Dairy industry in the United States

The dairy industry in the United States includes the farms, cooperatives, and companies that produce milk and cheese and related products, such as milking machines, and distribute them to the consumer. By 1925, the United States had 1.5-2 million dairy cows, each producing an average of 4200 lb of milk per year. By 2007, there were 9.1 million dairy cows but their average milk production was over 20,000 pounds per year, with eight pounds per gallon.[1]


European dairy practices varied from place to place, and immigrants to the United States would work together to import and improve on the best Europe traditions. One result was a variety of dairy practices across the United States.[2][3]

Bad milk–White poisonEdit

The fresh milk habit began to develop in the middle of the nineteenth century in New York City. Before then, pitchers of milk fresh from the cow were a rarity on urban tables. Milk was consumed as cheese, butter, or "clabbered milk." The new problem was bad milk–"white poison.” [4] The sanitary and child-welfare movements collaborated and identified dirty, spoiled, or adulterated milk as among the causes of the massive infant mortality rates. Before 1900 the milk New Yorkers drank was produced in the city by cows fed distillery waste, or swill. They were packed together in filthy barns of the sort that could not withstand exposure in the city newspapers. The solution was to shut down the city operations and rely on fresh pasteurized milk brought in daily by train. By 1917, 5 percent of American cattle were infected with Mycobacterium bovis (bovine tuberculosis or BTB), including 10 percent of dairy animals and 1–2 percent of range cattle. The rates were going up. Around 1900 15,000 Americans, mostly children, died each year from BTB and many more suffered pain and disfigurement.[5] Threatened by a sales cutoff ordered by urban public health officials, Vermont state government officials launched and innovative eradication campaign bovine tuberculosis on farms. They made use of the latest German research, and thereby kept the New York City and Boston markets.[6] Vermont was exceptional, for across the country many farmers strenuously resisted bovine tuberculosis eradication as an expensive violation of their right to farm. A 1901 editorial in Breeder’s Gazette reflected the rhetoric of the antis:

For years the noble army of tuberculin squirt gun manipulators has been marching up the hill, beating tom-toms and brandishing the pole-axe, crying ‘Kill, Kill.’ This fierce and bloodthirsty campaign against our herds has been waged on the disputed assumption that tuberculosis in cattle is a menace to the public health....Servile worshippers of asserted authority, the half-baked scientists and zealots of the squirt gun brigade have pushed their work of destruction until it has mounted to millions of dollars.[7]

21st-century farmsEdit

Cow Milk Production by State in 2016

There are 40,200 dairy farms in the United States, down from 111,800 in 1995.[8] In 2017 the top five dairy states are, in order by total milk production; California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho, and Texas.[9] Dairy farming remains important in Florida, Minnesota, Ohio and Vermont.[10]

Herd size in the US varies between 1,200 on the West Coast and Southwest, where large farms are commonplace, to roughly 50 in the Midwest and Northeast, where land-base is a significant limiting factor to herd size. The average herd size in the U.S. is about one hundred cows per farm but the median size is 900 cows with 49% of all cows residing on farms of 1000 or more cows.[11]

Production by stateEdit

Production of milk per state in 2019 was as follows:[12]

2019 production of milk
State Production

(million pounds)

Production (%)
Alabama 60 <0.1%
Alaska N/A N/A
Arizona 4,769 2.2%
Arkansas 67 0.0%
California 40,564 18.6%
Colorado 4,807 2.2%
Connecticut 428 0.2%
Delaware 74 <0.1%
Florida 2,346 1.1%
Georgia 1,771 0.8%
Hawaii N/A N/A
Idaho 15,631 7.2%
Illinois 1,748 0.8%
Indiana 4,073 1.9%
Iowa 5,291 2.4%
Kansas 3,819 1.7%
Kentucky 941 0.4%
Louisiana 135 0.1%
Maine 621 0.3%
Maryland 840 0.4%
Massachusetts 192 0.1%
Michigan 11,385 5.2%
Minnesota 9,931 4.5%
Mississippi 126 0.1%
Missouri 1,100 0.5%
Montana 259 0.1%
Nebraska 1,409 0.6%
Nevada 762 0.3%
New Hampshire 238 0.1%
New Jersey 100 0.0%
New Mexico 8,187 3.7%
New York 15,122 6.9%
North Carolina 902 0.4%
North Dakota 326 0.1%
Ohio 5,425 2.5%
Oklahoma 731 0.3%
Oregon 2,592 1.2%
Pennsylvania 10,108 4.6%
Rhode Island 10.6 <0.1%
South Carolina 206 0.1%
South Dakota 2,810 1.3%
Tennessee 551 0.3%
Texas 13,850 6.3%
Utah 2,262 1.0%
Vermont 2,697 1.2%
Virginia 1,490 0.7%
Washington 6,783 3.1%
West Virginia 90 <0.1%
Wisconsin 30,601 14.0%
Wyoming 146.6 0.1%
Sum 218,382 100%

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Alice C. Richer, "Dairy Industry" in Historical Encyclopedia of American Business, edited by Richard L Wilson (2009) pp:215–218.
  2. ^ T. V. Selleck, "The Dutch Immigrants of Southern California and the Dairy Industry, 1920-1960." European contributions to American studies 64 (2006): 187+
  3. ^ Steven J. Keillor, "Agricultural change and crosscultural exchange: Danes, Americans, and dairying, 1880-1930." Agricultural History 67#4 (1993), p. 58+ online
  4. ^ Peter J. Atkins, "White poison? The social consequences of milk consumption, 1850–1930." Social History of Medicine 5.2 (1992): 207-227.
  5. ^ Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode. "An impossible undertaking: the eradication of bovine tuberculosis in the United States." Journal of Economic History 64.3 (2004): 734-772, at p. 768. online
  6. ^ Basil P. Tangredi, "Routing Mr. Bovine Bacillus: Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis on Vermont Farms" Vermont History (2017) 85#2 pp 113-127.
  7. ^ Quoted by Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, "Not on my farm! Resistance to bovine tuberculosis eradication in the United States." Journal of Economic History 67.3 (2007): 768-809 at p 773. online
  8. ^ See "Hoard's Dairyman February 26, 2018
  9. ^ https://www.dairybusiness.com/top-ten-milk-producing-states-in-may-2018
  10. ^ "Facts and Figures". Dairy Farming Today. 2010. Archived from the original on 27 May 2008. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  11. ^ MacDonald, James; Newton, Doris (1 December 2014). "Milk Production Continues Shifting to Large-Scale Farms". Amber Waves. United States Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original on 23 March 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  12. ^ "USDA" (PDF). Retrieved 16 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further readingEdit

  • Apps, Jerry. Cheese: The making of a Wisconsin tradition (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).
  • Bailey, Kenneth W. Marketing and pricing of milk and dairy products in the United States (Iowa State University Press, 1997).
  • Blayney, Don P. "The Changing Landscape of U.S. Milk Production" (USDA, 2002) online
  • Bowen, Sarah, and Kathryn De Master. "Wisconsin’s 'Happy Cows'? Articulating heritage and territory as new dimensions of locality." Agriculture and Human Values 31.4 (2014): 549-562. online
  • Cardoso, Clarissa S., et al. "Imagining the ideal dairy farm." Journal of Dairy Science 99.2 (2016): 1663-1671. online
  • Dillon, John J. Seven Decades of Milk - A History of New York's Dairy Industry (2010)
  • DuPuis, E. Melanie. Nature's perfect food: How milk became America's drink (NYU Press, 2002). complete text online
  • Fuquay, John W. ed. Encyclopedia of Dairy Sciences (2nd Edition, 4 vol 2011), comprehensive coverage
  • Janus, Edward. Creating Dairyland: How caring for cows saved our soil, created our landscape, brought prosperity to our state, and still shapes our way of life in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2011).
  • Keillor, Steven J. "Agricultural change and crosscultural exchange: Danes, Americans, and dairying, 1880-1930." Agricultural History;; 67#4 (1993), p. 58+ online
  • Khosrova, Elaine. Butter: A Rich History (2016) excerpt
  • Kurlansky, Mark. Milk: A 10,000-Year History (2019) excerpt
  • McMurry, Sally. Transforming rural life: Dairying families and agricultural change, 1820-1885 (Johns Hopkins UP, 1995).
  • Porter, John. The History and Economics of the New Hampshire Dairy Industry (University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, 2007).
  • Doug Reinemann (July 18, 2018). "Milking Machines:The First 100 Years". pbswisconsin.org. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
  • Steele, Catherine Baumgarten. "The Steele Brothers: Pioneers in California's Great Dairy Industry." California Historical Quarterly 20.3 (1941): 259-273. online
  • Switzer, Robert L. A Family Farm: Life on an Illinois Dairy Farm (2012)
  • Valenze, Deborah. Milk: A Local and Global History (2011) excerpt