Even largest herd sizes declined in numbers in 2012Print
By Dave Natzke
Last year’s milk/feed economy slowed the nation’s overall trend in changing dairy herd structure at least a little, according to estimates provided in USDA’s annual review of farms and livestock operations.
First, the trend that didn't change: U.S. dairy herds declined during the year, down 2,000, to 58,000. In terms of real numbers, the decline isn't out of the norm for the past several years, with annual declines in a range of 2,000 to 2,500 since 2008. And, as a percentage of herds, the 2012 decline was about 3.45% of the total U.S. herds, also in line with the past four years.
What did change in 2012 is that even the largest herds were not immune from declining numbers.
For the first time in three years, herds of 200-499 cows declined, down 200, to 3,800. Herds of 500-999 cows declined by 80, to 1,570 and, probably for the first time ever, the very largest herds herds (2,000+ cows) declined from the year before, down 20, to 780.
As a result, the percentage of cows and the percentage of milk produced by the nation’s largest herds changed little last year. Herds of 500+ cows represented about 5.7% of the nation’s total herds, contained about 59% of all U.S. dairy cows, and produced about 63% of U.S. milk.
As always, a disclaimer on the USDA estimates: USDA figures probably understate the percent of U.S. herds in the largest size categories, since the agency includes all dairy operations with even one cow during the year. For example, in 2011, USDA said there were 60,000 operations with cows, but just 51,481 were commercially licensed to sell milk, down 1,651 from 2010. The estimate for 2012 commercially licensed dairies should be released later today (Feb. 20).
To see the USDA report, Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations, 2012, visit http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-19-2013.pdf