Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dairy Herd Size Increases while the Number of Farms Decreases

Each year, Progressive Dairyman magazine does a great job summarizing annual dairy statistics. It’s interesting to see how the industry changes each year. A trend that continued in 2011 was a decrease in the number of dairy farms with increases in herd size, total milk production and milk production per cow.

Dairy Herds
In 2011, there were 9.2 million cows living on 51,481 dairy farms in the U.S. That is 22,619 fewer herds than there were in 2002. The average herd size is 179 milk cows. The majority of the dairy farmers exiting the industry milk 99 or fewer cows. The total number of dairy farms decreased 3.1% from 2010 to 2011.  

Milk Production
Milk production increased 1.8% last year. The average U.S. cow produced 21,345 lbs (2,482 gallons) of milk in 2011. The 16,700 dairy farms with a herd size of 100 or more milk cows produced 86.4% of the U.S. milk. The 34,781 dairies milking 99 or fewer cows produced 13.6% of the total U.S. milk.

Dairy Exports
In 2011, 13.3% of U.S. dairy products were exported, the highest percentage ever. The top five export markets were; 1) Mexico, 2) Canada, 3) China, 4) Philippines and 5) Japan. Of the dairy products exported, 68% were; 1) Nonfat Dry Milk/Skim Milk Powder, 2) cheese, and 3) whey products.

Top Milk Producing States
The top 11 milk producing states in the nation are; (milk production listed in millions of pounds)
  1. California – 41,462
  2. Wisconsin – 26,177
  3. Idaho – 13,256
  4. New York – 12,826
  5. Pennsylvania – 10,604
  6. Texas – 9,582
  7. Minnesota – 8,890
  8. Michigan – 8,478
  9. New Mexico – 8,177
  10. Washington – 6,169
  11. Ohio – 5,142
Total 2011 U.S. milk production was 196,245 million pounds.

In summary, there are fewer dairy farmers in the U.S. today. The herd size is increasing as small profit margins put pressure on the pocket books of dairy farmers. Many choose to grow their herd or exit the industry. Dairymen are more efficient each year which is evident by the increase in milk production per cow. For the full report, check out 2011 U.S. Dairy Stats


  1. I appreciate serveral of your posts. This year the number of Dairy Farms will decrease by at least one. Cedarcrest Farms has a registered Jersey herd and has been in business since 1939. 10 years ago they decided to get larger to keep up with production costs but their best efforts have failed. In April 1,200 cows and heifers will be up for auction. Due to rising feed costs and fuel costs combined with the price of milk they can no longer keep up and make a living in the dairy business. They are losing $2,000 a day. It sad to see a good farm and family business fade into history. Alabama dairy farms can't support the states milk consumption and now one less farm will be contributing. Best wishes to your farm and family.

  2. I'm sorry to hear that Rayanne. I understand the challenge Cedarcrest Farm and many other dairy farms across the nation are facing. We face it on our farm as well. The extremely high cost of cattle feed is killing the dairy industry in this country. I wonder if the federal government is aware that their ethanol policy, mandates and subsidies are forcing many family dairy farms out of business? It's very sad to hear another farm family is exiting the industry.

  3. I was sorry to see that your blog was used to illustrate Mark Bittman's hate piece on milk. Actually, much of NY's fluid milk is supplied by thousands of dairy farms. The average herd size in NY is 113 at this time. Yes, a growing share of milk is produced by several multi-thousand cow farms. But why are the rest of us discounted? What of the thousands of families whose farms blanket the NY countryside? Why is the emphasis in dairy so often only on the fewer bigger and their contribution with little or no mention of the thousands of smaller farms?

    1. Thanks for the comment. All dairy farmers are an important part of milk production in this country, regardless of herd size, housing method, herd health protocols, etc. That goes for traditional and organic farms as well. ALL are necessary to provide the dairy products consumers demand.

      Some articles, like Mark’s, and food movies pit farms against each other claiming one size or type is better than the other. We as dairy producers know almost every dairy farm in this country is owned and operated by a family. The dairy families I know are good people who work hard to care for their animals and take pride in producing a nutritious, quality product. We all have to follow the same milk quality standards to be Grade A producers regardless of size or management practices.

      I think each dairy farm family must do what’s best for their farm and family situation. For some that might be milking 50 cows and for others that could be milking 2,500 cows. Some dairy farmers diversify by growing crops, operating their own processing facility to make products, or by incorporating agritourism. It’s not one size fits all and that’s ok.

  4. Missing is discussion of landscapes of various milksheds. Instead, all we hear about in Pennsylvania, NY,new England are the massive farms that produce a greater share. I would like to see a discussion of what keeping thousands of dairy farms in business means for various rural regions. What happens when millions of acres of farms empty out as we see in several northeastern states. Bittman cant see the rural countryside from.Manhattan.


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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