35,000 Cows: Is That a Lot or a Little?

Here’s a little quiz. Based on the teaser on the right from the New York Times, how serious would you say this blizzard was in terms of milk production? It sounds pretty serious, no?

But nowhere in either the teaser or the linked article does the Times tell you just how much 35,000 cows is. Here’s the answer: there are 9.3 million dairy cows in the United States, so 35,000 represents….

About 0.4 percent.

I don’t get it. The blizzard is a worthwhile story, and the hit to farmers in the region is serious. No problem there. Still, why not take the extra five minutes required to dig up a couple of numbers and give readers a sense of whether this is a big problem from a national perspective? The only hint is 13 paragraphs down: “Consumers should not expect noticeable increases in the prices of milk or milk products.”

Instead, why not put something like this at the top of the story: “So far, more than 35,000 dairy cows have been found dead. Although this represents less than 1 percent of the nation’s dairy herd, for regional farmers it’s etc. etc….” Context is everything.


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