The slowdown in dairy cull cow marketing is being driven by a smaller milking herd, limited availability of replacement heifers to maintain full barns and slight improvements in milk income margins.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Based on latest USDA monthly data released June 20, the number of dairy cull cows marketed through U.S. slaughter plants in May 2024 was estimated at 216,100. While down 22,100 from April, it was 33,000 fewer than May 2023 and the lowest May total since 2016.

Through June 8, USDA Ag Marketing Service estimates indicate the number of dairy cows marketed for beef has now trailed year-ago levels for 37 consecutive weeks, dating back to Sept. 9, 2023, and was down about 280,000 from the same period a year earlier.

May 2023 had 26 non-holiday weekdays and Saturdays while May 2024 had 26 days. Slaughter averaged 9,600 head per business day this year, down about 900 from a year earlier.

The USDA estimated there were 9.35 million dairy cows in U.S. herds in May 2024, up 5,000 from the revised April estimate and putting the May culling rate at about 2.3% of the herd. Based on the monthly data, year-to-date (January-May) dairy cull cow slaughter now stands at about 1,201,800 head, down 161,400 from the same period a year ago and the lowest four-month total to start the year since 2014.


Read: Milk production decreases in USDA May estimates

Heaviest dairy cow culling during May occurred in the Upper Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 56,000 head. That was followed in the Southwest (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada) at 49,300 head.

Other monthly regional totals were estimated at 32,300 head in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia; 28,800 head in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington; and 23,900 head in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

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.