Dairy cow numbers started 2021 at an all-time high in January, with 9.445 million animals in the U.S. milking herd. Those numbers would steadily increase before hitting a new record high in May, totaling out at 9.507 million, a jump of 62,000 animals. For the rest of the year, however, these numbers would begin to fall.
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At the beginning of June 2021, the U.S. milking herd consisted of 9.503 million dairy cows. (Taylor Leach)

At the beginning of June 2021, the U.S. milking herd consisted of 9.503 million dairy cows. For seven consecutive months, these numbers would decline. At the conclusion of 2021, the U.S. herd finished at 9.375 million, a drop of 132,000 cattle since May, down nearly 1.5%. This resulted in a loss of 67,000 head year-over-year.

According to the USDA Milk Production report released late last month, states who lost the most cows in 2021 include:

New Mexico – Down 45,000
Washington – Down 18,000
Ohio – Down 10,000
Pennsylvania – Down 8,000
New York – Down 6,000

In contrast, states who added to their herds in that same time frame include:

South Dakota – Up 29,000
Wisconsin – Up 16,000
Texas – Up 12,000

Higher feed costs and intense drought out West caused some farmers to bump up their culling decisions, leading to a jump in dairy cow culling rates in 2021. According to the USDA, U.S. annual dairy cow slaughter reached 3.1 million head in 2021, 42,700 more than the year prior.

Falling dairy prices are a double-edged sword that benefits consumers and manufacturers, but pinches farmers’ margins and threatens additional challenges later in the year, cautioned Mike McCully, independent dairy consultant for The McCully Group, shared during a recent Dairy Deli Bakery Association webinar.

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