While the number of dairies in the U.S. has shrunk significantly over the past 30 years, where those dairies are located hasn’t changed much. According to the 2017 USDA Ag Census, the upper Midwest and Northeast are still home to the most dairies.
In our analysis of the USDA data, we chose to include only those dairies that have more than 50 cows. With this approach, Lancaster County, Pa., has the most dairies, at 865. Four of the next five top counties are all in the upper Midwest, with three of those coming from Wisconsin and one from Minnesota. Franklin County, Pa., folds in the middle at No. 4, and two more Pennsylvania counties land at Nos. 7 and 8.
The first Western state represented is California, where Tulare county resides at No. 9. Coincidentally, Tulare county is also where the most cows are located, reflecting that Tulare county is home to more large dairies than any county in the U.S. Rockingham County, Va., rounds out the top 10.
Wisconsin dominates the remainder of the top 25 counties with eight of the next 15. Pennsylvania and California each have two more counties on the list, while Ohio, Iowa and New York each have one county.
The data also reflects another trend that has happened over the past three decades: The most cows are located in the West and Southwest. An examination of the top 25 counties for cow numbers shows that six of the top 10 counties are located in California. With Idaho, Arizona and Colorado each having a county in the top 10, that makes nine of the top 10 counties located in Western states. The only county east of the Mississippi is Lancaster County, Pa., which has the most dairies, coming in at No. 9.
Western states dominate the rest of the top 25 as follows: New Mexico and Idaho with three, California with two and Washington and Arizona each with one. Wisconsin breaks in with four counties in the top 25, and Minnesota has one.
Below is a table indicating cow numbers for the top 24 states as of July 2019. For the first time in 2017, the Census captured data on states that are home to the largest dairies. Since the most cows are in the West, it stands to reason the biggest dairies are there, too. California and Idaho are tied with the most dairies with more than 5,000 cows at 35; Texas is listed with 25 dairies. Wisconsin and Minnesota each have nine and eight of the +5,000-cow dairies, respectively.
Often dairies with large numbers of cows have multiple sites. On the Ag Census questionnaire, producers were asked to report all cattle and calves “on this operation,” according to Mike Miller with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. So it depends what the dairy producer considers to be “this operation” within their overall business.
"If the operator of a large farm with multiple sites considers all the sites to be part of one operation, the Census questionnaire for that operation should include the data from all the sties," Miller explains. However, operations with multiple sites are often maintained separately on our list of farm operators, depending on how the operator wants to report the data. In these situations, a questionnaire will usually be completed for each site.”
To prevent disclosure of data for individual dairy operations, data for large dairies is only available at the state, and not on the county level.
To find out the states for your state as well as see an interactive map of where dairies with 100 to 200 cows are located and other herd size breakdowns, click here.
To view another interactive map of where dairies with 1,000 to 2,500 cows are located, plus maps showing where even larger dairies are located, so you can see where your dairy stands, read: Here's Where The Biggest Dairies Are Located