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Wisconsin dairy farm number drops again

The Dairy State reports 6,116 dairy herds as of Jan. 1.

January 13, 2023

2 Min Read
Dairy cows
MORE COWS PER FARM: In 2022, there were an average of 212 cows on each dairy farm in Wisconsin. In 1974, there were 38 cows per dairy farm. Farm Progress

In 1974, there were 49,770 dairy farms in Wisconsin and the average farm family milked 38 cows. Each cow produced an average of 10,500 pounds of milk for a total of 19.2 billion pounds of milk produced that year.

Fast-forward almost 50 years to today, and its obvious things in America’s Dairyland have changed quite a bit. According to Greg Bussler, state statistician for the Wisconsin field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of dairy farms in Wisconsin fell to 6,116 herds as of Jan. 1, which is 417 fewer than on Jan. 1 last year. While 417 is about half the number of dairy farms lost in 2019, it means Wisconsin still lost more than one dairy farm per day in 2022. In 2019, Wisconsin lost 818 dairy farms, or more than two farms per day.

Ten years ago, Wisconsin had 11,155 dairy farms — about 47% more farms than the 6,116 dairy farms in the state on Jan. 1, 2023.

Record milk production

Wisconsin farmers did produce a record 31.7 billion pounds of milk in 2021, and they are expected to exceed that amount in 2022 when the final numbers for last year are released by NASS later this year. Farmers were milking 1.3 million dairy cows on Jan. 1, 2022, compared to 1.81 million cows 50 years ago.

If you do the math, there was an average of 212 cows on each dairy farm in Wisconsin as of Nov. 1, 2022, and they produced 24,385 pounds of milk per cow in 2021. Note how much cow numbers per farm jumped in the Dairy State in the past few years. In 2017, there were an average of 138 cows on each dairy farm, and they produced 23,725 pounds of milk per cow on 9,304 dairy farms. That means the average dairy farm is milking 74 more cows today than it was just six years ago.

In 1974, Wisconsin cows averaged only 10,500 pounds of milk per cow. They produced 19.2 billion pounds of milk in 1974. In 1957, 2.3 million dairy cows in Wisconsin produced 17.4 billion pounds of milk, which works out to 7,700 pounds per cow.

Wisconsin has been keeping track of dairy farm numbers since 1950. At that time, there were 143,000 dairy farms in the state. Today, the state is home to 64,100 farms of all types. The average farm size is 222 acres, according to NASS.

Dairy farm numbers nationwide have plummeted from 53,127 farms in 2010 to 29,858 farms today. Cow numbers are down as well. There were 9.4 million dairy cows nationwide in 2022, compared to 11.8 million cows in 1972.

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