Tightening cow and heifer numbers pushed average prices for U.S. replacement dairy cows to a nine-year high in January, according to latest USDA quarterly estimates. Meanwhile, 2023 annual average cull cow prices were the highest since 2015.

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Editor / Progressive Dairy

U.S. replacement dairy cow prices averaged $1,890 per head in January 2024, up $40 (2%) from October 2023 and up $170 (10%) from January 2023. While the highest since January 2015, quarterly average prices were still about 11% below the last peak of $2,120 per head in October 2014.

The USDA estimates are based on quarterly surveys (January, April, July and October) of dairy farmers in 24 major dairy states, as well as an annual survey (February) in all states. The prices reflect those paid or received for cows that have had at least one calf and are sold for replacement purposes, not as cull cows. The report does not summarize auction market prices.

Quarterly average prices for replacement cow prices were up in 19 of 24 major dairy states (Table 1). Largest increases were in Florida, Michigan, New Mexico and Virginia, all up $200 or more. Average prices were unchanged in Washington and slightly lower in California, Colorado and Texas.

Compared to a year earlier, January replacement cow prices were up $480 in Florida and $420 in Georgia, and up $300-$400 per head in Idaho, Michigan and Virginia. California was the only state to post a small decline, down $70 from January 2023.


Progressive Dairy’s Cattle Market Watch tracks dairy heifer prices from about 20 auction markets throughout the U.S., with price summaries updated about every two weeks. The listings cover top and medium springers, short-bred and open heifers, and heifer calves.

Cow, replacement numbers shrinking

Based on USDA’s semiannual Cattle report, the U.S. dairy herd started 2024 at about 9.357 million head, down about 40,700 head from a year earlier. It’s the smallest number of milk cows to start a year since 2020.

The same report estimated the number of dairy heifers (over 500 pounds) in the U.S. at about 4.06 million head, down about 14,400 from a year ago. That puts the number of heifers over 500 pounds at about 43.4 head per 100 milk cows. Of that total, about 2.59 million head are expected to calve in 2024, or 27.7 per 100 milk cows. Both are the lowest in decades.

Read: 2024 starts with fewer cows, replacement heifers

Market cow prices strong

Dwindling cow numbers have impacted not only replacement prices, but also dairy cow culling rates. Based on latest USDA data, the number of dairy cull cows marketed weekly through U.S. slaughter plants has trailed comparable weeks a year earlier since early September 2023.

With a month lag in reporting data, the USDA’s Ag Prices report indicated U.S. average prices received for cull cows (beef and dairy, combined) in December 2023 averaged $101 per hundredweight (cwt), down $14 from the peak in August. However, the annual average price of $102.40 per cwt was the highest since 2015.

Read also: December report: Dairy cull cow marketing trailed year-ago levels for 17 consecutive weeks