Wisconsin Agriculturist Logo

U.S. dairy herd numbers fall to 27,932

Dairy Outlook: The average U.S. cow produced 24,067 pounds of milk in 2022.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

April 17, 2023

2 Min Read
Dairy cows in field
PRODUCTION RISES: Both milk production per cow and total U.S. milk production increased in 2022, according to USDA. FRAN O’LEARY

About 6% of U.S. dairy farms quit milking cows in 2022, but that was a slower rate of decline than in the past five years, according to the annual USDA Milk Production Report, which summarizes the previous year. The report was published on March 20.

Twenty years ago, there were 70,375 dairy herds in the U.S. In 2022, there were 27,932 herds, down from 29,842 in 2021, according to Greg Bussler, state statistician for USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Wisconsin field office. Calendar-year 2022 saw an exit of 1,910 dairy herds nationwide, or about 6% of the country’s dairy operations. That compares to a loss of 1,794 herds nationwide, or 5.7% of the country’s total, in 2021. But the decline in herd numbers in the three previous years was bigger: 2,535 (7.4%) in 2020; 3,281 (8.8%) in 2019; and 2,731 (6.8%) in 2018. Over the past 20 years, the U.S. has lost, on average, about 2,300 dairy herds per year.

Meanwhile, dairy cow numbers declined slightly; the average herd size is growing; and per-cow and total milk production have increased. Through 2022, the average number of milk cows in the nation’s dairy herd shrank by 0.5% to 9.4 million head, or 100,000 fewer cows than in 2021, according to Bussler.

The average dairy herd size reached a record-high of 337 head in 2022. That number has grown steadily in the past 20 years, from 129 cows in 2003. The average dairy herd size in Wisconsin has jumped to 208 cows today, up from an average of 140 cows just five years ago.

Production per cow increased year over year by 138 pounds to an average of 24,067 pounds per head. Total milk production climbed 169 million pounds to a record total of 226.4 billion pounds in 2022.

At the state level, Texas overtook New York as the fourth-largest dairy state in 2021. New York produces the fifth most milk in the country. Texas is creeping up on Idaho, which is the third-largest dairy state. Texas is only about 100 million pounds of milk behind Idaho, according to USDA milk production statistics for 2022. California is still the top milk-producing state, followed by No. 2 Wisconsin.

States losing the most dairy herds in 2022 were Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and California. California lost 60 herds, and Pennsylvania and New York both lost 200 herds. Wisconsin topped the list with 320 herds lost. Those four states lost a combined 780 herds, or about 41% of the 1,910 dairy herds lost nationwide in 2022.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary 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.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary 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 a 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.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like