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.

Jerseys are ideal for producing milk and cheese in California, which has minimum component standards that exceed national standards (8.75% solids-not-fat and 3.5% fat for whole fluid milk versus national minimums of 8.25% solids-not-fat and 3.25% fat) and uses 47% of its milk in the creation of cheese.

California is home to the largest single-site cheese plant in the world, Hilmar Cheese, headquartered in Merced County. The 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 49,627 registrations in 2019.

The state dominates the rankings of the breed's high-producing herds. Five herds rank among the top 10 herds in the country for milk or protein production:

  • Ahlem Foothill Farms, Turlock: 5th milk and 7th protein (ME) with 24,366M, 1,167F, 872P on 2,190 cows
  • James Ahlem, Hilmar: 6th milk (ME) with 24,181M, 1,128F, 863P on 2,118 cows
  • Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo: 9th milk (ME) with 23,330M, 1,059F, 808P on 97 cows
  • Woodstock Dairy, Corning: 7th milk, 4th fat and 5th protein (actual) with 21,783M, 1,154F, 815P on 58 cows
  • Hank and Carolyn Van Exel, Lodi: 9th milk (actual) with 20,989M, 993F, 758P on 361 cows

Three California cows - more than in any other state - earned laurels in the 2018 Leading Living Lifetime Production Contest. All are owned by Yosemite Jersey Dairy of Hilmar. Included in the group are Yosemite Keeper Moon E16351, Yosemite Klassic Quest D13491, and Yosemite Brendon Fanclub E15364.

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.

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

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