U.S. milk production fell below year-ago output for a seventh consecutive month, according to the USDA’s January Milk Production report, released Feb. 21. The USDA also adjusted U.S. cow estimates back to January 2023, putting the U.S. herd at its smallest number since August 2019.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

January 2023-24 dairy recap at a glance

Reviewing the USDA preliminary estimates for January 2024 compared to January 2023:

  • U.S. milk production: 19.09 billion pounds, down 1.13%
  • U.S. cow numbers: 9.325 million, down 76,000 head
  • U.S. average milk per cow: 2,047 pounds, down 7 pounds
  • 24-state milk production: 18.3 billion pounds, down 0.9%
  • 24-state cow numbers: 8.87 million, down 49,000 head
  • 24-state average milk per cow: 2,062 pounds, down 9 pounds

Source: USDA Milk Production report, Feb. 21, 2024

Cow numbers lower

Based on preliminary January 2024 cow estimates, the U.S. dairy herd is now the smallest dating back to August 2019. January 2024 U.S. cow numbers were estimated at 9.325 million head, down 76,000 from a year earlier.

The latest USDA report adjusted U.S. cow numbers back to January 2023, lowering estimates in every month of 2023. Compared to last month’s preliminary estimate, December cow numbers were reduced 9,000 head to 9.348 million head. January U.S. cow numbers are down 23,000 from December’s revision.


Among the 24 major dairy states, January 2024 cow numbers were estimated at 8.873 million, down 49,000 from January 2023 and down 21,000 from the revised estimate for December 2023 (Table 1). Cow numbers in those states are now the lowest since August 2020.


Seven states had more cows than the year before; 14 states had fewer cows. South Dakota and Florida led all states in year-over-year growth, up a combined 27,000 head in January. That was more than offset by a 57,000-head reduction in Texas and New Mexico. Additionally, the New Mexico’s dairy herd was down 10,000 head compared to December 2023.

Milk output per cow decreased

The national average in monthly milk output per cow decreased in January 2024, down 7 pounds from January 2023. Among major states, the average change was down 9 pounds.

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

Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona and California showed per-cow output increased 10-20 pounds per month compared to the same month a year ago, while monthly production in Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Vermont, Georgia and Idaho declined by 30-40 pounds.

Milk production lower

With those factors, the preliminary estimate of overall January 2024 milk production was lower than the same month a year earlier for a seventh consecutive month.

Six states boosted production a combined 90 million pounds; 16 states reduced production a combined 264 million pounds. Year-over-year growth leaders were South Dakota (up 39 million pounds), Wisconsin (up 25 million pounds), Florida (up 10 million pounds) and Ohio (up 8 million pounds).

The states posting largest volume declines were New Mexico (down 97 million pounds), Texas (down 56 million pounds), Idaho (down 29 million pounds), Oregon (down 13 million pounds) and Pennsylvania (down 13 million pounds).

South Dakota was the milk percentage growth leader for January 2024, up 10.83% from January 2023, with Florida following at 6.29%. January 2024 production was down 15.95% from a year earlier in New Mexico, 5.96% in Oregon and 3.86% in Texas.

The USDA revised the December 2023 milk production estimate slightly lower.

Annual milk production slightly lower

The annual milk production for the U.S. in 2023 was 226 billion pounds, down slightly from 2022. Revisions to 2022 production decreased the annual total 46 million pounds and the revised 2023 production estimate was down 187 million pounds from a month prior. Overall annual milk production was down 98 million pounds compared to the 2022 total. However, annual total milk production has increased 9.9% from 2014. In the 24 major states, annual production is up about 309 million pounds.