Western Kansas a Milking Mecca
Packed with protein, vitamins and calcium, a basis for cheese, baked goods and a must-have for breakfast cereal, milk ranks high on the American diet and the Kansas economy.
More of it than ever is being squeezed from cows in dry and dusty western Kansas.
“It’s viewed as a very favorable place to relocate or to start up,” said Mike Bodenhausen, of Muscotah, executive director of the Kansas Dairy Association.
The region has its share of issues — water being a big one — but the expansion of large dairy operations is helping out some areas.
On Wednesday, the McCarty Family Farms Dairy near Rexford in northwest Kansas, will celebrate a direct marketing deal with yogurt maker Dannon.
The McCarty operation, which daily milks 7,200 cows in three dairies — Rexford, Bird City and Scott City — is among the latest to help the Kansas dairy herd grow from 85,132 cows in 1992, to 123,000 today and produce roughly 1,000 jobs, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
A general rule of thumb, according to Chelsea Good of the agriculture department, is that every 80 to 150 cows requires one dairy employee.
From western Kansas
Nearly 70 percent of the milk produced in Kansas comes from the 24 dairies in the state’s western third, Bodenhausen said. There are more than 300 dairies scattered throughout the state, ranging in size from fewer than 250 cows to 12,000.
Some are into niche markets, such as artisan cheeses, or bottling in glass jars, Good reported.
Thanks in a large part to the growth in the western region, Kansas has moved up in the national milk production rankings from 25th to 17th. The agriculture department expects the state to be in the top 15 after this year.
So is western Kansas becoming a dairy mecca?
“We’d like to think so,” Good wrote in an email.
Kansas dairies have proven more productive, averaging a record 1,820 pounds of milk per cow in April, which was a 1.8 percent increase from April 2011, Good reported.