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California Drought 2014: Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Sectors

Livestock and livestock products play an important role in California agriculture, contributing to just over a quarter of the value of agricultural production in the State. Cash receipts for livestock products totaled $12.2 billion in 2012, or just over 7 percent of total U.S. livestock cash receipts. This value consists mostly of dairy, cattle and calf, chicken, and egg production
(fig. 3).

  • California ranks first in dairy cow inventory and fourth in total U.S. cattle inventory (table 5). California’s 5.25 million head of cattle equal 6 percent of all U.S. cattle supplies and 8 percent of U.S. calves.
  • California leads the nation in dairy production, producing 21 percent of the Nation’s milk. The State is also the leading producer of butter and nonfat dry milk and is second to Wisconsin in cheese production.
  • Dairy production is concentrated in a few areas, most of which are experiencing severe or extreme drought. Ninety-nine percent of milk sales are from counties currently eligible for drought disaster assistance.
  • The San Joaquin Valley, in particular—the State leader in dairy production—is impacted by the drought. Eight counties make up the San Joaquin Valley and account for 87 percent of the State’s dairy cow inventory and 76 percent of its dairies (table 6).
  • The majority of dairy cows in California and the West are raised in dry lots and fed grain, including alfalfa hay, rather than grazing on pasture. California is the leading State for alfalfa farming, accounting for nearly 11 percent of total U.S. production in 2013. Most alfalfa fields are irrigated and located in the Central Valley. Dairy producers rely on adequate feed availability and quality to feed their herds. Although feed can be sourced from outside the State, reductions in alfalfa planting and cuttings due to reduced irrigation water may decrease local supplies of feed.
  • U.S. alfalfa hay production increased by more than 10 percent in 2013 from 2012, but it was 16 percent lower than average production between 2008 and 2011. Production declined in 2012 and 2013 due to widespread drought in the Southwest. As a result of lower production and higher export demand, prices received by farmers rose nearly 86 percent between 2009 and 2012.
  • Milk production in California through March 2014 is above year-earlier levels and milk prices have reached record highs. January production was 4.4 percent higher, February production 5.2 percent higher, and March production 3.7 percent higher than last year due to increases in milk-per-cow. U.S. milk production is forecast to increase over 2 percent this year.


 Figure 3Livestock shares


Table 5. California livestock, dairy, and poultry products, production value 2012
CommodityU.S. rank 1/
CA share of U.S. production
(1,000 pounds)
Cash reciepts /2
CA rank
Aquaculture       54,055 55
Cattle and calves 4 5 2,880,400 3,298,548 4
Chickens, all       720,215 15
Hogs and pigs 3/ 29   55,815 38,675 61
Honey 4 8 11,900 22,967 66
Milk and cream 1 21 41,801,000 6,899,743 1
Turkeys 8 6 430,900 310,679 27
Wool and mohair       4,600 74
Other livestock and poultry 4/       411,935
Eggs, chicken 5 6 (Number of eggs)
393,245 20
Livestock, dairy, and apiary total cash receipts 12,357,994  

1/ Based on quantity produced for crops and on quantity marketed for livestock and poultry products.
2/ Based on value of quantity harvested for crops, value of quantity marketing for livestock, and value of quantity produced for poultry products.
3/ California share of U.S. production is less than one-half percent.
4/ Includes sheep and lambs.

Source: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Pacfic Region Office-California, California Agricultural Statistics, 2012.


Table 6. California milk cows, dairies, and cows per dairy by county, 2011-2012
Dairy cows
CountyNumberPercent of State totalNumber of dairiesAverage number of
cows per dairy
Tulare 488,821 27 296 1,651
Merced 267,728 15 243 1,102
Stanislaus 187,061 10 216 866
Kings 182,018 10 124 1,468
Kern 171,931 9 54 3,184
Fresno 114,204 6 86 1,328
San Joaquin 101,236 6 119 851
Madera 74,929 4 46 1,629
San Joaquin Valley total 1,587,928 87 1,184 1,341
State totals 1,819,760 100 1,563 1,164
Sources: USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Pacfic Region Office-California, California Agricultural Statistics, 2012; California Department of Food and Agriculture, Milk and Dairy Foods Safety.

Last updated: Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For more information contact: Lindsay Kuberka

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