A smaller milking herd and improving milk income margins are contributing to lower U.S. dairy cull cow marketing this winter. Through Dec. 30, the number of dairy cows marketed for beef had trailed year-ago levels for 17 consecutive weeks and was down 82,400 from the same period a year earlier. That trend is carrying over into 2024. With the 2024 New Year’s holiday affecting slaughter plant schedules on Jan. 1, cull dairy cow marketing was estimated at 48,500 during the first week of the month, 15,200 less than the same week a year earlier.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Based on latest USDA monthly data released Jan. 25, the number of dairy cull cows marketed through U.S. slaughter plants in December 2023 was estimated at 224,700, down 5,000 from November and 41,600 fewer than December 2022.

December 2022 had 27 non-holiday weekdays and Saturdays, while December 2023 had 26 days. Slaughter averaged 8,642 head per business day this year, down about 1,221 from a year earlier.

The USDA estimated there were 9.36 million dairy cows in U.S. herds in December 2023, down 1,000 from the revised November estimate and putting the December culling rate at about 2.4% of the herd. Based on the monthly data, year-to-date (January-December) dairy cull cow slaughter now stands at about 3.076 million head, up 28,700 from the same period a year ago.

Read: Milk production stayed on downward slope to end 2023


Heaviest dairy cow culling during November occurred in the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 55,100 head. That was followed in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada) at 51,600 head.

Other monthly regional totals were estimated at 33,200 head in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; 28,600 head in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; and 27,000 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.