A smaller milking herd, tight replacement heifer supplies to keep barns full and slight improvements in milk income margins contributed to a slowdown in dairy culls marketed for beef to end 2023. That trend has continued to start 2024.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Based on latest USDA monthly data released Feb. 22, the number of dairy cull cows marketed through U.S. slaughter plants in January 2024 was estimated at 250,200. While up 25,500 from December and the highest monthly total since August, it was 47,700 fewer than January 2023 and the lowest January total since 2010.

Through Feb. 10, USDA Ag Marketing Service estimates indicate the number of dairy cows marketed for beef has now trailed year-ago levels for 23 consecutive weeks, dating back to Sept. 9, 2023, and was down 151,000 from the same period a year earlier.

January 2023 had 26 non-holiday weekdays and Saturdays while January 2024 had 27 days. Slaughter averaged 9,266 head per business day this year, down about 2,191 from a year earlier.

The USDA estimated there were 9.325 million dairy cows in U.S. herds in January 2024, down 23,000 from the revised December estimate and putting the January culling rate at about 2.7% of the herd. Based on the monthly data, year-to-date (January-December) dairy cull cow slaughter now stands at about 250,200 head, down 47,700 from the same period a year ago.


Read: 2023 annual milk production down from 2022

Heaviest dairy cow culling during January occurred in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada) at 59,600 head. That was followed in the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 58,700 head.

Other monthly regional totals were estimated at 37,800 head in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; 33,300 head in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas; and 29,200 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.