Not all regions were up, however
USDA released its annual Livestock Slaughter Report in April, showing that 187,000 more dairy cows were sent to slaughter through federally inspected plants in 2012 than 2011. That represents a 6.4% increase.
The numbers come as little surprise, given strong cull cow prices, drought-fueled feed prices and relatively low replacement heifer prices. In many cases, dairy farmers can purchase a two-year-old replacement for nearly the return they receive for culling a 1,500 lb. Holstein cow.
In the USDA report, Region 6, which encompasses New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, saw the greatest increase in culling last year. Region 6 sent a total of 340,000 cattle to slaughter in 2012, up 131,000 compared with 2011—a 63% increase.
Region 9, which includes California and Arizona, saw culling jump 41,000 head—a 5% increase, and less than the national average.
While more than 100 California dairies closed their doors last year, those remaining were milking as many cows as possible to maintain cash flow, the report shows.
Some regions, such as Regions 2 and 5, actually saw less culling in 2012 than 2011. Region 2 encompasses New York and New Jersey. Culling there was down 15.6% in 2012 compared to 2011.
Region 5, which is essentially the Midwest from Ohio through Minnesota, saw 953,000 cows culled in 2012. That’s a lot of cows, but 50,000 head less 2011 (and a 5% decrease).
Strong milk prices in the latter half of 2012 and ample feed supplies in much of the Upper Midwest were encouragement to keep barns full and milk flowing, report analysts add.