A smaller milking herd and improving milk income margins are contributing to lower U.S. dairy cull cow marketing this fall. Through early December, the number of dairy cows marketed for beef had trailed year-ago levels for 14 consecutive weeks.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Based on latest USDA monthly data released Dec. 21, the number of dairy cull cows marketed through U.S. slaughter plants in November 2023 was estimated at 229,700, down 13,200 from October and 21,200 fewer than November 2022.

November 2022 and 2023 each had 26 non-holiday weekdays and Saturdays. Slaughter averaged 8,834 head per business day this year, down about 786 from a year earlier.

The USDA estimated there were 9.36 million dairy cows in U.S. herds in November 2023, down 10,000 from the revised October estimate and putting the November culling rate at about 2.4% of the herd. Based on the monthly data, year-to-date (January-November) dairy cull cow slaughter now stands at about 2.851 million head, up 70,400 from the same period a year ago.

Read: Cow numbers, milk production continue to decline in November USDA estimates


Heaviest dairy cow culling during November occurred in the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 61,100 head. That was followed by the Southwest (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada) at 53,100 head.

Other monthly regional totals were estimated at 34,900 head in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; 26,800 head in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; and 26,900 head in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Primary data for the USDA’s Livestock Slaughter report is obtained from reports from about 900 federally inspected plants and nearly 1,900 state-inspected or custom-exempt slaughter plants.