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  • Writer's pictureSuzie Anne

Dairy Farming 101: A Birdseye View of the U.S. Dairy Industry

The dairy industry has been a big part of US history since the time when people quit milking their own cows. Since that time, dairy farms have provided delicious nutrients for countless generations. While farmers no longer milk their herds by hand, the process is still labor intensive and time consuming. So, what has changed now that farmers aren’t tied down with hand-milking their cows?
The biggest change is herd size. Now that each cow is milked using a machine, the size of the herd can grow. The current average herd size is 260 cows, though there is a wide range with some farms still at 60 cows and others in the thousands. The average pounds of milk each cow produces has also increased, with a yearly average of 23,948 pounds per cow in 2021, compared to 17,185 pounds per cow in 1998. This increase in milk production has also resulted in a lower total number of cows in the US. What hasn’t changed, though, is that the majority of farms, 97% according to the USDA, are still family owned. The percentage of each breed in the US dairy population has also not changed much.
Holsteins are the most common dairy breed in the US, with Jerseys being the second most populous. Holsteins have remained the queens of the dairy world for many years due to their unsurpassed ability to produce milk in large quantities. However, the industry is beginning to move towards crossbred animals, instead of purebreds, to reclaim some of the traits, i.e. butterfat and protein, that have been lost in the singular pursuit of producing the greatest volume of milk. Jerseys are one of the top choice for several reasons, the main one being they provide the high protein and butterfat content Holsteins give-up in producing greater volumes of milk.
This concludes a fast-paced flyover of the US dairy industry, though there is so much more to cover as this only touches the basics. Links to the resources utilized in writing this are provided below. Future posts will dive more in-depth into various topics about dairy farming. Be sure to post any questions, thoughts, or topic ideas below!

Have a moo-velous day, and keep magic in the mundane!


Links:
https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/dairy-data -- Download titled “U.S. milk production and related data (quarterly and annual)

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