Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Thanks for noticing

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 10 April 2013

I recently met an acquaintance at Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, last month. (Click here to see our recap of the event).

Near the end of our conversation, he thanked me for the thoughts expressed on this page each issue. He said, “I know it’s not easy to come up with something that is meaningful to say every issue. But your comments are thought-provoking.”



Thank you, my friend. Yes, these editorials aren’t always easy to write, and I do personally put a lot into them because I want them to be helpful to you.

Often, I’m drawing on many brief, and sometimes off-the-record, conversations to illustrate an opinion or a trend. Because I’m a journalism nerd, I also keep track of how long it takes me to write these editorials relative to other articles. (I’m actually on the clock right now.)

Since our last issue, I engaged in a Twitter conversation that all might be interested in reading about. (If you don’t already, follow me @wcooley and the magazine @PDmag .)

After studying the pull-out poster in our last issue, a reader asked: What is the median herd size in the U.S.? The question is a bit tricky to answer because the USDA does not publish a list of every dairy in the country and their herd sizes. (For this, I’m sure you are individually grateful.) The median herd size would be south of 100 cows.

However, dairies with less than 100 cows don’t produce even a quarter of the milk in the U.S. So what’s a better “average number” to illustrate the scale of dairying in the U.S.?


I would suggest it’s near 560 cows.

There’s quite a bit of confusing math behind my estimate. If you’d like to see it, I’m more than happy to share it with you.

However, the bottom line is that more than 50 percent of milk is produced on dairies with more than 500 cows. So the “median” dairy where middle-of-the-road milk production happens should be milking north of 500 cows.

If we’re trying to use the actual median dairy herd size, which might be 80 cows, to confirm dairy consumers’ antiquated understanding of dairy farming’s scale, we are deceiving them.

There is nothing to be ashamed of by owning the fact that the majority of milk production happens on a larger farm. A 560-cow dairy is not a factory farm. It’s merely a large family farm.

Finally, thanks for the positive comments you’ve sent us about the dairy stats poster in the last issue. They mean more after the USDA recently announced that budget sequestration will discontinue the milk production data we use to create the poster.


This issue contains the last milk production data the USDA will report, at least through September (pgs. 17-18).

I’ll have to find something besides production data to write about in future columns. But at least for this issue, writing about math, of all things, has made this one of my fastest-written columns ever. PD


Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman
(208) 324-7513