Declining cow numbers and stagnant milk production per cow held total U.S. milk production below year-ago levels in November.
Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

November 2020-21 recap at a glance

Reviewing the USDA preliminary estimates for November 2021 compared to November 2020:

  • U.S. milk production: 18.035 billion pounds, down 0.4%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.385 million, down 47,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 1,922 pounds, up 3 pounds
  • 24-state milk production: 17.255 billion pounds, down 0.1%
  • 24-state cow numbers: 8.89 million, down 24,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 1,941 pounds, up 3 pounds

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Dec. 20, 2021

October numbers revised

Last month’s preliminary report indicated October 2021 milk production was down slightly from October 2020. However, revisions to estimates in the 24 major dairy states added 110 million pounds of milk (about 0.6%), boosting monthly output above year-earlier totals.

Cow numbers lower

Cow numbers declined for a sixth consecutive month and are now the lowest since September 2020. November 2021 U.S. cow numbers were down 10,000 from the revised October estimate and are now down also down 122,000 head since peaking in May 2021.


In the 24 major dairy states, November 2021 cow numbers were down 24,000 from a year earlier and down 8,000 head from the revised October estimate. The 24-state dairy herd is now down 106,000 head from the May 2021 peak.

Compared to a year earlier (Table 1), November 2021 cow numbers were reported higher in eight states and lower in 14 states; Oregon and Vermont were unchanged.

milk cow numbers

For the first time in quite a while, Texas was no longer the year-over-year growth leader in cow numbers. That designation went to South Dakota, up 22,000 head from November 2020, followed by Wisconsin, up 18,000 head, and then Texas, up 17,000 head. Minnesota and Iowa were each up 6,000 head.

Compared to a year earlier, cow number declines continued in New Mexico (-39,000), Washington (-17,000) and Pennsylvania (-10,000).

Compared to a month earlier, New Mexico cow numbers were down 3,000, with declines of 1,000 head each in Arizona, California, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. Only Kansas posted an increase from October, up 1,000 head.

Dairy cull cow slaughter steadies

Cull cow slaughter continues to play a role in the shrinking milk herd size, although culling rates have steadied somewhat. According to a summary for the week ending Dec. 4, dairy cull cow slaughter at federally inspected plants was less than the comparable week a year earlier in two of the previous four weeks.

Since early June 2021, however, cull dairy cow slaughter is about 83,100 head more than the same period a year ago.

Income margin improved

The U.S. average dairy farmer income over feed cost margin calculated under the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program improved in October. October milk prices moved to a 12-month high, while overall feed costs were down 54 cents from September and the lowest since February. At $8.77 per hundredweight (cwt), the income margin was the highest since December 2020.

Read: October DMC margin jumps to $8.77 per cwt.

The November DMC margin and potential indemnity payments will be announced on Dec. 30.

Milk per cow stagnant

Overall monthly U.S. production per cow rose just 3 pounds compared to November 2020, with a mixed trend across all major states (Table 2).

milk per cow

Eleven states saw November 2021 milk production per cow increase from the same month a year earlier, but most gains were less than one-half to one-third pound per day. Ten states recorded small milk-per-cow declines in November, led by New Mexico, down 35 pounds.

Milk volume lower

Lower cow numbers and stagnant milk output per cow pushed overall milk production down from a year earlier.

Among major dairy states, year-over-year production was down in 15 states, led by declines of 88 million pounds in New Mexico, 39 million pounds in Washington and 29 million pounds in Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin again led all states in terms of November year-over-year milk volume growth, up 55 million pounds. The Badger State was followed by South Dakota, up 44 million pounds, and Texas and California, up 35 million and 32 million pounds, respectively.

On a percentage basis, November 2021 output in South Dakota was up nearly 17% from a year earlier. More subdued growth occurred in Texas (2.8%), Iowa (2.7%) and Wisconsin (2.2%). New Mexico and Washington led decliners, down 13.2% and 6.7%, respectively.  end mark