U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a sixth consecutive month, according to the USDA’s December Milk Production report, released Jan. 24. The USDA also adjusted U.S. cow estimates back to July, putting the U.S. herd at its smallest number since June 2020.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

December 2022-23 dairy recap at a glance

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

  • U.S. milk production: 18.84 billion pounds, down 0.3%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.357 million, down 39,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 2,014 pounds, up 2 pounds
  • 24-state milk production: 18.07 billion pounds, down 0.1%
  • 24-state cow numbers: 8.9 million, down 17,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 2,030 pounds, up 1 pound

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Jan. 24, 2024

Cow numbers lower

Based on preliminary December 2023 cow estimates, the U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest dating back 43 months to June 2020. December 2023 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.357 million head, down 39,000 from a year earlier.

The latest USDA report adjusted U.S. cow numbers back to July, lowering estimates in July, August and October, while raising estimates in September and November. Compared to last month’s preliminary estimate, November cow numbers were reduced 2,000 head to 9.358 million head. December U.S. cow numbers are down 1,000 from November’s revision.


Among the 24 major dairy states, December 2023 cow numbers were estimated at 8.9 million, down 17,000 from December 2022 but unchanged from the revised estimate for November 2023 (Table 1). Cow numbers in those states are now the lowest since February 2022.


Ten states had more cows than the year before; eight states had fewer cows. South Dakota and Michigan led all states in year-over-year growth, up a combined 26,000 head in December. 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 November 2023.

Milk output per cow increased

The national average in monthly milk output per cow increased in December 2023, up just 2 pounds from December 2022. Among major states, the average change was up just 1 pound.

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


Virginia, Texas, New York and Washington showed per-cow output increased 30-45 pounds per day compared to the same month a year ago, while daily production in Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Vermont declined by 15-30 pounds.

Milk production lower

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

Fourteen states boosted production a combined 141 million pounds; 10 states reduced production a combined 165 million pounds. Year-over-year growth leaders were South Dakota (up 40 million pounds), New York (up 19 million pounds), Washington (up 13 million pounds) and Wisconsin (up 12 million pounds).

The states posting largest volume declines were New Mexico (down 64 million pounds), California (down 35 million pounds), Colorado (down 13 million pounds), Minnesota (down 12 million pounds) and Texas (down 10 million pounds).

South Dakota was the milk percentage growth leader for December 2023, up 11.27% from December 2022, with Florida following at 6.37%. December 2023 production was down 11.13% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 2.93% in Colorado and 2.86% in Georgia.

The USDA revised the November 2023 milk production estimate slightly lower. With preliminary annual milk production estimates, 2023 U.S. production was up just 89 million pounds compared to the 2022 total. In the 24 major states, annual production was up about 479 million pounds (0.2%).