For the first time since 2013-14, the size of the U.S. dairy herd started a new year with fewer cows and heifers than the year before. The downturn is due to heavy cull cow slaughter and a small decline in replacement heifers.
Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

As of Jan. 1, 2019, milk cows that calved during the previous year were estimated at 9.353 million head, down about 78,700 head from Jan. 1, 2018, but still the second-highest total in more than a decade (Table 1).

The number of dairy replacement heifers weighing more than 500 pounds were estimated at 4.072 million head, down about 66,800 head from a year ago.

Based on those estimates, there were 50.3 heifers greater than 500 pounds per 100 cows as of Jan. 1, 2019, down about 0.3 heifers per 100 cows compared to 2018’s revised estimate.

Of those total dairy replacement heifers, 3.006 million head are expected to calve in 2019, down about 30,700 from 2018. As of Jan. 1, 2019, there were 32.1 replacements expected to calve in 2019 for every 100 cows currently in the U.S. herd, slightly less than a year ago and the smallest percentage since 2013.


031119 decade of cows

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Individual states

Among individual states, only nine had more dairy cows on Jan. 1, 2019, compared to a year earlier. Texas (+15,000), Idaho (+14,000) and Colorado (+10,000) accounted for the largest increases.

Leading decliners were Pennsylvania (-20,000), Ohio (-11,000) and California (-10,000), with nine other states reporting declines of 5,000 to 8,000 compared to a year earlier.

When looking at heifer numbers, 12 states reported more dairy replacements greater than 500 pounds on Jan. 1, 2019, compared to a year earlier. Leaders were Idaho and Kansas (each +30,000), and Arizona, Colorado and Texas (each +10,000).

Leading decliners were Minnesota (-35,000), Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and California (each -10,000), Michigan (-16,000), New York (-15,000) and Iowa (-10,000). Six other states reported declines of 5,000 replacement heifers compared to a year earlier.

USDA’s semiannual report, delayed due to the partial government shutdown, includes survey-based estimates of U.S. dairy cows, replacement heifers and heifers expected to calve within the next year. The report includes both beef and dairy cattle inventory estimates based on January 2019 surveys of about 36,000 livestock operations across the U.S.

U.S. dairy replacement cow prices lowest since 2010

Weaker milk prices impacted replacement cow prices nationwide in 2018 based on a separate USDA summary. U.S. dairy replacement cow prices averaged $1,360 per head last year, down $260 from 2017 and the lowest national average since 2010.

In the continental U.S., highest average prices were New Mexico, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Kansas, all at $1,500 or higher. Lowest prices were Missouri and Kentucky at $1,150 and $1,180, respectively.

The USDA estimates are based on an annual survey (February) in all states, according to Mike Miller with USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service. The USDA also reports results of quarterly (January, April, July and October) dairy farmer surveys in 23 major dairy states.

Read: Quarterly dairy replacement cow prices hit two-decade low.

The prices reflect those paid or received for cows that have had at least one calf and are sold for replacement purposes, not as cull cows. The report does not summarize auction market prices.

January dairy cow slaughter highest since December 1986

Monthly dairy cull cow slaughter continued at a high pace to start 2019. Federally inspected milk cow slaughter was estimated at 298,400 head in January, the highest total for any month since December 1986.

January’s total was up 37,200 head from December 2018 and 8,600 head more than January 2018, according to the USDA’s Livestock Slaughter report.

Cow culling in 2018 has averaged about 10,100 head per day (including weekdays and Saturdays), up about 500 head per day from 2017. The pace is January 2019 was even higher at 11,100 head per day.

Regionally, January 2019 dairy cow culling topped 72,200 head in an area including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and was about 70,100 head in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada.

Federally inspected milk cow slaughter was estimated at 3.153 million head in 2018, up about 164,600 head (5.5 percent) from 2017. Annual dairy cow culling was higher only once in more than three decades – in 1986, during the whole-herd buyout program.

January cull cow prices bump up

Despite the higher slaughter rate, January 2019 cull cow prices improved. January 2019 cull cow prices (beef and dairy combined) averaged $54.20 per hundredweight, up $2.40 from December but still $9.10 less than January 2018. The January 2019 average was the highest since October 2018.  end mark

Dave Natzke