Remember in the 50’s when Paint by Number sets allowed anyone to produce recognizable scenes using oil and brushes?  It smelled like art.  It used artist’s tools.  But, unfortunately, just simply following the numbers did not make the best artists?

In a different way, the dairy industry loves reducing our industry to numbers!  Statistics.  Data.  Every day a new analysis listing percentages and totals flashes across the screens and headlines in front of us. If not, we can seek them out ourselves.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that seeing and hearing the numbers … even daily…will turn us into better milk producers any more than painting by numbers will turn us into great artists.

California Top Numbers

For example, recent headlines focused on California milk production reported all those statistical numbers that grab our attention. “59 counties produce 50%” “13 counties account for 25%” and “California continues to produce roughly 20% of the nation’s milk supply.”  The final statement by numbers reported, “USDA’s analysis shows that 826 counties increased milk production in December 2016 compared to the previous December. One thousand thirteen counties decreased production in that same period. Most of the reduced production came in the central and southeast regions of the country.”

This is all well and good.  I like knowing what 25% are doing?  But beyond that, I ask, “Are the other 75% doing something different? Or is 25% a large number in this context?”

Living for almost fifty years with a master of statistics, I am trained to ask the second question,
“What do the numbers mean for what I am doing?  Should I or could I do something different?”

“Dairy Farming is the Leading Cause of Statistics.”

That subhead may seem to emphasize humor. In fact, there are numerous mathematical ways to look at the dairy industry. When you reduce U.S. milk production to numbers, you learn that milk production is highly concentrated. The USDA reports that 50% of California and Federal Milk Marketing Order production is found in just 59 counties. Looking closer at those 59 counties, you learn that they are just 3.6% of the 1,632 counties that produce milk in California and the Federal order system.  Further analysis, reveals that 13 counties account for 25% of that milk production and 7 of them are in California.  Those 7 California dairies account for nearly 18% of milk production.  And one county – Tulare County in California’s Central Valley, accounts for nearly 6% of all milk produced in California and the Federal Order system.

Some Dairy Numbers Cause Excitement. Some Dairy Numbers Cause Exits.

Depending on where you farm, you must determine what it means to the success of your dairy operation.  Should you move?  Is it better to be outside the main concentration area? Should you consider becoming pro-active for increased federal support? At the day-to-day operations level, do the statistics inspire you to seek out suppliers and dairy support teams who can provide input on increased milk production or better profit margins based on your logistics?

Where you fall in the statistical analysis is important but even more important is knowing how to use the statistics to meet your business goals. Does the size of leading national producers affect my operation?  Perhaps the biggest question revolves around the scale of the consumer base that directly affects my dairy operation.

“Are we using statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts for support rather than illumination.”

If the only use we make of statistical analysis is to prove that what we are currently doing is right, eventually the dairy industry will move on and leave us behind.  Dairy managers must always make pro-active decisions every day.  The hardest of those decisions will involve determining what numbers are most relevant.  It is absolutely vital to know your own numbers and how they compare to your local, state and national peers in the dairy community. Here are six that you can’t afford to overlook.

  1. Weight of milk
  2. Weight of animals
  3. Ration numbers
  4. Comparison by age group
  5. Comparison by period
  6. Geographic impact. What effect does your location have on all the above?

First, you must collect all the data, and then you should be creative in using it to make informed decisions. 


Sustainable success is measured by numbers up, down and location east versus west


USDA’s analysis shows that 826 counties increased milk production in December 2016 compared to the previous December.


One thousand thirteen counties decreased production in that same 2016 period. Most of the reduced production came in the central and southeast regions of the country. During the same time, there has been a drop off in production in California due to the pressures relating to drought and low milk prices. Three California cooperatives have petitioned USDA to join the Federal Order system, with a vote expected later this year.

West is Best:

Twelve of the top 13 counties are in the West. Others on the list include Yakima, Wash., Weld, Colo., Pinal, Ariz., and Chaves, N.M. When all the numbers are totaled, California continues to produce approximately 20% of the United States milk supply. 

East is Least:

Lancaster Pennsylvania is the only county east of the Missouri River to make the top 13 counties list

The Bullvine Bottom Line

What do the CALIFORNIA NUMBERS mean to you? Is it entirely geographical or is there a logistical component? Simply knowing the numbers, will not ensure dairy success. However, we can learn from looking at the big picture they provide. Then we must decide how to turn the numerical science into dairy profitability.  That’s the art of using numbers!



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