COMMENT: Irish Livestock Farming 10-Year Comparison: Herd Sizes

Analysing recent cattle herd and livestock numbers in Ireland, one striking aspect noted is the divergence in farm sizes regionally.

All along the west coast of Ireland higher percentages of smaller herds exist. The maps highlight the ratio of farms in each county with <25 cow herds. Within Connacht the average herd size is 32 cows. In the Ulster counties of Donegal, Monaghan, and Cavan the overall average herd size is 43 cows. The lowest average herd size is noted in Leitrim (24.9 cows) and Mayo (28.0 cows).

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On the other hand, the highest average herd sizes occur in southern part of the country in Waterford (105.6 cows) and Kilkenny (103.6 cows). Across Munster and Leinster the average cow herd size is 71 and 77 cows respectively.

The maps highlight that the counties with the largest herds (>75 cows) are located in the southern part of the country.

The statistics indicate that even though livestock herd sizes have increased marginally over the past five years, there has been a decline in calving to beef bulls as dairy farmers concentrate more on breeding pure dairy cattle, see supporting charts above.

  • Overall average herd size nationally is up from 54.6 cows in 2007 to 57.7 in 2012.
  • Munster remains the predominant cattle province with just under half of the new born cattle in the country born there in 2012. Munster is also the predominant Dairy province with 45 per cent of all births in 2012 to a dairy bull. Connacht on the other hand remains a beef stronghold with 90 per cent of all cattle in 2012 bred for beef.
  • In all but two counties calves sired from a beef bull in 2012 are back eight per cent compared to 2007 numbers. Livestock births to a dairy sire are up across the board by over 40 per cent in 2012 compared with 2007. Since 2002 the largest swing away from beef to dairy calf births is noted in the south of the country in counties Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford.

A key challenge for policy makers going forward will be to encourage the development of a viable and sustainable livestock sector that not only encourages strong growth and expansion, but also incorporates maintaining a vibrant rural farming communities. More innovative approaches may be required if we are to halt the decline of livestock herd numbers in different parts of the country.

Image Suckler herd. Photo O’Gorman Photography.