AN UNIDENTIFIED DISEASE HAS BEEN AFFECTING dairy cows in the Texas Panhandle. Veterinary officials have been monitoring the situation for a few weeks, but as of the magazine’s close, diagnostic tests had yet to reveal a clear case definition or cause of disease.

SYMPTOMS INCLUDE A SUBSTANTIAL DROP in milk production, reduced rumination, and a sudden decline in feed intake. Milk from cows can also be very thick and gel-like. Some cows have a fever or loose manure. In affected herds, about 10% of cows show clinical signs, and fortunately, high death rates have not been reported.

THE SYMPTOMS APPEAR MOST OFTEN IN MATURE dairy cows more than 150 days in milk. Some cows recover and rebound in milk production after about three weeks, but others do not and are culled.

THIS SITUATION APPEARED SHORTLY AFTER THE Smokehouse Creek Fire devastated the area, burning more than a million acres. However, the winds blew smoke from the fire eastward, not toward the affected dairies in the Western Panhandle, so officials indicate it is unlikely to be the culprit behind the current health mystery.

MILK PRODUCTION IN THE U.S. CONTINUED ITS DESCENT in February, down 1.3% year-over-year after adjusting for the leap day. This was the largest monthly production decline since January 2022 and follows this January’s reduction of 1.2%. This was the eighth consecutive month of reduced output.

KEY DAIRY STATES ALL SAW PRODUCTION DECLINES except Wisconsin, where milk output grew by 0.6%. Production fell in Idaho by 2.7%, New York by 1%, California by 0.9%, and Texas by 0.7%.

EVEN THOUGH MILK OUTPUT DECLINED, cream production climbed and average milkfat levels continued upward, reaching 4.35% in January, according to Daily Dairy Report’s Sarina Sharp.

THE NATION’S DAIRY HERD IS DOWN 89,000 HEAD compared to the same month last year, but producers added 10,000 cows in February, which was the largest month-over-month increase in almost a year.

STILL, USDA’S HERD SIZE FORECAST FOR 2024 was reduced from last month, along with milk per cow and total production. The agency’s March report forecast a national herd of 9.335 million head, with 24,345 pounds of milk per cow and 227.3 billion pounds of total milk output.

WITH FIRM DOMESTIC DEMAND, DAIRY IMPORT expectations were revised upward, while U.S. dairy exports were adjusted downward. The All-Milk price forecast rose 30 cents to reach $21.25 per cwt.

THE WIDE SPREAD BETWEEN THE CLASS III AND CLASS IV milk price remains, with an average Class III price for 2024 projected to be $17.40 per cwt. while Class IV projections sit at $20.35 per cwt. This spread, along with outdated make allowances, will create great variation in producer milk checks. Read more on page 159.

WALMART ANNOUNCED PLANS TO OPEN ITS THIRD owned and operated milk processing plant. This one, located in Robinson, Texas, is expected to open in 2026 and will create nearly 400 new jobs. The facility will process whole, 2%, 1%, skim, and 1% chocolate milk for Walmart’s Great Value and Sam’s Club’s Member’s Mark brands.

SIGN-UP FOR DAIRY MARGIN COVERAGE continues through April 29 for the 2024 calendar year. The calculated margin in January was $8.48, using a $20.10 per cwt. All-Milk price, $4.74 per bushel of corn, $378.40 per ton of soybean meal, and $274 per ton for Premium alfalfa.