China’s dairy farming industry has transformed over the last 2 decades and today the main trend is big scale farming.
In 2019 the annual milk production in China was 32 billion kg and according to the ‘China Dairy Industry Statistics 2020’ the 25 largest farming companies of milk delivered 9,4 billion kg of the country’s production or contributed 29%. These farming companies had 1,7 million dairy cattle or on average nearly 68 thousand animals each.
The Terminal. There are 4 exact same designed farms for 15,000 cows. The milking parlour building has 4 80 places rotaries, it’s called ‘The Terminal’ as it in many ways reminds people of an airport building. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Farming companies in numbers
Behind those big numbers of animals per dairy farming company are several dairy farms that range from 1,000 to 20,000 dairy cows. The biggest dairy farming companies are Modern Farming and Youran Farming, with 230,000 animals at 26 farms, while the other boasted 135,000 cows on 40 farms in 2019. Then several dairy farming companies have between 50,000-100,000 cows: Huishan Dairy with 90,000 dairy cows, Shengmu with 67,000 cows, and Saikexing with 65,000 cows in 2019.
The Chifeng AustAsia Modern Farm was the highest yielding dairy farm in China in 2020 with an average yield of 13,654 kg per cow.
Some of the bigger farms are specially designed for visitors from the cities, this one is in Inner Mongolia and shows the dry cow building that here is called ‘Cows hotel’ to make it easier for the visitors to understand the purpose of the building. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Bengbu farm, currently biggest in China with 20,000 milking cows. In the background the biogas production can be seen and the house in the centre is the dairy plant but at the farm the milk goes directly to drinking milk cartons. On each side, there milking parlours with with 4 rotaries each – 8 in total. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
The farming conditions in China are quite diverse based on where the farms are. In central and south China the farm buildings are usually quite simple. Here some heifer buildings can be seen. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Highest yielding farms in China
When looking at average farm sizes, the AustAsia farms are the largest average size farms with an average stock of 12,291 animals divided on 7 farming operations in different places in China. Then several farming companies have around 8,000 animals, these are Yuansheng Tai, Modern Farming and Fonterra. But the AustAsia Farms are not only the largest on average, they also have the highest average yield, with 12,600 kg per cow per year in 2019. According to new data the Chifeng AustAsia Modern Farm was the highest yielding dairy farm in China in 2020 with an average yield of 13,654 kg per cow whitch is astonishing yield considering that this farm had 12,767 animals in 2020.
All dairy farms in China are quite well protected for biosecurity reasons and need to have guards at the entrance gates of the farms. Many of the bigger farms have used this opportunity to make the entrance look astonishing and here is one example from Hohhot area. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
When you have several thousand cows in one building and the farm is in an area where it gets hot, the farms usually use a lot of energy and resources to cool the cows. Some, like on this picture, with a cross ventilation system. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
On Bengbu farm, the currently biggest in China, 50-100 calves are born every day. Those calves are then kept in small outdoor hutches for several weeks. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Other dairy farming companies, that exceeded the average yield of 11,000 kg per cow in 2019 were: Tianjin Jialihe Animal Husbandry, Youran Farming, Qianjin Farming, Fuyuan International, Hebei Leyuan Farming, and Yuansheng Tai. In 2019, the average yield of the 25 biggest dairy farming companies was 10,2 tonnes of milk per cow compared to the average of 8 tons per cow in China.
This single farm has about 40,000 animals and space for 20.000 adult cows that are milked by 8 rotary milking systems.
Bengbu the largest dairy farm
China's single largest dairy farm is the Bengbu Farm in Anhui province that is owned by Modern Farming. This single farm has about 40,000 animals and space for 20,000 adult cows that are milked by 8 rotary milking systems that all are connected to one single tank-room area! Even though this might seem like a huge farm, an even bigger one is under construction and partly operational now in the Inner Mongolia province. This farm will, when it is fully built, house 40,000 dairy cows and become the single largest dairy farm in the world. The total investment in this farm is estimated to be 2,8 billion Chinese Yuan or about €360 million.
Most big farms in China have biogas production. This is from Bengbu farm. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Farms with thousands of cows need big milking parlours and while most go for rotary parlours some use fast exit parlors and then often have several of them side by side. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Big farms need big silage places. Here can be seen corn silage in the making for one of the bigger dairy farms in China. Photo: Snorri Sigurdsson
Even bigger dairy farming trends in near future
Considering the current trend in China, it seems that the farming companies will become even bigger in near future. Leading the way is the company Modern Farming. This company had 233,000 animals in 2019 but according to Modern Farming’s ‘5-Year Leadership Plan’, released in December 2020, the intention is that in 2025 the company should have doubled both the number of animals and milk production to an astonishing 500,000 animals and an annual production of 3,6 billion kg. The company is already well on its way to reach this future goal as it has, since the release of the ‘5-Year Leadership Plan’, taken over the companies Fuyuan International and Zhongyuan Dairy. After the completion of the acquisition of these 2 companies, the total number of animals at Modern Farming will be over 330,000 and the yearly production will exceed 2 billion kg of milk.
Mergers seem to be one of the ways forward for the big Chinese dairy farming companies and in October of 2020 the company Youran Farming acquired the entire equity of the farming operations of Fonterra in China. At that time Fonterra China operated 6 farms in the country with 54,900 animals and these farms were sold to Youran Farming for the price of 2,3 billion Yuan or about €296 million. After the merger, Youran Farming has 67 farms with approximately 308 thousand animals and a milk production of about 1,6 billion kg.
Why big scale farms?
This trend in milk production in China is quite unique but the reason for this should not come as a surprise- as this is a way forward in a country that is in huge demand for dairy products. Benefits of big scale farming are:
- The centralised purchase by large-scale farming companies gives them power to stabilise prices and quality of forage and feed and makes them less vulnerable to fluctuations of feed prices.
- Those companies have complete setup of staff and can have experts in each specific fields within the dairy farming operation. This leads to proper and systematic management of the farm personnel and gives those companies’ the ability to ensure training and teaching of employees to be as efficienct as possible.
- Big scale farms give opportunities for specialised work areas where each employee has specific and uniform tasks, leading to high professionality and productivity by both animals and employees.