Dairy Farming in the USA – Management Practices

Introduction to Dairy Farming in the USA and Dairy Business Plan: Dairy farming concerns milk production and its related products. In this, you must sell dairy products, i.e., those related to milk in the market. You can quickly get milk from different animals, such as cows, buffaloes, etc. But you have to work separately for the related products like yogurt, ghee, etc., which takes time. Therefore, if you want, you can sell milk directly. So in this article, we will tell you how you can start dairy farming in the USA, and with the help of this, you can set up a good company.

The U.S. dairy industry is well-positioned and eager to fulfill the world’s expanding appetite for dairy. Throughout the supply chain, from farm families and milk processors to product and ingredient manufacturers, the dairy industry in the U.S. is fully invested in being a long-term global supply that drives customers’ business forward. Dairy isn’t just a healthy and delicious food group. It also contributes significantly to the American economy. The American dairy sector provides a vital source of income to rural families. The average size of a dairy farm herd is around 250 cows, and farms with fewer than 200 cows account for 87% of all dairy farms.

The dairy industry in the United States includes farms, cooperatives, and companies that produce milk and cheese and related products like milking machines and distribute them to the consumer. In order by total milk production, the top five dairy states are California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho, and Texas. Dairy farming remains important in Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, and Vermont. Advantageous land and resources, along with the adoption of modern and efficient dairy farming practices, secure the United States’ position as the world’s largest producer of cow’s milk.

The majority of U.S. dairy farms are family-owned and operated. Dairy farmers in the U.S. work closely with animal nutritionists and veterinarians to identify the right mix of feed ingredients for dairy animals. In turn, the cow’s powerful digestive system develops these dietary nutrients to produce wholesome, high-quality milk.

Dairy Farming In The USA, Dairy Business Plan, Dairy Breeds and Management Practices

Dairy Farm
Dairy Farm (Image source: pixabay)

Importance of Dairy Farming in the USA: Regardless of location or herd size, U.S. dairy farmers know that healthy and well-tended cows fed a nutritious diet consistently produce wholesome, high-quality milk. The components of a dairy cow’s diet typically combine hay like alfalfa or grass, grains like corn, wheat, and barley, and protein sources (like soybeans and canola) with vitamin and mineral supplements. 

Then, the steady supply is bolstered by minimal season-to-season variance in feed quantity and nutrient composition, in contrast to the cyclical volume typical of dairy cows that graze, which is common in some parts of the world.  

Rising Global Presence: Usually, the dedication of American dairy farmers and processor communities reaches far beyond U.S. borders. Domestically focused a decade ago, today’s dairy industry has embraced global markets and emerged as a leading dairy supplier worldwide. That’s equivalent to 14.4 million metric tons of milk from 1.4 million U.S. cows. Dairy suppliers in the U.S. are attuned to global customers’ needs, and sales efforts are increasingly supported by offices and representatives worldwide. Also, the industry is fully invested in delivering a product portfolio that meets the selection, specifications, and packaging global customers seek.

The importance of dairy farming in the USA is;

  • Milk and milk products like cheese, yogurt, and frozen dairy desserts make important contributions to the American diet. Then, they provide high-quality protein and are good sources of vitamins A, D, and B-12 and riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
  • Milk contains, in proper proportions, the various necessary food ingredients required by the human body in an easily digestible form. However, the inclusion of milk in the human diet increases the digestibility of other types of food as well. Milk productivity varies in different countries, as some countries are surplus in production, some are deficit in production, and some countries’ availability matches their requirement.
  • Dairy cattle are the most efficient farm livestock animals in converting feed protein and energy to food.
  • Dairy farming provides a source of daily income with a relatively low level of risk. Most dairy farmers raise animals on a small scale in traditional ways.
  • The productivity of these dairy farmers can be enhanced if they scientifically run their businesses. Most such farmers are not aware of the modern ways of dairy farming. As a result, some dairy farmers lose their investments instead of making a profit. To ensure maximum production and profits from dairy farming, these farmers must adopt proper business plans and good dairy management practices in the USA.
  • Ample growth capacity – The United States has the land, infrastructure, and technological resources to continue its milk production expansion and dairy product offerings. Also, this rising growth capacity is backed by the assurance of rigorous quality and safety standards. The U.S. dairy system carefully controls conditions to deliver world-class products and ingredients to customers. Individual farmer and processor efforts are supplemented by rigorous government oversight to protect consumers further.
  • Accelerated Growth – The U.S. dairy industry offers a variety of products, processes, and delivery capabilities that can help accelerate customers’ growth and innovation trajectories.

Dairy Farming Business Plan in the USA

In case you missed this: Sheep Farming In Australia.

Dairy Cow
Dairy Cow (Image source: pixabay)

1. Select Location for Your Dairy Farm

Elevated land is better to avoid stagnation of rainwater and waste in the region. Ensure that the foundation soils are not heavily desiccated or dehydrated since they become fissures and cracks during the rainy season. Lands too elevated will not be able to hold water, and no green pastures for the cattle will be possible. Do not use fertile land for housing cattle, and it will be more expensive.

Different Kinds of Housing

There are mainly two types of barns that are popular amongst dairy farmers.

Loose System – This Loose system helps you to become an efficient manager. The animals must be free to move around to yield profit, even with minimal grazing. They must be able to exercise well and stay healthy. Tie up a cow only during milking or if it needs any treatment. You can detect an animal in heat quite easily and consider room for further expansion if you can afford it.

Dairy Housing
Dairy Housing (Image credit: pixabay)

Conventional System of Shed Construction – These are expensive and not so popular, but perfect for regions suffering weather changes from adverse climatic conditions.

2. Tips about Housing Calves

  • When cows enter labor, keep them in enclosed sheds with doors, ridge vents, windows, ample space, and plenty of soft bedding for the new calf.
  • Bulls or bullocks can be kept in sheds (each measuring 15 x 10 feet) having rough cement concrete floors and water troughs.
  • A door for each shed, measuring around 7 feet in height and 4 feet in width, would be ideal.
  • Concerning young stock, categories them into three groups based on gender and age.
  • Each group would be comfortable in a separate shed with good ventilation, a dry floor, a water trough, and an exercise yard.
  • If any dairy animal is diseased, isolate it in a separate shed, away from the other animals. Then, make sure its wastes drain off into a separate drainage disposal system so as not to spread any germs.

3. Breeding Care

The dairy animal should be closely observed and keep a specific record of its coming in heat, duration of heat, insemination, conception, and calving.

4. Feeding Dairy Animals

Try to produce green food to get more milk from dairy animals. Feeding is the main component of the cost of milk production, accounting for 55-60% of the total cost of milk production. So, judicious feeding is the most essential pillar of economic dairying. The dairy animals should be fed with a balanced ratio incorporating all the nutrients (energy, proteins, minerals, and vitamins) in the right proportions, keeping in view the requirements of the animal. At the same time, the feeds and fodders selected for animal feeding should not be costly.

Dairy cows and buffaloes with an average body weight of about 500 kg require 12.5 to 15 kg of dry matter or DM daily. This DM must be fed through green fodders, concentrate mixture, and dry roughages. Preferably, two-thirds of the total dry matter requirement must be met through seasonal cereal and leguminous green fodders and dry roughages. For better productivity, feeding both cereal and leguminous fodders in 50-50 ratios must be preferred.

To economize feeding, the concentrate mixture must be homemade as the concentrate mixtures available in the market are costlier, and their quality, in most cases, leaves much to be desired. It can be mentioned that the cost of milk production is always less if a major chunk of the daily ration of the dairy animal comprises green fodders as concentrates are a costly feed item in situations where land for fodder cultivation is not available or insufficiently available or the market rate of fodder is very high as in and around cities. The milk is sold at a higher rate, and the concentrates and the wheat straw can form a major part of the animal diet supplemented with some green fodder. About 5 to 10 kg per animal per day is necessary.

5. Managing dairy animal’s health

The dairy farm operation for maximum profit includes good feeding, breeding, care and management, good record keeping, and a health program. The health program objectives are to prevent disease occurrence and control the spread of infectious diseases.

The main role of the government is to eradicate epidemic diseases and to minimize the transmission of diseases from dairy cattle and dairy products to humans. The role of dairy cooperatives is to encourage health care and eliminate diseases transmitted from cattle to humans that adversely influence milk spoilage.

The roles of veterinarians and dairy extension staff emphasize continuing education for farmers in farm management and disease control, as well as providing effective services. Also, it is the smallholder who should understand the reasons for good dairy management practices and the links between nutrition, housing, and health.

A health plan must be developed that contains management actions for herd health to prevent and control diseases. Then, the plan must contain actions for foot care, parasite control, infectious diseases, and calf care. To avoid risk, you should take care and properly manage the dairy farm. You must make stocks of proper medicines and other equipment.

6. Care during Pregnancy

Give special attention to pregnant cows two months before calving by providing adequate space, feed, water, etc.

7. Marketing

The marketing of dairy farms is not a big problem. Contract shops and dairy companies that process milk.

1. Marketing milk immediately after it is drawn, keeping the time between production and milk marketing to the minimum.

2. Milk production produces better storage to give more returns.

Dairy Products in the USA

Cheese – The United States is the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of cheese, producing more than 600 delicious varieties. This mainly includes European-style selections such as cheddar and mozzarella alongside American Originals such as Monterey Jack, Colby, and cream cheese. International competitions place U.S. specialty cheeses among the best in the world, with consistent top honors for flavor and appearance.

Milk powder – The United States leads the world as a single-country producer and exporter of nonfat dry milk or skim milk powder. Also, the United States is responding to global customers’ desires for more whole milk powder, with capacity now rising as new plant facilities.

Whey ingredients – U.S. whey suppliers produce a wide array of ingredients, from sweet whey to whey protein concentrates and isolates, to meet variable needs for protein levels, functional properties, and other specifications. Though with over a million metric tons produced annually, the United States is the largest producer and exporter of whey in the world.

Milk protein – The dairy industry in the U.S. is a rising supplier of milk proteins, with milk protein concentrate production more than doubled over the past eight years. Micellar casein concentrate is now in production and commercially available.

Permeate – U.S. whey and milk permeate production is sharply rising to fulfill expanding global demand.

Lactose – A track record as the world’s largest producer and exporter makes the United States a trusted, go-to lactose source for feed, food, and pharmaceutical uses. Global customers rely on U.S. lactose for product functionality, quality nutrition, and consistent supply availability.

Butter and milkfat – The sweet taste and creamy texture of “Made in USA” butter enhances flavor and texture in many applications. From East Coast to West Coast, U.S. butter and milkfat manufacturers offer quality-driven products and are eager to partner with customers worldwide.

Yogurt, ice cream, and dairy desserts – As a consistent producer and exporter of yogurt, ice cream, and dairy desserts, the United States is well-positioned to meet the rising global demand for these delicious dairy treats. The USA is recognized for the innovation and quality of frozen dairy desserts and tasty and nutritious yogurt products.

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Nutrition Management for Dairy Farming in the USA

  • Nutrition plays an important role in keeping animals healthy and strong. Nutrient requirements could not be the same depending on the animal’s age and stage of production. Diets are formulated to meet the dairy cow’s energy and amino acid requirements for lactation, growth, and reproduction.
  • Nutrition mainly influences both the quantity and composition of milk fat. In modern dairy production, cows are fed diets with a high level of concentrates to maximize milk production, but such diets cause a drop in milk fat.
  • Energy requirements for lactating dairy cows are met mainly by carbohydrate fractions of the diet. Then, these consist of fibrous and non-fibrous carbohydrates.
  • Forages, which refer mainly to anything grown in the field, such as hay, straw, corn silage, or grass silage, are the most common feed used. Cereal grains, as the main contributors of starch to diets, are very important in helping to meet the energy needs of dairy cattle. Barley is a good source of balanced protein, energy, and fiber.
  • Ensuring adequate body fat reserves is essential for cattle to produce milk and maintain reproductive efficiency. However, if cattle get excessively fat or too thin, they risk developing metabolic problems and can have problems with calving. Some of these fats include oleic acids, found in canola oil, animal tallow, and yellow grease; palmitic acid, found in granular fats and dry fats; and linolenic acids, which are found in cottonseed, sunflower, and soybean.
  • Using by-products is one way of reducing the normally high feed costs. However, a lack of knowledge of their nutritional and economic value limits their use. Although the reduction of costs can be significant, they must be used carefully because the animal could react negatively to radical changes in feeds (e.g., fog fever). Such a change should then be made slowly and with the proper follow-up.
  • Carbohydrates, amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and water are all nutrients necessary by the lactating dairy cow to meet the demand of the mammary gland to produce milk and milk components.

Dairy Farms in the U.S.

Over 60,000 Dairy Farms in the U.S., 64,155 dairy farms. That’s a lot of dairy farms and a lot of milk production.

Regarding the number of dairy farms, the top 10 states in the USA are Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and California. Just because the state may have a lot of dairy farmers doesn’t mean your state is in the top 10 of overall milk production.

Regarding milk production, the top 10 states are California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, and Washington. Over 60% of dairy farms have less than 25 cows.

Dairy Breeds in the USA

There are 7 major dairy breeds in the United States, according to the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association. The major breeds are Holstein, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Jersey, Red and White, and Milking Shorthorn. In the U.S., seven different dairy cow breeds are Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, and Red and White Holstein.

Holstein Cows

Holstein cows originate from the Netherlands and have distinct black and white or, more rarely, red and white color markings. Holstein cow breeds are the biggest of all dairy breeds. A fully mature Holstein cow usually weighs around 700 kilograms and is 147 centimeters tall at the shoulder. Then, they are known for their outstanding milk production among the main dairy cattle breeds. An average Holstein cow produces around 10,000 kilograms or 23,000 lb of milk each lactation. Of the 9 million dairy cows in the U.S., around 90% are of Holstein descent. Holstein cows are the most common dairy breed in the U.S. It is known for high milk production but has less butterfat and protein based on the percentage in the milk compared to other breeds.

Brown Swiss

The Brown Swiss cow breed is accepted as the oldest dairy cattle breed, originally coming from a part of northeastern Switzerland. Brown Swiss cows are the oldest of all types of milk cows or dairy breeds. These are believed to have been around longer than any other breed. Also, they’re known for their big furry ears and for being the second most productive dairy cows. Brown Swiss cow breeds are originally from Switzerland and came to America in the 1860s.


Ayrshires are orangey-brown and known for being hardy and long-living. Ayrshires also tend to be more dominant than other dairy breeds and represent their Scottish heritage. Ayrshire cows came to America in the 1820s.


The Guernsey breed was first known as a separate breed around 1700. Guernsey cows are known for their ability to produce very high-quality milk from grass. Also, “Golden Guernsey” is common as Guernsey cattle produce rich, yellow milk rather than the standard white milk other cow breeds produce. Guernsey cows are brown or fawn (light yellowish tan) with white spots of various sizes on the body or face. Guernsey cows are known as The Royal Breed thanks to their golden milk. Guernsey cows are from Britain, and they came to America in the early 1900s.

Jersey breed

The Jersey cow breed of dairy cow originated on a small island off the coast of France called Jersey. Despite being one of the oldest dairy cattle breeds, they only occupy about 4% of the Canadian National Herd. During this time, many countries other than the United States started importing Jersey breeds, including Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, among others.

Jerseys give milk that is high in butterfat and perfect for ice cream. Jersey cow breeds are originally from Britain and came to America in the 1860s.

Milking Shorthorn Cows

Milking Shorthorn cows were the first breed to enter the United States in the early 1780s. Milking Shorthorns are known for being efficient grazers that are easy to manage; they were the first dairy cows brought to America, New Zealand, and Australia.


Herefords became popular in the U.S. for their early maturity and fattening ability. It is dark red to red-yellow with a white face. Hereford breeds are known for their longevity and for being docile, good milkers, and good mothers.

Milk Production in the USA

In the USA, milk production data for 24 selected states are released. The companies tend to be located in States where the conditions for dairy products in the USA are better – California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Michigan, Texas, and Washington guarantee 71% of the entire national production.

The companies expand their production in the Western US States, where four general factors appeal to producers:

  • Availability of land and water,
  • Infrastructure,
  • A favorable climate,
  • Optimized business management practices.

The 24 states for which the USDA reports milk production are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Protection against Diseases in Dairy Animals

  • Be alert for signs of illness like reduced feed intake, fever, abnormal discharge, or unusual behavior.
  • Dairy farmers can develop observation skills to assess the general health status of their cows.
  • Every farmer develops a herd health plan with a good recording system and plans for introducing new stock onto the farm.
  • Also, poor animal health can have adverse effects on reproductive performance.

Dairy Policy in the United States

Dairy policy in the United States has been and is comprised of the following major components;

  • It creates import barriers for dairy products and export subsidies for dairy products;
  • Federal and state marketing orders also regulate raw milk prices and
  • The US government purchases manufactured dairy products to support the farm price of milk. Also, federal and state governments have long-standing food safety and sanitation regulations for milk and dairy products.

Also, there are myriad more recent environmental, land use zoning, labor, and other regulations that influence the dairy industry.


If you plan to start a profitable dairy farm in the United States, this article may help you to set up a dairy farm from scratch.


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