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Background of Dairy Production in the U.S.

The first cattle in the western hemisphere arrived with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. Other cows began to arrive along with settlers from Europe and followed the pioneers westward. Until the mid 1850s, the dairy industry in America revolved around the family-owned dairy cow, with little sales of milk or other dairy products outside the family. The dairy industry began to change dramatically in the early 1900s, after a series of developments. Principles of bacteriology that led to improved milk quality and safety by Louis Pasteur with the process of pasteurization; development of breed associations that promoted the genetic selection of cows for their ability to produce milk; the Land Grant act of 1862 that established colleges of agriculture to educate farmers in the scientific principles of breeding, feeding, and management; the centrifugal separator that allowed milk fat to be removed and allowed the manufacture of more products; determination of milk fat content by the Babcock test (named for Professor S. M. Babcock of the University of Wisconsin); and tuberculin testing of dairy herds that eliminated milk as a source of tuberculosis all played a role in the growth of U.S. dairy production.

Milk Cows and Operations in Indiana

As the dairy industry grew in the first half of the Twentieth Century, the largest numbers of cows and dairy herds were located in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. This area was very suitable for pasturing cattle and for producing forages which could be stored as winter feed. It was also conveniently situated near the population centers of the U.S. at that time. The location of farms near the point of use was critical since milk is a highly perishable commodity and modern refrigeration and transportation systems were not yet available. Thus, milk was bottled at the farm or taken to a local creamery and delivered to stores and households daily. Cows and farms reached peak numbers in the 1940s, when rural electrification allowed for the rapid cooling and on farm bulk storage of milk and allowed it to be transported over longer distances to markets. This allowed dairy production to become more concentrated. Cow numbers and dairy farm numbers for Indiana, which is typical of states in the Great Lakes region are in Fig. 1.


Milk Cows and Milk per Cow in Indiana
The concentration of more cows on fewer farms was accompanied by dramatic increases in production per cow (Fig. 2), arising from improved genetic selection, feeds, health care, and management techniques. Better roads enhanced the ability to transport milk to processing plants, improvements in housing and environment to keep cows more comfortable, less competition for alternative land uses, and the ability to raise feed under irrigation has led to a shift in dairy production to Western states. California surpassed Wisconsin in milk produced in 1993 and in number of dairy cows in 1998.
2001 Milk Production Ranking
Presently, there are about 9 million dairy cows on 100,000 farms in the U.S. California, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Idaho are the leading dairy producing states (Fig. 3). Production continues to increase in Idaho, New Mexico, and California, while it is declining in most of the Midwest and Northeast. In the upper Midwest, dairy farms have been discontinuing production at the rate of more than three per day over the past five years.
Impacts on Dairy Production in Indiana
The tri-state region of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, however, appear to be maintaining or increasing cow numbers, as the industry reacts to relatively inexpensive feed costs and access to the high-demand markets for fluid milk in the Southeastern U.S. Continued growth of the industry is expected in the Eastern Corn Belt and in the High Plains, just east of the Rocky Mountains. External pressures on the dairy industry due to environmental concerns will limit its growth in some areas or force farms to relocate (Fig. 4).


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