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
- 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 February 2014 is above year-earlier levels and milk prices have reached record highs. January production was 4.4 percent higher and February production 5.3 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.
Table 5. California livestock, dairy, and poultry products, production value 2012
U.S. rank 1/
CA share of U.S. production
Cash reciepts /2
Cattle and calves
Hogs and pigs 3/
Milk and cream
Wool and mohair
Other livestock and poultry 4/
(Number of eggs)
Livestock, dairy, and apiary total cash receipts
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.
Table 6. California milk cows, dairies, and cows per dairy by county, 2011-2012
Percent of State total
Number of dairies
Average number of
cows per dairy
San Joaquin Valley total