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Shrinking Herd

Dairy cow slaughter has seen unprecedentedly high numbers, setting new records every week through March. The U.S. milk cow herd has been reduced by 79,000 head in the past year.

However, some producers considering exiting the business have hung on because of weak cow prices, Sarina Sharp, dairy risk manager and author of the Daily Dairy Report, told the audience at the Central Plains Dairy Expo in late March. “As milk and cow prices rise, there will be another wave of sellouts,” according to Sharp. Some will continue production under new owners but others will not, given environmental concerns, the cost of technology upgrades and labor issues.

January dairy heiferStrong demand for lean beef will support cow prices going forward. Operations continuing in dairy will see a benefit from selling cows and buying springers, thereby increasing productivity. Average springer values fell from 2014 into the end of 2018, from almost $2,400/head to barely over $1,000, but now are firming.

In addition, “we are making fewer heifers and investing less in caring for them because they are so cheap,” she said. “Not long from now, we may start to wonder where all the heifers are.”


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