America’s Dairies at a Glance

  • Article
  • 2 min read December 15, 2015

While many may believe that family farms are a thing of the past, it certainly isn’t the case for the nation’s dairy farms.

In fact, nearly all – 97 percent – of dairy farms in the U.S. are family owned, often by multiple generations of the family.

We understand why there may be some confusion about this. When some people think of farms, they may think of red barns and cows that are milked by hand. However, dairy farms and farmers have grown and changed considerably over the years thanks to advancements in technology, environmental stewardship, animal care and other industry advancements like computerized records, modern housing and improved nutrition.

So what does the average American dairy farm look like? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes – they even vary based on where they are located around the country! Here’s a closer look:

  • A majority of dairies in the U.S. remain smaller: The smallest dairy farms (fewer than 30 cows) make up nearly 30 percent of all farms with milk cows in 2012, according to the USDA. However, those farms only gave 1 percent of all of the milk we get from cows in the U.S.
  • Meanwhile, the most common dairy farm size is 50 to 99 cows. Those farms represent one quarter of all dairies in the United States, and they give about 10 percent of the milk.
  • By comparison, 6 percent of U.S. dairy farms have 500 or more cows. Even though that’s a fewer number of farms, they own more cows, so they’re able to supply more milk: about 63 percent of the milk.

One size of farm isn’t better than another. Dairy farmers’ commitment to providing high-quality milk begins with taking good care of their cows. Plus, all farms and farmers are always evaluating the sustainability of their business and may look for ways to grow or diversify to meet their needs of their growing family. For example, some enlarge their farms while others may take on side businesses like cheesemaking.

Since a majority of us don’t live on a farm, it can be difficult to imagine what that means and looks like on today’s dairies. But that’s where we can help. Continue to visit Dairy Good to learn more about dairies of all shapes and sizes that are working to feed a growing population.