But we’ve drunk milk for yonks! Read about the history of dairy farming. | Viva!

But we’ve drunk milk for yonks! Read about the history of dairy farming.

Although cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated in parts of the Middle East and central Asia over 9,000 years ago, there is no evidence that these animals were milked. When did dairy farming begin? What exactly is the history of dairy farming? Written texts, paintings, drawings and analysis of dairy fat residues on pottery fragments suggest that people started exploiting these animals for milk between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago (Pringle, 1998, Evershed et al, 2008). Although this sounds like a long time, in evolutionary terms it is the blink of an eye. The fossils of modern humans date back nearly seven million years and if that were represented as a twelve-hour clock, starting at midday and now at midnight, it would mean that dairy farming began less than one minute ago. Also, early dairy farming was practised on a tiny scale compared to today, with most societies eating very little, in stark contrast to our post-Second World War binge on dairy. Even in the last 30 years, the average herd size in the UK has more than quadrupled. In the USA, milk production per cow doubled between 1970 and 2006 and herd sizes are steadily increasing, with large farms having more than 15,000 cows (USDA, 2010). So, as you can see, the real history of dairy farming is a horror story.