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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 $12.1 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. 1).







Figure 1

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  • 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.
  • Milk production in California through July 2014 is 3 percent above year-earlier levels (fig. 2). This year, U.S. production, excluding California, is up 1 percent from the same period in 2013. Although dairies face higher feed costs than last year, milk prices are near record highs. Total U.S. milk production is forecast to increase over 2 percent this year.
  • California ranks first in dairy cow inventory and fourth in total U.S. cattle inventory (table 1). California’s 5.3 million head of cattle equal 6 percent of all U.S. cattle supplies and 8 percent of U.S. calves. As of early-September 2014, 83 percent of cattle in California were located in areas with exceptional drought (category D4).
  • Dairy production is concentrated in a few areas, and the San Joaquin Valley—the State leader in dairy production—is impacted in particular 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 2).
  • 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 many are located in the Central Valley.
  • Production of alfalfa is forecast to increase 6 percent in California this year and 11 percent nationally. U.S. production declined 20 percent after the 2012 drought in the Southwest, but extensive use of irrigation is expected to prevent a similar decline in California production.
  • Despite a higher production forecast, alfalfa prices have edged higher this year in California. Prices received by farmers averaged $247/ton through August 2014, 19 percent higher than the same period last year. The U.S. average of prices received has declined this year, averaging $206/ton through August.

Figure 2

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Table 1. California livestock, dairy, and poultry products, production value, 2012
CommodityU.S. rank 1/
CA share of U.S. production
(1,000 lbs.)
Cash reciepts /2
Cattle and calves 4 5 2,880,400 3,298,548
Chickens, all       720,215
Hogs and pigs 3/ 29  <1 55,815 38,675
Milk and cream 1 21 41,801,000 6,899,743
Turkeys 8 6 430,900 310,679
Wool and mohair       4,600
Other livestock and poultry 3/       411,935
Eggs, chicken 5 6 (Number of eggs)
Livestock, dairy, and apiary total cash receipts 12,077,640

1/ Based on quantity produced for crops and on quantity marketed for livestock and poultry products.
2/ Based on value of quantity marketed for livestock, and value of quantity produced for poultry products.
3/ Includes sheep and lambs.

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

Table 2. California milk cows, dairies, and cows per dairy by county, 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, Pacific Region Office-California, California Agricultural Statistics, 2012; California Department of Food and Agriculture, Milk and Dairy Foods Safety.

  • Imports of livestock products account for relatively small shares of U.S. domestic disappearance and, therefore, typically play a minor role in augmenting domestic supplies.
  • For dairy, live cattle, and turkeys, commodities for which California accounts for significant shares of U.S. production, imports accounted for small shares of domestic disappearance in 2013: 2-3 percent for milk, 5 percent for live cattle, and nil for turkey.  
  • Imports do account for a large share of U.S. lamb and mutton disappearance and, since California is a minor producer, any losses should not have significant market impacts.
Table 3. Livestock product imports as a share of domestic disappearance, 2013
CommodityDomestic disappearance
(Million lbs.)
(Million lbs.)
Import share of disappearance
Beef 25,475 2,250 9
Broiler meat 30,184 122 0
Lamb and mutton 324 173 53
Pork 19,095 880 5
Turkey 5,051 22 0
Milk (m.e. milk fat basis) 192,627 3,721 2
Milk (m.e. skim-solids basis) 167,703 5,301 3
Live animals Thousands of
Thousands of animals  
Cattle (total disappearance) 37,386 2,033 5
Hogs (slaughter) 112,077 4,957 4

Source: USDA, World Agricultural Statistics Board, World Agricultural Supply Supply and Demand Estimates, 2014.

Last updated: Friday, September 12, 2014

For more information contact: Lindsay Kuberka