U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a second consecutive month, according to the USDA’s August Milk Production report, released Sept. 18. Much of the decline can be attributed to three large dairy states in the Southwest.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

August 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

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

  • U.S. milk production: 18.975 billion pounds, down 0.2%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.39 million, down 16,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 2,021 pounds, down 1 pound
  • 24-state milk production: 18.166 billion pounds, down 0.3%
  • 24-state U.S. cow numbers: 8.912 million, down 15,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 2,038 pounds, down 2 pounds

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Sept. 18, 2023

Cow numbers lower

The U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest since February 2022, although the decline that started this spring has apparently stopped.

Preliminary August 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.39 million head, down 16,000 from a year earlier but unchanged from July’s revised estimate. Among the 24 major dairy states, August 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.912 million, down 15,000 from August 2022 but up 1,000 head from July 2023 (Table 1).



Contributing to the smaller milking herd, about 2.15 million head of dairy cull cows were marketed through U.S. slaughter plants as of Sept. 2, up about 110,600 from the same period in 2022.

Nine states had more cows than the year before; 12 states had fewer cows. Michigan, South Dakota and Idaho led all states in year-over-year growth, up a combined 36,000 head in August. That was more than offset by a 46,000-head reduction in California, Texas and New Mexico.

Milk output per cow

Regional weather factors, high feed costs and tight income margins continued to apply pressure to milk output per cow in August 2023. Among major states, changes in monthly production per cow were again wide in August (Table 2).


New York, Georgia and Virginia showed per-cow output increased nearly 2 pounds per day compared to the same month a year ago, while daily production in California and New Mexico declined by about 1.5 and 2 pounds, respectively.

Milk production lower

With those factors, the preliminary estimate of overall August milk production was lower compared to a year earlier for a second consecutive month.

However, August 2023 year-over-year milk production was up in 16 states, led by New York, Michigan, Wisconsin and South Dakota, up a combined 142 million pounds. The eight states posting volume declines were led by California, New Mexico and Texas, down a combined 221 million pounds.

South Dakota remained the milk percentage growth leader, up 6% from August 2022; August 2023 production was down 8% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 3.7% in California and 3.2% in Texas.

The USDA revised the July milk production estimate slightly lower. U.S. production was down 0.7% from a year earlier, while output in the 24 major dairy states was down 0.8%. Revisions to cow numbers cut the U.S. herd by 10,000 head and the major-state herd by 9,000 head compared to last month’s preliminary report.