U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a fourth consecutive month, according to the USDA’s October Milk Production report, released Nov. 20. The USDA also adjusted U.S. cow estimates back to April, putting the U.S. herd at its smallest number since January 2022.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

October 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

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

  • U.S. milk production: 18.71 billion pounds, down 0.5%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.37 million, down 42,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 1,997 pounds, down 1 pound
  • 24-state milk production: 17.936 billion pounds, down 0.4%
  • 24-state cow numbers: 8.912 million, down 19,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 2,013 pounds, down 3 pounds

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Nov. 20, 2023

Cow numbers lower

Based on preliminary October 2023 cow estimates, the U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest dating back 21 months to January 2022. October 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.37 million head, down 42,000 from a year earlier.

The latest USDA report adjusted U.S. cow numbers back to April, lowering estimates in April-June while July and August estimates remained the same. Compared to last month’s preliminary estimate, September cow numbers were raised by 6,000 head to 9.376 million. As a result of that revision, October U.S. cow numbers are also down 6,000 from September.


Among the 24 major dairy states, October 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.912 million, down 19,000 from October 2022 and down 5,000 from the revised estimate for September 2023 (Table 1).


Ten states had more cows than the year before; 10 states had fewer cows. South Dakota and Michigan led all states in year-over-year growth, up a combined 24,000 head in October. That was more than offset by a 44,000-head reduction in Texas and New Mexico. Additionally, New Mexico’s dairy herd was down 5,000 head compared to September 2023.

Milk output per cow

The national average in monthly milk output per cow declined in October 2023, down 1 pound from October 2022. Among major states, the average change was down 3 pounds.

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

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

Milk production lower

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

Eleven states boosted production a combined 155 million pounds; 10 states reduced production a combined 224 million pounds. Year-over-year growth leaders were New York (up 28 million pounds), Michigan (up 26 million pounds), South Dakota (up 24 million pounds) and Wisconsin (up 23 million pounds).

The states posting largest volume declines were California (down 88 million pounds), New Mexico (down 52 million pounds), Texas (down 27 million pounds), Idaho (down 19 million pounds) and Colorado (down 15 million pounds).

South Dakota was the milk percentage growth leader for October 2023, up 6.63% from October 2022, with Florida closely following at 6.16%. Arizona output was up 3.71%. October 2023 production was down 9% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 4% in Oregon and 3.3% in Colorado.

The USDA revised the September 2023 milk production estimate slightly higher. With the revisions, both U.S. and major state U.S. production were down about 0.1% from a year earlier.