The U.S. dairy cattle export market started 2016 slowly, but a dormant market, Pakistan, has opened its doors again.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

First, some numbers. January 2016 foreign sales of live female dairy animals were estimated at 457 head, the lowest total since September 2015, according to latest trade figures released by USDA’s Foreign Ag Service (FAS).

Exporters finished 2015 at 16,168 head, less than half the 2014 total of 33,062, and far below the record-high of 73,442 head exported in 2011.

The two closest neighbors, Mexico (246 head) and Canada (241 head) were the top foreign markets in January.

January exports were valued at $743,000, also a five-month low.


The drags affecting other U.S. agricultural exports – a strong U.S. dollar relative to other currencies, and weaker prices for oil and other commodities, which limit incomes and budgets – continue to limit foreign buying power. Lower global milk prices also dampen plans for dairy growth, according to Gerardo Quaassdorff, DVM, sales and management consultant with TK Exports Inc., TKE Agri-Tech Services Inc., Culpeper, Va.

While interest and inquiries remain fairly steady, the same economic pressures facing other U.S. exports – a stronger U.S. dollar, lower milk prices in importing countries, as well as lower oil prices and other commodities negatively impacting budgets – are forcing some potential foreign buyers of U.S. dairy cattle to put a hold on dairy projects.

Dairy embryo exports

Along with a decline in live dairy animal exports, foreign sales of U.S. dairy embryos also dipped. Exports totaled 428 in January 2016, the lowest since September 2015. Monthly exports were valued at $463,000.

China, the leading market for U.S. dairy embryos for four consecutive year, was the January leader, purchasing 120 dairy embryos, followed by Japan, at 105.

Dairy cattle embryo exports totaled 6,874 in 2015, down nine percent from 2014.

Pakistan: A market reopens

Not yet reflected in USDA’s January export numbers is a returning buyer. More than U.S. dairy 300 heifers arrived in Punjab Province, Pakistan, on March 2, the first shipment of dairy cattle there in 17 years.

The Pakistani market was closed to imports of U.S. live cattle in 2003, over concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In 2015, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reclassified the United States as a “negligible risk” country for BSE.

Most of the heifers were purchased by commercial dairy farms, but 73 Holsteins in the shipment went to a new model dairy farm, a joint Pakistani-U.S. effort.

USDA FAS collaborated with Pakistan’s University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) to establish the model dairy farm, with funding support from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Pattoki Training and Research Demonstration Farm will train Pakistani students, herd managers and Extension agents. FAS is working with Mississippi State University to teach better herd management to help Holsteins thrive in Pakistan’s warm climate.

Pakistan, among the world’s largest dairy producers, is expected to be a good fit for higher-producing American breeds. While most Pakistani dairy production comes from small, traditional farms, modern, commercial dairies are starting to come online. 

Additional training in herd management and health practices will enable herd managers to make the most of the genetic potential of U.S. cows.

January cull cow prices dip

Following the trend in the beef market, estimated U.S. January cull cow prices (beef and dairy combined) averaged $74.20/cwt., according to the USDA/NASS Ag Prices report. The average is down 60 cents/cwt. from December 2015 and $37.80/cwt. less than January 2015. It represents the lowest monthly average since December 2011, a stretch of 49 months.

Meanwhile, the pace of dairy cow culling remained similar to a year earlier. For the week ending Feb. 20, dairy cows slaughtered under federal inspection totaled 58,800, bringing the year-to-date total to 490,000. That's about 2,200 head less than during a similar period in 2015.  PD

Dave Natzke