California milk cap.
December 2, 2019

What Does the Typical California Dairy Farm Look Like?

 |  By: Jim Dickrell

For many dairy farmers who have never been to California, their impression of the average dairy in the state is a large, open-lot or freestall dairy milking 1,500 to 2,000 cows. But that’s not really typical, says Deanne Meyer, a livestock waste management specialist with the University of California-Davis.

California has about 1,300 licensed dairy farms. USDA’s October milk production report estimates California has 1.727 million dairy cows, which places the state average at about 1,300 cows per farm. But even that average is deceiving.

“Average herd size (milking and dry cows) varies by region within California: North Coast (370 cows), Central Valley (1403 cows) and Southern California (Chino/San Jacinto; 1002 cows),” she says.

And while the majority of California cows are housed in freestall facilities, the state also has grazing dairies and open-lot facilities, she says.

Nearly one-sixth of California dairy farms have less than 250 cows while another 28% have herds of less than 500. Only about a sixth of farms have more then 2,000 cows.

For more information on the size distribution of California dairy farms, click here.