Per-cow milk production still rising

America’s dairy cows eat better and receive better veterinary care than most domestic pets in the United States. As a result, per-cow milk production continues to rise as a result. © Todd Fitchette

I recall doing some research on dairy production in the United States during the late 20th Century, and was amazed to discover just how much more milk is produced in America today by fewer dairy cows. I looked back to the 1930s, when public records were first kept, to find that milk production per cow has risen from around 3,000 pounds per cow per lactation cycle to well over 20,000 pounds today in places like California, where the dairy industry grown tremendously.

According to the USDA, while the number of milk cow operations continues to decline in the United States, milk production per cow continues to climb as farmers learn how to improve on-farm efficiencies. For example, the USDA reports that there were 65,000 milk cow operations in 2009 compared to 97,460 in 2001, a decline of 33 percent. Despite the large decrease in milk cow operations during this time period, both milk production and milk cow numbers have been on the rise. Milk production increased 15 percent, from 165,332 million pounds in 2001 to 189,320 million pounds in 2009. Milk cow inventory showed a smaller increase of 1 percent, from 9.10 million head in 2001 to 9.20 million head in 2009.

Regardless of what some groups would have the American public think, today’s dairy cows are treated better than most people treat their domestic pets. For instance, dairy cows (the same is true in much of the rest of animal agriculture) receive closer medical attention by veterinarians and are fed much better from a nutritional standpoint, than are our cats and dogs.

It only stands to reason that animal agriculture tends as closely as it does to the health and welfare of its chief source of profits. Maybe the newest slogan for the dairy industry should be “Happy Cows Produce More Milk.”


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