Since 2009, China has become the world's most important buyer of dairy cows, driving up prices for calves world-wide. China has imported nearly 250,000 live heifers, or cows that haven't yet reproduced, since 2009, according to data tracker Global Trade Information Services. Last year it spent more than $250 million on 100,000 foreign heifers, about 25 ships worth.
Chinese on average drink about 2.5 gallons of liquid milk a year, less than a third as much as Japanese and South Koreans, and far behind the 20.8 gallons drunk in the U.S.
Chinese cows, imported from Europe decades ago but never scientifically bred, produce on average four tons of milk a year, compared with nine tons for American cows.
Grazed cows, like those in Australia and New Zealand, produce less milk than those confined to sheds, where feeding is controlled.
The result is farms like Modern Dairy's Feidong facility which contains 10,000 cows - a huge set of buildings that looks more like an electronics factory than a farm. Cows live in football-field-size covered sheds, rarely venture outdoors and are milked three times a day on German-made, bovine merry-go-rounds, with automated pumps that measure each cow's milk flow by the second and send that data to central computers. Music plays in the background to soothe the cows during the 8-minute cycle.
The U.S. sends the food the cows eat because China doesn't have the supply of high-protein alfalfa that top producing cows need.
China Grows Its Dairy Farms With a Global Cattle Drive. WSJ.