Milk production in the 23 major dairy states grew 5.5 percent during March, according to the USDA’s “Milk Production” report released Tuesday. Although weaker than last month’s output gain of 5.9 percent, it is still incredibly strong  and the “spring flush” hasn’t even arrived yet.

March milk output totaled 14.6 billion pounds in the top 23 states during March.

Mild March weather helped milk per cow maintain a strong pace. In the top 23 states, milk output per cow was up 3.9 percent versus a year ago. Per-cow output averaged 1,773 pounds during the month, or about 57 pounds per cow per day.  

Strong growth in cow numbers also contributed to the 5.5-percent gain in milk production. The 23-state cow herd grew 1.5 percent during March versus a year ago. Cow numbers in the top 23 states totaled 8.22 million head — up 124,000 head versus a year ago and 17,000 head more than February.

The southwest led the 23 states in terms of milk-production gains. New Mexico was up 15.1 percent and Texas was up 14.9 percent. Further east, Indiana came in third with a gain of 9.1 percent versus a year ago. Production losses took their biggest toll in Florida, down 6.6 percent. The only other states to post losses were Washington and Oregon, down 2.5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively. The chart at right shows total milk production in each of the top 23 dairy states during March versus a year ago.

The USDA report also showed a downward revision in February milk production. During February, the top 23 dairy states produced 13 billion pounds of milk, down 7 million pounds versus the preliminary estimate reported during March. However, February’s year-over-year production gain of 5.9 percent was unchanged.

The March report showed a 5-percent gain in U.S. milk production for first quarter 2006. Milk production totaled 45.5 billion pounds during the quarter. The average number of milk cows in the U.S. was 9.09 million head — up 91,000 head versus the same time period a year ago.