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Wisconsin dairy farm numbers drop to 5,661

Badger View: There is an average of 224 cows on each dairy farm in Wisconsin.

Fran O'Leary

January 26, 2024

3 Min Read
Holstein dairy cows in a green pasture
HOLY COW: The average dairy farm in Wisconsin is milking 86 more cows today than it was just seven years ago.FARM PROGRESS

In 1994, there were 29,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin, and the average farm family milked 51 cows. Each cow produced an annual average of 15,001 pounds of milk, for a total of 22.4 billion pounds of milk produced that year.

Fast-forward 30 years to today, and it’s 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 5,661 herds as of Jan. 1, which is 455 fewer than on Jan. 1 last year.

While 455 is less than the number of dairy farms lost in 2019, it means Wisconsin still lost more than one dairy farm per day in 2023. In 2019, Wisconsin lost 818 dairy farms, or more than two farms per day.

Ten years ago, Wisconsin had 10,541 dairy farms — about 46% more farms than the 5,661 dairy farms in the state on Jan. 1.

Record milk production

Wisconsin farmers did produce a record 31.9 billion pounds of milk in 2022, and they are expected to exceed that amount in 2023 when the final numbers for last year are released by NASS later this year. Farmers were milking 1.27 million dairy cows on Jan. 1, 2023, compared to 1.81 million cows 50 years ago. Despite fewer cows, cows today produce a record amount of milk every year in the Dairy State.

If you do the math, there was an average of 224 cows on each dairy farm in Wisconsin as of Nov. 1, 2023, and they produced 25,064 pounds of milk per cow in 2022. Note how much cow numbers per farm jumped in the Dairy State in the past few years. In 2017, there was 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 86 more cows today than it was just seven 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 of milk 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 in 2010 to 27,932 in 2022. That is a drop of 47% in just 12 years. Cow numbers are down as well. There were 9.4 million dairy cows nationwide in 2022, compared to 11.8 million cows in 1972.

Due to the efficiency and productivity of today’s cows, nationally, the smaller number of cows is producing 226.5 billion pounds of milk, which is a record amount. That works out to 24,087 pounds of milk per cow, or about 1,000 pounds less than Wisconsin cows are averaging.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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