Dairy Herd Declines; Still Above Average

The dairy cow herd declined 3,000 head in December, the fourth straight month of reductions, according to data from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and estimates from the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

The LMIC said sequestration suspended data from March to July of 2013 from NASS, so the data includes LMIC estimates for this period.

Despite s decline in herd size last year, the industry may have gotten ahead of itself in 2017, since the total herd remains well above the 2012-2016 average, a market analyst said.

The dairy cow population in December was down 49,000 head from a year earlier at 9.351 million, the LMIC reported in its Livestock Monitor sent to Extension Agents.

However, December productivity reversed a declining trend seen in October and November as milk per cow was up 21 pounds from a year earlier.  This compares with output in October and November that was only up 16 pounds per cow from a year earlier, the LMIC said.

December milk production was up 0.5% from December 2017, and for 2018 as a whole, milk production was up 0.9%.

No state showed a sharp decline in milk cows from November to December, the LMIC said.  Pennsylvania numbers fell 4,000 head but New York offset some of this with a 2,000-head increase.  Texas continued to expand with a 3,000-head increase in December, for a 2018 27,000-cow increase from a year earlier, a 5% gain.

The two states with the largest dairy cow populations, California and Wisconsin, reduced cow numbers by less than 1% over the course of 2018, the LMIC said.




The smaller dairy cow herd as of Jan. 1 points to the possibility of lower first-quarter milk production than a year ago, the LMIC said.

However, the 0.5% increase in milk cow productivity during the last quarter of 2018 matched up with a 0.5% decline in cows could result in first-quarter milk production that is similar to the first quarter of 2018.  The LMIC is forecasting an increase of 0.2%.

But, dairy cow slaughter has remained larger than a year ago in the first few weeks of 2019, suggesting a seasonal first-quarter herd increase may not occur, the LMIC said.  If this is the case, milk production during the quarter could be less than a year ago.




Milk demand was disappointing for much of 2018, but fluid milk product sales during the last quarter were not down as much from the 2017 quarter as in the spring and summer quarters.

Fluid milk product sales, on a volume basis, were down 0.9% from a year earlier during the fourth quarter.  This compares with declines of 3% during the spring and summer quarters.  Sales for all of 2018 were down 2% from 2017, similar to 2016 to 2017.




Cash cattle trade has taken place this week at $125 to $128.50 per cwt on a live basis, mostly $126 to $128, steady to down $2 from last week, and at $202 to $206 dressed, mostly $203 to $204, down $1.

The USDA choice cutout Thursday was down $0.54 per cwt at $227.70, while select was down $0.52 at $218.76.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $8.94 from $8.96 with 91 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle index for the seven days ended Wednesday, was $138.39 per cwt, down $0.69.  This compares with Thursday’s Mar contract settlement of $141.10, down $0.45.