Dairy Producers of New Mexico

Frequently Asked Questions
About New Mexico Dairies

Many people probably don't realize that there IS a dairy industry in New Mexico. On the other hand, many people rely on the dairy industry for their livelihood, and everyone relies on New Mexico dairies for high-quality affordable dairy products, many of which are produced right here in the State. Below are some questions that you might have regarding dairies in New Mexico. If you don't find the answer to your question below, feel free to contact us at info@nmdairy.org.

How many dairies are in New Mexico?

Currently, there are approximately 150, with the most dairies in Roosevelt County (41) and Chaves County (40). For more information, check out the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension website at http://dairy.nmsu.edu.

How many cows?

Approximately 310,000. NM has largest average herd size in the nation with an average of 2088 milking cows per dairy.

How much milk do those cows produce?

Over 7 billion pounds of milk each year.

What happens to all of that milk?

Most of New Mexico milk is now processed in the State because of the cheese plants that moved here for the quality of the milk.

What happens to dairy manure?
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The majority of manure is expelled in the corral areas, where it is compacted by the cows to form an impermeable layer on top of the existing soil. The remainder is expelled in the sprinkler pens, milking parlor or feed lanes, where it is combined with wash water and feed lane flush water. This combination is sometimes referred to as "green water" or "process water," and this is the water that is discharged to the lagoons. The green water is combined with fresh water to irrigate feed crops for the dairy. In many cases, this reduces or eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers. Solid manure generated at dairies is usually land-applied on site, or is sold or given away to local farmers, residents or landscaping companies.

Is that regulated?

Yes! New Mexico dairies are regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Ground Water Quality Bureau, and all dairies in the State are required to have a Ground Water Discharge Permit. These permits regulate all aspects of solid and liquid manure storage, treatment and disposal. The permits are written to allow dairies to discharge a specific volume of process water from the production area (barns, corrals, etc.) to lagoons and land application areas. Typical permit requirements include: process water and storm water containment; application of solid and liquid manure in accordance with "proper agricultural practices" (nitrogen balance); soil and plant tissue sampling; monitoring well installation and ground water sampling; public notice and closure requirements; corrective action and abatement plans; and provisions for penalties, compliance orders and enforcement actions.

New Mexico dairies are also regulated by the NMED Surface Water Quality Bureau and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Most New Mexico dairies are required to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits from the USEPA. These permits are administered in conjunction with the NMED's Surface Water Bureau. The USEPA recently issued a new NPDES regulation for all concentrated animal feeding operations, including dairies. Click HERE to see the EPA's requirements for dairies under the new regulation.

Even with all of those regulations, aren't there still cases of ground water and surface water pollution caused by dairies?

There are dairies at which ground water standards for nitrate are exceeded. However, our producers are working with the regulatory agencies and with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to address this problem, either by improving source control or by remediation. Regarding surface water pollution, some dairies have spilled process water into bar ditches or across county roads. This is the exception, rather than the rule. You may have heard about surface water pollution from dairies (or hog farms or chicken farms) in North Carolina, Maryland, New York or Minnesota (or other eastern states). While these states generally have smaller herds, they tend be located closer to surface waters and are located in states with significantly higher rainfall than New Mexico.

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What about odor & flies?

Dairies are agricultural operations and they do generate odors and flies. Odors can be minimized by solids removal and proper operation of process water lagoon systems. There will always be flies associated with dairies, but most operators attempt to keep fly populations at a minimum.

Are dairy cows treated humanely?

Quality milk begins with top-notch animal care. Dairy farmers provide comfortable housing, nutritious feed, preventive health care and sanitary milking procedures to keep their cows healthy. Most cows are milked twice per day, and the rest of their time is spent in large corrals where feed and water are provided round the clock.

How much water do dairies use?

Exact water use depends on the specific dairy operation, but New Mexico dairies are required to submit meter readings to the Office of the State Engineer and to the New Mexico Environment Department. Dairy cows drink between 25 and 50 gallons of water per day, depending on the weather, volume of milk production, weight of the cow, etc. Additional fresh water is used to wash the cows, wash the milking barn (including tanks, lines, etc.), and to flush the feed lanes. Of the total amount of water used at a dairy, approximately 50% is discharged to the lagoons. This water is combined with irrigation water to grow feed crops for the dairy cows.

In contrast to other types of water users, fresh water from dairy supply wells is used several times over, rather than just once. In addition to drinking water, fresh water is used to wash the barns, tanks and lines and is then used to flush the feed lanes. After the wash/flush water is discharged to the lagoons, it is used again for irrigation.

How does dairy water use compare to other water users?

DPNM has calculated dairy water use by county. Based on these calculations, dairies use less than 5% of the total ground water diversions in their respective counties. These calculations are based on indoor/commercial water use. New Mexico dairies also have irrigation water rights. Because irrigation water is combined with process water to grow crops, dairies use less water than other irrigators to grow the same crop.

How do dairies benefit New Mexico?

New Mexico dairies employ approximately 4,221 people. The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service estimates that the direct economic impact of the dairy industry state-wide is approximately 1.02 billion dollars and a total impact of approximately 2.6 billion dollars. New Mexico dairies are one of the largest purchasers of agricultural products (feed crops) in the State.

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Are New Mexico dairies "factory farms" owned by large corporations?

NO! All New Mexico dairies are owned by families and most of those families have been in the dairy business for several generations. The majority of our producers live with their families at the dairies. Attention to the land and water where our producers raise their children ensures not only healthy families and continued family ownership of the dairies, but also the continued economic growth for the State of New Mexico.

Although individual dairies are family-owned, milk production and distribution is generally done through co-operatives. Neither individual dairies nor milk co-ops control the price of milk. The price the operator receives and the price you pay for milk are controlled by the federal government.