Trends in the Dairy Industry for the Intermountain Area

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

This past year has seen some very dramatic changes in the dairy industry. I have just finished compiling the data for the 2006 RMDHIA annual summary and thought some of the changes would be of interest to those of you in the industry.

Table 1 shows the changes in average milk per cow and number of cows per herd for the RMDHIA affiliate for the past 20 years. The trendline that best fits the milk/cow line is linear with an average increase of 242 lb milk per year. However, average milk production per cow for the last 7 years has been pretty flat with the last 2 years starting to show a slight increase. The trendline for cows/herd is best described by an exponential line, which means that the addition of cows has accelerated over the past few years. If you multiply the milk/cow times the cows/herd for each year, then the average milk per farm has also increased at an exponential rate.

Table 1. Graph of average milk per cow and cows per herd for the RMDHIA affiliate for the past 20 years.

The RMDHIA affiliate saw a decrease of 31 herds and 5,279 cows in 2006 compared with 2005. The area that saw the greatest loss of herds was Cache County, while Montana had no net change in number of herds. One other item that caught my attention was the categories of percent of cows without cow or sire registration or eartag and breed (from the herd summary), the percentages doubled this year compared with last year to 26% and 33%, respectively (they have been inching up a little per year, but not like this). It seems an interesting way to manage during times of low milk prices.

I also looked at changes in RMDHIA herds as a function of herd size. The differences can be seen in Table 2. Basically, the herd category of 151-300 cows had the largest decrease in herds and number of cows in 2006 compared with 2005, but not ECM per cow. The largest herd size category also changed, but I think it was because of consolidation of several herds owned by one entity into one herd.

Table 2. Change in the number of herds, cows and ECM milk for RMDHIA affiliate herds (UT, western WY, southeast ID and MT) between 2005 and 2006 by herd size.
Herd Size Category No. Herds (Diff) No. Cows (Diff) ECM (Diff)
10-75 -8 -416 +63
76-150 -1 +112 +240
151-300 -17 -3542 -44
300+ -4 -1811 -502

Finally, Table 3, in part, is an admission of error. I made a bet in front of several dairy farmers and the table below shows that I was wrong. I hate to admit being wrong in public. The list is compiled from the Utah Department of Ag and Food Annual Reports and I have listed only those counties with at least 1000 cows. For the first time in state history, that I am aware of, Cache county no longer has the greatest number of milk cows in the state. Millard county has the most cows and Millard, Cache and Utah counties account for over half of all cows in Utah. Given the urbanization challenges faced by two of the top three counties and several farms building new facilities, expanding or relocating, I expect to see more changes in the future.

If you have any questions, comments or requests for more information, you can contact me at 435-797-3763 or

Table 3. Number of milk cows, by county in Utah, for 2005 and 2006. Only counties with over 1000 milk cows are listed. Cumulative percentage is Cum%. Source: Utah Dept. Ag and Food Annual Report 2005 and 2006.
County 2005 2006 % Total (2006) Cum%
Millard 15,000 18,200 21.4 21.4
Cache 19,700 16,000 18.8 40.2
Utah 9,000 11,300 13.3 53.5
Box Elder 10,100 7,900 9.3 62.8
Sanpete 6,900 6,600 7.8 70.6
Weber 4,300 4,100 4.8 75.4
Sevier 4,200 3,000 3.5 78.9
Duchesne 3,000 2,500 2.9 81.8
Iron 2,600 2,500 2.9 84.7
Piute 2,300 2,300 2.7 87.4
Beaver 2,300 2,200 2.6 90.0
Wayne 1,400 1,400 1.6 91.6
Wasatch 1,400 1,300 1.5 93.1
Summit 1,300 1,200 1.4 94.5
Total 88,000 85,000