California has been the leading milk-producing state since it overtook Wisconsin as the largest producer of fluid milk in 1993. The Golden State also ranks first in the production of butter, ice cream and nonfat dry milk and second in the manufacture of cheese.

Dairy is the state's top agriculture business, with 440,000-plus jobs and annual gross receipts of $47 billion. About 70% of the state's milk is produced on dairies in five counties in the Central Valley, including Tulare, Merced, Stanislaus, Kings and Kern counties.

Some 47% of milk produced by cows in California is used in the creation of cheese. The state is home to the largest single-site cheese plant in the world, Hilmar Cheese, headquartered in Merced County.

Hilmar Cheese Company was established by a group of Jersey breeders in 1984 and expanded its cheese-making capacity by building a new plant in Dalhart, Texas. Combined, the two plants produce 1.9 million pounds of cheese every day using milk from many of the Registered Jersey dairies in the region.

Registered Jersey Facts

California leads the nation in number of animals registered with the American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA), with 50,543 registrations in 2020.

Four herds rank among the top 10 herds in the country for mature equivalent (ME) or actual production.

  • Ahlem Foothill Farms, Turlock: 4th milk and 7th protein (ME) with 24,574M, 1,146F, 900P on 2,338 cows
  • Vierra Dairy Farms, Hilmar: 8th milk and 10th protein (tie) (ME) with 23,819M, 1,073F, 864P on 469 cows
  • James Ahlem, Hilmar: 10th milk and fat (tie) (ME) with 23,516M, 1,093F, 864P on 2,037 cows
  • Hank and Carolyn VanExel, Lodi: 10th milk (actual) with 21,459M, 1,028F, 777P on 411 cows

Several others rank among the top 10 nationally in herd-size categories. Included in this group are the Hilmar dairies, Ahlem Farms Partnership, C & S Livestock; Dias Family Dairy, Jade Dairy, Red Top Jerseys, Sunwest Jersey Dairy, and Wickstrom Jersey Farm.

Also ranking nationally are Brentwood Farms of Orland, Frank and Carol Borba of Escalon, Cal Poly Corporation of San Luis Obispo, Fiscalini Farms of Modesto, Four J Jerseys of Tipton, Jer-Z-Boyz of Pixley, Rancho Teresita Dairy of Tulare, and Twin Star Dairy of Turlock.

Four California cows - more than in any other state - earned laurels in the 2019 Leading Living Lifetime Production Contest. All are owned by Yosemite Jersey Dairy of Hilmar. Included in the group are Yosemite Keeper Moon E16351, Yosemite Brendon Fanclub E15364, Yosemite Max Dunkirk E16091 and Yosemite Greatness Blair J5029.

Another cow from California, Exels Ajax Pallas 3447, Very Good-87%, owned by Hank and Carolyn VanExel, produced the 10th high cheese yield record in 2020. As a junior four-year-old, she produced a 305-day record with a cheese yield equivalent of 4,090 lbs.


Members of the CJCA Board of Directors pictured at the annual meeting include C.A. Russell, Grant Ahlem, Gary de Graaf, Kate Garcia, Brett Barlass, Brad Barham, Jonathan Merriam, Cathy Sanders, Scott Wickstrom and Mike Wickstrom.

California Leadership

The state has been on the leadership and community service forefront for many years. Four Jersey breeders have served the national Jersey organizations as president of the AJCA, including the current president, Jonathan Merriam of Hickman. Three Jersey breeders have presided over National All-Jersey (NAJ) Inc.

California Jersey breeders have also earned national recognition. Ten have been presented with the prestigious Master Breeder award from the AJCA, more than any other state.

Seven California breeders received the national Jersey organization's Distinguished Service Award. Two garnered the newest national award, the Award for Meritorious Service.

In the past 37 years, 20 California breeders have received the AJCA Young Jersey Breeder. Included in this group is Paul Bianchi of Valley Ford, who was recognized with the inaugural award in 1976, and Ryan Junio of Pixley and Brent Wickstrom of Hilmar, who received honors in 2019.

Listing of National Award Winners and Leaders

National Award Winners

Dick Clauss received the AJCA-NAJ Award for Meritorious Service in 2016. He is pictured with his wife, Sharon.


Charles Ahlem earned the AJCA Distinguished Service Award in 2016.


Ahlem Farms Partnership earned the National Dairy Shrine's Distinguished Dairy Cattle Breeder Award in 2015. Pictured are herd owners, Roger and Teresa Herrera, Carolyn and the late Bill Ahlem and Lindsay and Sabino Herrera-Ahlem.


Hank Van Exel received the Dairyman of the Year award from World Dairy Expo in 2015.


Cari Wolfe, left, presents the AJCA Distinguished Service Award to the late Donnie Sherman and his wife, Elsa, in 2010.

Recipients of the AJCA Young Jersey Breeder Award

Ryan Junio, left, and his wife, Michelle, and son, Rhett, with AJCA President Jonathan Merriam.


Brent Wickstrom, center, and his wife, Caitlin, with AJCA President Jonathan Merriam.


Case Kasbergen, with his wife, Alison, and their children, Kate, Kamryn and Henry


Vance Ahlem, with his wife, Ashley, and their children, Yale and Brooklyn


Grant Ahlem, pictured with his wife, Melissa, and their children, Jacob and Reese