milk per day. The most common dairy breed is the Holstein (traditionally white with black markings), which makes up almost 94% of the Canadian dairy herd.

Testing, and Licensing for Dairy Farming in Canada

All milk produced on Canadian dairy farms is inspected and then sampled before it is transported to a processing plant. After that, the milk is tested and analyzed for levels of fat and protein and to verify the absence of antibiotic residues. Also, the farm sample is used to verify the quality of each shipment of milk from each farm.

In Canada, everyone involved in milk production and processing should be licensed even the milk transporters are certified graders of milk. In Canada, the dairy sector is regulated at the national level by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. These food safety regulations are in addition to the provincial regulations governing dairy-farming practices in Canada, the pro Action guidelines, and other standards. Then, all these regulations help us be confident that the Canadian dairy products we consume are safe and of high quality.

Supply Management System for Dairy Farming in Canada

In Canada, the supply management system is a government mechanism that provides stability to dairy farmers through production control and minimum support prices for their commercial products. Generally, supply management is a shared jurisdiction between the Federal and Provincial governments. On a Canada-wide basis, there is the Canada-wide Canadian Dairy Commission, mostly composed of dairy farmers, while in Ontario there is the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. Other provinces also have similar local boards. Supply management is a national agricultural policy framework used in Canada that controls the dairy supply through production and import controls and pricing mechanisms. The supply management system in the dairy industry implements the federated provincial policy through the Canadian Milk Supply Management Committee (CMSMC).

The supply management system is the key policy affecting the Canadian dairy industry. It mainly uses a combination of production and marketing controls (production quotas), import controls (tariff rate quotas), and administered pricing (based on cost-of-production) to stabilize and support farm income in the dairy sector. In dairy farming, the supply management system has successfully achieved most of its initial objectives; for instance, regional production capacity has been maintained, the vast majority of dairy farms are family-owned and operated, farm family incomes in the dairy industry exceed the average family income of all other farm types (except poultry) and are higher than the average Canadian family income. The consequence of such a system is artificially higher dairy prices in Canada which have shown to affect dairy products consumption in Canada. Due to higher prices, individuals are consuming lower amounts of dairy products and instead consuming dairy substitutes at a higher

Do dairy farmers receive subsidies from the government?

No. Dairy farmers in Canada do not receive subsidies from the Government because of the benefits of supply management. Consumers pay once for their milk, at the grocery till and not again through their taxes in Canada, as is the case in other countries around the world.

Why is the supply management system beneficial to Canadian dairy farmers?

This system has provided a stable environment within the dairy industry. The supply management system helps keep viable, prosperous, and sustainable family farms operating in Canada. Dairy farmers can in turn afford to have the highest quality and safest standards to ensure the dairy products they produce and consumers buy among the best in the world.

Cleanliness and Care for Dairy Animals in Canada

Food safety starts with first-class barns. Farmers ensure their barns are clean and also well-ventilated to create a comfortable environment for the dairy animals. Clean conditions are not just good animal care and they are also key to producing quality food.

The cows’ food must be safely handled, too. Different dairy animals require different feed mixes and nutritional supplements, so each mix is carefully labelled and stored separately. And any chemicals used on the farm like pesticides and herbicides must also be carefully separated and handled, to avoid any cross-contamination (with bedding, feed, water, and other products) or accidental exposure.

Canadian Dairy Breeds

There are several dairy breeds in Canada. They are Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn, and Canadienne. Approximately 1 million cows can be found in Canada, and of those million cows, about 94% are of the Holstein breed.

Canada has one of the highest average milk-per-cow ratios in the world approximately 8,738 kilograms per 305 days. Also, Canadian milk is internationally recognized for its superior quality. There are over 20,000 dairy farms in Canada with an average of about 54 cows per herd. That totals approximately 1.2 million dairy cows. Ontario and Quebec produce the most milk.

The important Canadian dairy Breeds are;

  • Ayrshire
  • Brown Swiss
  • Canadienne
  • Guernsey
  • Holstein
  • Jersey
  • Milking Shorthorn


The Holsteins are the black and white color cow that dominates the dairy industry more than 93% of the national herd is comprised of Holsteins. While Holstein cow was once used for both milk and meat, it is now predominantly a dairy producer. The Holsteins have an average of about 3.9% butterfat and 3.2% protein in their milk.

Holsteins have the highest average milk production about 30 liters per day and the greatest protein content in their milk. Also, they have a good food conversion ratio (the ability to turn food into milk). It’s no wonder that they make up 90% of dairy cows in Canada. The Canadian Holstein has developed under a philosophy of balanced breeding and cutting-edge research. The Canadian cow is known for traits related to longevity and profitability like sound feet and legs, dairy strength, and a desirable udder. Canadian Holstein breeds are built to withstand high milk production for long and trouble-free life.


The Guernsey breed originated from the channel island of Guernsey and came to Canada by accident. Brown and white, one of the striking characteristics of the Guernsey breed is their quiet temperament. Guernsey milk is very unique; and these cows produce milk that has a high ratio of butterfat to protein: 4.81% butterfat and 3.5% protein. Their milk is naturally golden-hued. The Guernsey cow is a breed of dairy cattle developed on the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel. These cows are very adaptable and they do well under close confinement, such as zero-grazing or dry lot feeding. Also, they handle intensive and extensive grazing conditions well. Guernsey cow is distinguished by their tan and white coloring. They produce an average of 23 liters of milk per day with high-fat content.

Brown Swiss

Brown Swiss cows originated in Switzerland and are thought to be one of the oldest breeds in the world. Their brown coloring ranges from dark to light brown color, and sometimes grey. Brown Swiss cows perform well in all climates and altitudes their eyes are dark blue color and have a distinguished ability to block out radiation from the sun. 

The Brown Swiss milk has 4.16% butterfat content and 3.5% protein content. Due to the fat-to-protein ratio, Brown Swiss milk is ideal for making cheeses. Brown Swiss cows are large, robust, and gentle.


Due to their small size and quick metabolic rate, Jersey cows have reportedly lower feed costs compared to larger breeds. These hardy Jersey cows have a high heat tolerance and are highly adaptable to their environment. Jerseys produce less milk than Holsteins or Brown Swiss, they have notably higher butterfat of about 4.9% and protein of 3.9% in their milk this milk is also perfect for making cheese. The majorities of Jersey herds today are in Ontario and Quebec, with several in British Columbia and comprise 4% of the national herd.

Canadian Jerseys are light fawn (deer-like) to black. They may have white patches. Jersey is one of the smallest dairy breeds and its milk production is close to that of Guernsey at 22 liters per day.


The Ayrshire has average butterfat of about 4.13% and 3.3% of milk proteins. Ayrshire. Ayrshires are efficient grazers and efficient milk producers. They produce an average of 25 liters of milk per day and they are also highly adaptable to all management systems.

Milking Shorthorn

Shorthorn milk has a butterfat content of 4.0% and a protein content of 3.5%. Shorthorn cattle can be raised for meat, produce milk, and serve as draft animals. Today, the Milking Shorthorn breed has developed into a hardy, good-natured, efficient milk producer. Milking shorthorn has an excellent food conversion rate that is the ability to turn food into milk and moderately high milk output.


After adapting to cool Canadian climates, these short, black, or brown cows have made the Quebecois farmlands their home. As a primary producer for Canada in the settling years, the Canadienne would produce high-quality milk for the brisk temperatures. The Canadienne cow produces the same volume as Jersey, but with 4.4% butterfat and 3.6% milk protein. Canadiennes were the primary milking cows. Currently, there are less than 200 purebred females in Canada. Through self-selection, these Canadienne cows have inherited an ability to survive, reproduce, and give milk on poor feeds and throughout harsh Canadian seasons.

The Canadian Dairy Animals Diet

Give the dairy animal proper nutrition. Feeding cattle and other livestock animals can be a complicated business. There are many different kinds of fodder and forage plants, which provide different amounts of energy, protein, roughage, and different nutrients. A veterinarian or experienced farmer could help you work with the food you have available.

  • The common food for cows is grass
  • A typical mature cow will eat about 29 kg of feed every day
  • Canadian dairy farmers work closely with proper nutritionists to find diets that work best for their specific cows
  • Mineral licks and mineral supplements are a very important part of the dairy animal’s diet.
  • Moldy feed or feed stored in the same area as pesticides and contaminants can transfer dangerous toxins to the milk.
  • Dairy animals have high nutrition requirements. Improper nutrition can lead to lower milk production or lower milk quality
  • Nutrition is one of the important factors in their performance, health, and welfare.
  • Many nutrients are utilized by the body for more milk production, and increased nutrient demands for production can negatively impact reproduction in dairy cows.
  • Energy and protein feed ingredients play important roles in milk production and reproduction. It is not only the quantities of energy and protein source but also their quality that plays a main role in optimum production and reproduction.

Vaccinations for Dairy Animals in Canada

Some vaccinations, parasite controls, vitamin-mineral boluses, and hoof trimming procedures must be performed during this main portion of the dry period. One benefit of using parasite controls during the dry period is milk containing antibiotics cannot be milk into the milk tank since the cow is not milking. Cows at the drying-off period at Green mount Campus are treated with a mineral or vitamin bolus, a Rotavirus vaccine, and they are dosed with a fluke drench. Also, a routine examination of the cow’s feet is undertaken and any paring necessary and or treatments necessary applied.

Vaccines are given at drying off offer several advantages;

  • Vaccination is mainly done during a period of low stress and when milk production will not be affected.
  • Vaccination at drying off must produce protective antibodies for calving time and early lactation.
  • Animal vaccination during the dry period results in protective antibodies in the colostrum for passive protection of the calf. Vaccine boosters for calf protection must be given three weeks before calving for maximum colostral antibodies.
  • While some vaccines are excellent and then provide a quick rise in immunity which persists for a substantial period, others could not be as effective at controlling the impact of disease within a herd.
  • The successful vaccine program is founded upon the identification of risk to animals within the herd. Without baseline knowledge of the pathogens, the overall incidence of the disease, and the class of animals being vaccinated, few programs will be efficient at controlling disease or cost-effective for the producer.

The CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and the CCVB (Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics) could issue a label claim for an approved vaccine for dairy animals. The following label claims, in order of decreasing protection, can be found on commercially available vaccines;

  • Prevention of infection indicates that the vaccine will prevent all colonization of the infectious agent in vaccinated and challenged animals.
  • Prevention of disease indicates that the vaccine can prevent clinical disease in at least 80% of animals vaccinated and challenged.
  • Aid in the prevention of disease claims that the vaccine can prevent disease in a clinically significant amount but not to the level to qualify for a high-label claim.
  • Aid in disease control is a claim intended for vaccines that can reduce clinical disease severity or duration or delay the onset of disease.
  • Other claims can be granted such as a reduction of pathogen shedding.

Organic Dairy Farming in Canada

Organic Dairy Farm

Organic Canadian dairy farms have been shown to have a lower overall production cost and are more self-sufficient in terms of plant and animal nutrient recycling and restocking of livestock herds. In contrast, the larger economic surplus enjoyed by conventional dairy farms in Canada is offset by extra costs associated with importing fertilizers, seed, and replacement cattle, making conventional farming no more economically profitable than organic farming.

Organic dairy farming in Canada is less prevalent primarily due to widely held misconceptions that organic farming is unprofitable and risky, as organic farming is attributed to an important degree of self-sufficiency for all aspects of production. Conventional farming is perceived as being highly advanced technologically, and utilizing efficient fertilizers and automated processes throughout the farm, driving down costs associated with physical labor.

Government Funding for Dairy Farm Business in Canada

Once you’ve decided on starting a small business, be it a Dairy Farm Business or not, government funding is a way to get a number of your startup costs covered. The various types of government funding options available can help your startup, expand, purchase the needed tools, equipment, supplies, pay for staff, and cover marketing costs, and more.

Different government funding program options exist, including;

  • Government grants
  • Government loans
  • Government tax breaks and tax credits

These all programs are available across Canada from the local, provincial and federal governments. Before you can apply to any Dairy Farm Business, it is important to have a business plan ready.

Dairy Management Policies in Canada

Dairy policy in Canada uses import limitations to support the dairy sector, and combines the long-standing feature of direct subsidy payments on specified marketed quantities of milk, along with quota restraints on marketing by producers. The milk market sharing program is embodied in an agreement between the federal and provincial governments and is administered by a committee composed of the Canadian Dairy Commission, the provincial milk boards, and government agencies.

Sectoral Policies Affecting the Dairy Industry’s Technical Regulations. A variety of provincial and federal government health and safety, labelling, and compositional standards, and also grading and environmental rules and regulations apply to the Canadian dairy products industry at the farm and processing plant levels.

Provincial governments undertake milk testing on the farm and monitor products for quality and safety in provincially registered milk processing plants. The federal government carries out similar inspection activities in the registered processing plants that process industrial milk into manufactured dairy products entering interprovincial and international trade. The Federal government and provincial governments also test and monitor dairy products at the retail level to ensure consumer safety through a variety of packaging, labelling, composition, weight, and sanitation controls.

The milk and dairy products industry ranks among the main industries in the Canadian agri-food sector in terms of farm cash receipts, processed product shipments, employment, value-added, and industry contribution to gross domestic product. It has mainly operated within an extensively regulated policy environment. The federal government supports the target price through 2 programs. They are a direct subsidy to industrial milk producers, and intervention purchasing of surplus butter and skim milk powder. Fluid milk pricing is under provincial jurisdiction and is based on provincial cost-of-production formulas, the national industrial milk target price, and end-use. Government policies in areas such as dairy food safety and quality regulations, as well as technology development activities, contribute positively to both cost and product competitiveness.

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