Year-over-year U.S. milk production was up just 0.3% as growth in per-cow output remained slow.
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Here’s how the fire that killed nearly 18,000 Texas cows got started
Here’s how the fire that killed nearly 18,000 Texas cows got started

U.S. milk production continued a pattern of slow growth in April, with a Texas dairy fire impacting cow numbers, according to the USDA’s monthly Milk Production report.

April 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

Reviewing the USDA preliminary estimates for April 2023 compared to April 2022:

U.S. milk production: 19.21 billion pounds, up 0.3%
U.S. cow numbers: 9.43 million, up 26,000 head
U.S. average milk per cow: 2,037 pounds, up 1 pound
24-state milk production: 18,378 billion pounds, up 0.5%
24-state cow numbers: 8.944 million, up 36,000 head
24-state average milk per cow: 2,055 pounds, up 2 pounds
Source: USDA Milk Production report, May 19, 2023

Cow numbers

A fire that killed an estimated 18,000 cows at South Fork Dairy in Dimmitt, Texas, on April 10, is reflected in the USDA’s April cow number estimates.

Preliminary April 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.43 million head, up 26,000 from a year earlier but 16,000 fewer than the revised March estimate. Among the 24 major dairy states (Table 1), April 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.944 million, up 36,000 from April 2022 but 15,000 fewer than March 2023.

The month-to-month decline in major dairy state cow numbers of 15,000 is almost exclusively tied to the fire in Texas, where nearly 18,000 head perished. State investigators have confirmed the fire and explosion at the Panhandle dairy farm was an accident and started with an engine fire in a manure vacuum truck.

Idaho, South Dakota and New York led all states in year-over-year increases in cow numbers, up a combined 39,000 head. Largest declines were in New Mexico and Florida. Even with the fire loss, Texas cow numbers were up 5,000 head from a year ago.

Milk per cow stays stagnant

The other ongoing story in the milk production report is the lack in the year-over-year change in average milk production per cow. April U.S. production growth was again stagnant, up just 1 pound compared to the same month a year earlier (Table 2). Within the 24 major states, the increase was just 2 pounds.

Texas dairy fire impacts April milk production report2

Year-over-year milk per cow increased about a pound per day in Florida, Ohio, Washington and Minnesota. However, monthly output per cow was down 40 pounds in California.

Milk production inches higher

With cow numbers impacted by the Texas fire and a lack of substantial growth in milk output per cow, the preliminary estimate of overall April milk production was up 0.3% in the U.S. and 0.5% in the major dairy states.

The USDA did revise the March estimate slightly higher. At 19 billion pounds, production in the 24 major dairy states was up 0.7% from a year earlier. The revision represented an increase of 16 million pounds (0.1%) from the preliminary production report released last month.

April 2023 year-over-year milk production was up in 14 states, led by Idaho (up 37 million pounds), New York (up 31 million pounds), South Dakota (26 million pounds) and Michigan (25 million pounds). Even with the fire loss, Texas output was up 18 million pounds compared to a year earlier.

The eight states posting volume declines were led by California, where weather continues to impact output per cow. Southwest U.S. (Arizona, New Mexico and California) milk production was down a combined 99 million pounds.

South Dakota (+7.7%) and Kansas (+5%) led all states in year-over-year percentage milk growth. In contrast, Virginia and Florida milk production was down about 4%.

Up to 65,000 dairy cows a year could be culled under plans by the Department of Agriculture as they look to ‘close the gap’ on emissions.

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