Dairy farms in the U.S. can't be clumped into one cookie cutter mold, as new Census of Agriculture data shows that the dairy industry is still comprised of farms of varying shapes and sizes. The numbers did reveal, however, that those with more than 1,000 cows are growing at the fastest rate.
The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service released their 2012 census data earlier this month. The number of farms with dairy animals dropped from 69,890 in 2007 to 64,098 in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of dairy animals went up slightly during those five years, from 17.2 to 17.5 million.
The census data broke farms down into nine herd size categories: 1 to 9 cows; 10 to 19 cows; 20 to 49 cows; 50 to 99 cows; 100 to 199 cows; 200 to 499 cows; 500 to 999 cows; 1,000 to 2,499 cows; and 2,500 or more cows. The number of farms with over 1,000 cows experienced the most growth, up 14.2 percent from 2007. Farms with 100 to 199 cows saw the sharpest decline, down 18 percent.
Of the 69,890 farms that had dairy animals, 49,628 reported milk sales. The remainder of farms with dairy cattle were likely calf or heifer raising operations that did not milk cows. The total value of milk sales was up almost $4 billion, from $31.7 billion in 2007 to $35.3 billion in 2012.
All farms did their part to contribute to total milk sales in 2012. Farms with less than 100 cows accounted for 14 percent of the sales. Farms with 100 to 199 cows represented 10 percent of milk sales, and farms in the 200 to 499 cows and 500 to 999 cows categories each contributed 12 percent.
Leading the way were farms with 1,000 head or more, which recorded a 51 percent share of all milk sales. The largest farms, with over 2,500 head, represented 30 percent of the milk sold in 2012. Those 575 farms sold almost twice as much milk as the 35,228 farms that had less than 100 head.
The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master's degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor's from University of Wisconsin-Madison.