U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a fifth consecutive month, according to the USDA’s November Milk Production report, released Dec. 18. The USDA also adjusted U.S. cow estimates back to April, putting the U.S. herd at its smallest number since June 2021.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

November 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

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

  • U.S. milk production: 18.08 billion pounds, down 0.6%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.36 million, down 44,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 1,932 pounds, down 2 pounds
  • 24-state milk production: 17.33 billion pounds, down 0.5%
  • 24-state cow numbers: 8.898 million, down 26,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 1,948 pounds, down 3 pounds

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

Cow numbers lower

Based on preliminary November 2023 cow estimates, the U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest dating back 30 months to June 2021. November 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.36 million head, down 44,000 from a year earlier.

The latest USDA report adjusted U.S. cow numbers back to April, lowering estimates in April-June while July-October estimates remained the same. Compared to last month’s preliminary estimate, October cow numbers were unchanged at 9.37 million head. As a result, November U.S. cow numbers are also down 10,000 from October.


Among the 24 major dairy states, November 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.898 million, down 26,000 from November 2022 and down 9,000 from the revised estimate for October 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 21,000 head in November. That was more than offset by a 45,000-head reduction in Texas and New Mexico. Additionally, the New Mexico’s dairy herd was down 5,000 head compared to October 2023.

Milk output per cow

The national average in monthly milk output per cow declined in November 2023, down 2 pounds from November 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 showed per-cow output increased 1.5 pounds per day compared to the same month a year ago, while daily production in California, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington declined by 1.5-1 pound.

Milk production lower

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

Thirteen states boosted production a combined 105 million pounds; 10 states reduced production a combined 188 million pounds. Year-over-year growth leaders were South Dakota (up 24 million pounds), Michigan (up 18 million pounds), Arizona (up 14 million pounds) and Ohio (up 11 million pounds).

The states posting largest volume declines were California (down 55 million pounds), New Mexico (down 56 million pounds), Texas (down 30 million pounds), Pennsylvania (down 11 million pounds) and Colorado (down 9 million pounds).

South Dakota was the milk percentage growth leader for November 2023, up 6.98% from November 2022, with Florida closely following at 6.21%. Arizona output was up 3.66%. November 2023 production was down 10.13% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 3.38% in Vermont and 2.44% in Oregon.

The USDA revised the October 2023 milk production estimate slightly lower. With the revisions, both U.S. and major state U.S. production were down about 0.1% from USDA’s preliminary estimates a month earlier.