Terminology differs between countries. For example, in the United States, an entire dairy farm is commonly called a "dairy". The building or farm area where milk is harvested from the cow is often called a "milking parlor" or "parlor". The farm area where milk is stored in bulk tanks is known as the farm's "milk house". Milk is then hauled (usually by truck) to a "dairy plant" = also referred to as a "dairy" - where raw milk is further processed[by whom?] and prepared for commercial sale of dairy products. In New Zealand, farm areas for milk harvesting are also called "milking parlours", and are historically known as "milking sheds". As in the United States, sometimes milking sheds are referred to by their type, such as "herring bone shed" or "pit parlour". Parlour design has evolved from simple barns or sheds to large rotary structures in which the workflow (throughput of cows) is very efficiently handled. In some countries, especially those with small numbers of animals being milked, the farm may perform the functions of a dairy plant, processing their own milk into salable dairy products, such as butter, cheese, or yogurt. This on-site processing is a traditional method of producing specialist milk products, common in Europe.
In the United States a dairy can also be a place that processes, distributes and sells dairy products, or a room, building or establishment where milk is stored and processed into milk products, such as butter or cheese. In New Zealand English the singular use of the word dairy almost exclusively refers to a corner shop, or superette. This usage is historical as such shops were a common place for the public to buy milk products.
As an attributive, the word dairy refers to milk-based products, derivatives and processes, and the animals and workers involved in their production: for example dairy cattle, dairy goat. A dairy farm produces milk and a dairy factory processes it into a variety of dairy products. These establishments constitute the global dairy industry, a component of the food industry.
Milk producing animals have been domesticated for thousands of years. Initially, they were part of the subsistence farming that nomads engaged in. As the community moved about the country, their animals accompanied them. Protecting and feeding the animals were a big part of the symbiotic relationship between the animals and the herders.
In the more recent past, people in agricultural societies owned dairy animals that they milked for domestic and local (village) consumption, a typical example of a cottage industry. The animals might serve multiple purposes (for example, as a draught animal for pulling a plough as a youngster, and at the end of its useful life as meat). In this case the animals were normally milked by hand and the herd size was quite small, so that all of the animals could be milked in less than an hour—about 10 per milker. These tasks were performed by a dairymaid (dairywoman) or dairyman. The word dairy harkens back to Middle English dayerie, deyerie, from deye (female servant or dairymaid) and further back to Old English dæge (kneader of bread).
With industrialisation and urbanisation, the supply of milk became a commercial industry, with specialised breeds of cattle being developed for dairy, as distinct from beef or draught animals. Initially, more people were employed as milkers, but it soon turned to mechanisation with machines designed to do the milking.
Historically, the milking and the processing took place close together in space and time: on a dairy farm. People milked the animals by hand; on farms where only small numbers are kept, hand-milking may still be practiced. Hand-milking is accomplished by grasping the teats (often pronounced tit or tits) in the hand and expressing milk either by squeezing the fingers progressively, from the udder end to the tip, or by squeezing the teat between thumb and index finger, then moving the hand downward from udder towards the end of the teat. The action of the hand or fingers is designed to close off the milk duct at the udder (upper) end and, by the movement of the fingers, close the duct progressively to the tip to express the trapped milk. Each half or quarter of the udder is emptied one milk-duct capacity at a time.