U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a third consecutive month, according to the USDA’s September Milk Production report, released Oct. 19. The USDA also adjusted U.S. cow estimates back to April, putting the U.S. herd at its smallest number since January 2022.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

September 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

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

  • U.S. milk production: 18.21 billion pounds, down 0.2%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.37 million, down 36,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 1,943 pounds, up 4 pounds
  • 24-state milk production: 17.465 billion pounds, unchanged
  • U.S. cow numbers: 8.911 million, down 16,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 1,960 pounds, up 3 pounds

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Oct. 19, 2023

Cow numbers cut

Based on preliminary September 2023 cow estimates, the U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest dating back 20 months to January 2022. September 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.37 million head, down 36,000 from a year earlier.

The latest USDA report adjusted U.S. cow numbers back to April, raising estimates in April and May but reducing estimates in June-August. Compared to last month’s preliminary estimate, August cow numbers were cut by 14,000 head to 9.376 million. As a result of that revision, September U.S. cow numbers are also down 6,000 from August.


Among the 24 major dairy states, September 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.911 million, down 16,000 from September 2022 and down 2,000 from the revised estimate for August 2023 (Table 1).


Contributing to the smaller milking herd, about 2.38 million head of dairy cull cows were marketed through U.S. slaughter plants during January-September 2023, up about 101,500 from the same period in 2022.

Ten states had more cows than the year before; 12 states had fewer cows. South Dakota and Michigan led all states in year-over-year growth, up a combined 21,000 head in September. That was more than offset by a 39,000-head reduction in Texas and New Mexico. Additionally, the New Mexico’s dairy herd was down 5,000 head compared to August 2023.

Milk output per cow stagnant

The national average growth in monthly milk output per cow was again stagnant in September 2023, up 4 pounds from September 2022. Among major states, the average change was up just 3 pounds.

Affected by regional weather factors, high feed costs and tight income margins, variation among those states was wide (Table 2).

Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia showed per-cow output increased 1.5-2 pounds per day compared to the same month a year ago, while daily production in Idaho and California declined by about 1 pound.

Milk production lower

With those factors, the preliminary estimate of overall September 2023 milk production was lower than the same month a year earlier for a third consecutive month.

Eleven states boosted production a combined 173 million pounds; 12 states reduced production a combined 175 million pounds. Year-over-year growth leaders were Wisconsin (30 million pounds), Michigan and New York (each up 26 million pounds), and South Dakota (up 21 million pounds).

The states posting largest volume declines were California (down 60 million pounds), New Mexico (down 40 million pounds), Colorado (down 17 million pounds) and Texas and Kansas (each down 13 million pounds).

In contrast to recent trends, Florida was the milk percentage growth leader for September 2023, up 12% from September 2022. South Dakota and Georgia output was up more than 5%. August 2023 production was down 7% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 4.2% in Oregon and 3.9% in Colorado.

The USDA revised the August milk production estimate slightly lower. U.S. production was down 0.8% from a year earlier, while output in the 24 major dairy states was down 0.7%.

Quarterly estimates

With September, preliminary quarterly estimates were also released. U.S. milk production during the July-September quarter totaled 56.1 billion pounds, down 0.7% from the same quarter last year.

The average number of milk cows in the U.S. during the quarter was 9.38 million head, 43,000 head less than the April-June quarter and 33,000 head less than the same quarter last year.