350 dairy cows makes you the biggest dairy farm in Austria: Perschlingtal Milch. These numbers may not sound impressive to a US farmer or a Chinese dairy investor, but the traditions of the country farming system needs to be considered first before you define what a real 'large farm' for a particular country is.
I had the privilege to visit this farm in Phyra, Austria last week and right from the start the owners, Stefan Moser, Josef Spendelhofer and Leopold Fischer, explained to me that this farm is not a conventional Austrian farm.
3 dairy farms become 1
That is because it broke with the Austrian tradition. A rebellious farm that is! The Austrian tradition is small family dairy farms, mostly managed by one farmer. According to Eurostat data, the average farm size in Austria is 16 cows (figures from 2011) with an average production per cow per year of 6,604 kg.
Dairy farm in Phyra, Austria
This farm in Phyra has a few more cows than this average domestic number. This is mainly because three farms have been combined (and 3 mill quota) to one new farm. The idea to make one farm out of three already started in 1988, initiated by project manager Hubert Schagerl. After some years of preparation, the farm was built in 1998 for 140 dairy cows. At that time, there was no farm in Austria with more than 100 dairy cows. It was extended in 2003 with 150 lying boxes.
Buying extra milk quota to accommodate milk production
The combined milk quota was only 150,000 kg, but the farm was built for a production of 1 million kg. Meaning they couldn't sell a lot of milk to a processor. So in the beginning years they processed and packaged most of the milk on farm and sold it under their own brand (according to the Austrian D-quota rules). They stopped doing this in 2008, as they bought extra quota (A-quote). In 2014, they delivered 2,200,000 kg milk.
End of milk quota means more room for expansion
With the end of the milk quota coming up, it is time for the three owners to build a second barn for another 250 cows which will double the herd (coming to a total of more than 500 cows) and double the milk production to 4.4 million kg per year as of 2016. Six Lely milking robots will be installed and the new barn will be better equipped for cow comfort than the old one. Construction has been started already and it will start operation in 2016.
With these latest plans, this farm will certainly hold its number one position in Austria. And most important, the farm is performing very well. They show a high production with their cows, bred out of namable sires of Lower Austria. Average production is 10,500 liters per cow per year, with an average somatic cell count of 90,000.
Can you call this Austrian farm a mega one in terms of numbers or production? Not per se if you compare it with some of the mega dairies found on other continents. But it is certainly a farm that thinks big for the country that it is in and not afraid to break with current traditions.