Industry Facts and Figures
Dairy Farming in the United States
The vast, diverse landscape and varied climate-from the hot, dry, open spaces of the West to the seasonally temperate, nutrient-rich fields of the Midwest and Northeast to the hot, humid holdings of the Southeast-supports year-round milk production in the United States. Dairy farms in each region draw on geographic strengths and herd management capabilities to produce milk 365 days a year, a key difference from the seasonal supply fluctuations of other milk-producing countries.
Indeed, the United States is the world's largest single-country cow's milk producer, with 102.6 million metric tons of milk in 2021. That's triple the combined milk volume of New Zealand and Australia. U.S. milk production encompasses 9.45 million cows on nearly 30,000 U.S. dairy farms across the country, with over half of 2021 volume from the top five U.S. milk-producing states of California, Wisconsin, Idaho, Texas and New York. (Source: USDA)
Wholesome U.S. Milk Starts With a Rich, Nutritious Diet
Regardless of location or herd size, U.S. dairy farmers know that healthy, well-tended cows fed a nutritious diet consistently produce wholesome, high-quality milk. U.S. dairy farmers work closely with animal nutritionists and veterinarians to identify the right mix of feed ingredients to meet cows' nutritional requirements. The components of a dairy cow's diet typically combine hay (like alfalfa or grass), grains (including corn, wheat and barley) and protein sources (like soybeans and canola) with vitamin and mineral supplements.
A steady and healthy planned diet combines with the dairy cow's powerful digestive system's ability to maximize the dietary nutrients to produce wholesome, high-quality milk throughout the year. The steady supply is bolstered by minimal season-to-season variance in feed quantity and nutrient composition, in contrast to the cyclical volume typical of dairy cows that graze, which is common in some parts of the world.
Cow Comfort Tops U.S. Dairy Farmers' To-Do Lists
The majority of U.S. dairy farms are family-owned and operated. Generations of experience closely attune farmers to what their herds need to thrive. In terms of living environment, American-style barns are designed to protect cows from the weather, including wind and moisture. Installation of ceiling fans and water jets in the barns keep cows cool in the summer heat. The amount of rest a cow gets also directly influences how much milk she produces. U.S. dairy farmers often use sand bedding, as well as, more recently, water beds, to optimize a refreshing rest time.
U.S. dairy farmers work year-round to ensure cow comfort, and well-tended dairy cows respond by producing more milk. In fact, today's annual average of 10,863 kilograms per U.S. cow more than doubles the 1970 U.S. average of 4,400 kilograms per cow. In comparison, 2021 annual per-cow production is about 7,062 kilograms in the European Union, 6,607 kilograms in Australia and 4,485 kilograms in New Zealand. (Source: USDA)
There is no better way to understand the care and dedication of U.S. dairy farmers than to hear directly from them. Here are four narrated videos that explain how our farmers care for their animals, the environment and produce the highest quality U.S. dairy products to provide to global customers.
U.S. Family Farm Stories: Quality
Meet an Idaho dairyman who believes any job worth doing is worth doing right.
U.S. Family Farm Stories: Animal Care
Learn how a Washington State dairy farmer loves and cares for her animals.
U.S. Family Farm Stories: The Environment
Get to know the story of a Pennsylvania dairy farmer's stewardship of the environment.
U.S. Family Farm Stories: Relationships
Discover a California dairy farmer's passion for her family and community.