May 18 2012 06:21 AM

A recent visit to the Chino, Calif., milk shed was a sad sight.

What once was is no more, and what remains doesn't have much left.
A visit to the Chino, Calif., dairy area this week found only fragments of what was once the vibrant pulse of Western dairying. And what few pieces remain are quickly fading away.
At one time the most highly concentrated milk shed in the country, the Chino Valley in southern California was the dairy equivalent of what the Silicon Valley is to computers. From the 1960s into the 1990s, milk producers there pioneered attitudes and inventing methods that the rest of commercial dairying around the entire world emulated.
But little of it is left. Housing booms in the 1990s and 2000s first cracked and then carved up the Dairy Preserve where Riverside and San Bernardino Counties meet. What was once wall-to-wall dairies is now basically a few here and a few there. Those that didn't become subdivisions before the housing bubble burst look oddly and eerily out of place.
Total dairy numbers in the Chino Valley now, according to a producer who lived through most of those years and is still holding on, is about 30. Cow numbers are about 25,000. Vacant facilities are here and there, and many of those that are still in operation are worn out and struggling.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, cow numbers in the two counties (the great majority of which were located in the Chino Valley) peaked at 312,000 in 1991 and dairy numbers peaked at 327 in 1983.