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Posts published in “Day: February 11, 2007”

Cattle kingdom: from growth to split

cows
More cows than people in the Magic Valley/morguefile

Besides the talk about the urban growth in parts of Idaho, there ought to be another round of discussion about the fastest-growing population in the state. Not of people: Of milk cows.

And that growth is finally have an effect on the people who work with them.

Over the last 20 years, the population of milk cows in the state has increased about two and a half times, from 174,000 to 473,000. As with people, the increase in milk cows (which is to say, the number and size of dairies), as with people, has not been evenly spread. Some places, like Franklin County, that had substantial or even major dairy activity in the mid-80s have declined (in Franklin's case, from 14,000 to 11,500 head).

The growth has been concentrated in the Magic Valley, and to a lesser degree in southwest Idaho, in a band from Owyhee, Ada, Canyon and Payette counties. (Today, Ada has 22,000 head and Canyon 30,000 head, in each case not quite double where they were 20 years - all alongside the massive new human development in those counties.)

The Magic Valley had 75,000 milk cows in 1986, well under half the state's total. Today it has more than four and a half times as many, 341,000, well over three-fourths of the state total. And within the Magic Valley, they're concentrated. Few are in Blaine, Camas or Minidoka counties; Gooding, Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia, and a fair population in Lincoln, account for the largest portion.

Nor is that all. If a set of applications now on file in the eastern valley, in Cassia and Minidoka, are approved, another 100,000 dairy cows could call the area home.

Gooding County has more than 139,000 - more than twice any other county, well over a fourth of all the dairy cows in the state, and far more dairy cows (which do not account for all of the cattle by any means) in that county than there are people in any Idaho city but Boise. That's 190 cows per square mile in Gooding County.

It is also more than in the entire state of Oregon - 121,000; the biggest dairy county there is Tillamook, with 28,600 head. Washington has 237,000 head in all; geographically large Yakima County with 70,000 head and coastal Whatcom County with 52,000 account for much of it. Neither Oregon nor Washington has a regional dairy concentration resembling the Magic Valley.

You would think this would cause some stress and conflict. You would be right.

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