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Got Milk? In Doña Ana County, the Answer is "Yes"

LAS CRUCES -- If Doña Ana County's residents could consume all the milk produced by the county's cows, each of the more than 150,000 men, women and children would have to drink 1.4 gallons of milk every day, said a New Mexico State University agriculture agent. That's a lot of milk and cookies.

Milk production is the largest single agricultural commodity in the county, producing almost $72 million in cash receipts for dairies in 1994, the most recent year of complete statistics, said Javier Vargas, with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service.

Approximately 31,000 dairy cows in Doña Ana County are milked three times a day to keep up with the demand for dairy products, Vargas said. Each cow produces approximately 2,400 gallons of milk per year. Altogether, that's more than 74 million gallons of milk produced annually, he said.

Black and white Holstein cows are the primary breed found in Doña Ana County dairies. "We have a very young, modern dairy industry here, averaging over 1,000 cows per dairy," Vargas said.

Most dairy operators moved here from other areas of the country, because the dry climate reduces the chance for disease and infection in the herd, he added.

Most milk from local dairies is trucked to an Associated Milk Producers, Inc. facility for processing and distribution. Most of the milk from Doña Ana County stays in the Western region for fresh consumption and cheese processing. "Our milk is probably sent as far east as Dallas," Vargas said.

F&A Dairy Products, an $8 million cheese factory located on the west side of Las Cruces, also uses a large amount of the milk produced locally. The plant has been in operation almost a year and can process 1.2 million pounds of milk a day.

"The dairy industry has been very good for our area because it supports other agricultural activities, including alfalfa farmers and the cheese plant," Vargas said.

The industry has experienced slow growth recently because of the population increase in the county. Doña Ana is second only to Bernalillo County in population. "As more people move in, there is less room for dairies," Vargas said.

But the black and white cows will still continue to produce more than enough milk for our area, doing their part to make a dent in the 25 gallons of milk, 26 pounds of cheese and 16 pounds of ice cream Americans consume per year.