The dairy herd in Northern Ireland stood at 313,600 cows in December 2015, a year-on-year increase of 2%, the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) show.

The results of the December 2015 agricultural survey show that expansion in cow numbers was accompanied by an increase in the volume of milk produced.

Total milk output from farms was 2.3 billion litres in 2015 which was a 2.7% increase on 2014.

Cow numbers in Northern Ireland are also currently the highest on record.

Looking at the North’s beef herd, the number of beef cows in December 2015 was 261,000 an increase of 3% compared with the previous year.

The survey found that cow numbers are in keeping with year-end values observed since support payments were decoupled in 2005.

Over the last 10 years, numbers have tended to vary within a relatively narrow range of between 250,000 and 275,000 cows.

In total there were 1.611m cattle in December 2015, a 3% increase on the previous year and changes in total cattle numbers follow the trend set by the breeding herd.

According to the survey, increases in both beef and dairy cow numbers have had a knock-on effect on the number of other cattle and this is seen in the higher numbers of animals under one year old.

Meanwhile, there has been a 3% increase in the size of the sheep breeding flock between December 2014 and December 2015.

The North’s sheep flock now stands at 914,200 head and this is the second year of increased numbers from a low of 864,600 recorded in 2013.

Moving onto pigs, the pig breeding herd stood at 43,400 in December 2015, a 6% increase on the previous year.

The total pig herd stood at 533,400 in December 2015, an increase of 7% on December 2014 but 6% lower than June 2015.

Hay, silage and winter crops

The area of hay cut decreased by almost one-third in 2015 but yields improved, the survey found.

As a consequence, overall production was 115,000t, some 26% lower than in 2014 and similar to levels recorded in December 2011.

DARD statistics show that the production of silage also decreased from 2014 to approximately 9.4m tonnes.

The area cut was unchanged while yields were 4% lower.

Meanwhile, the area of cereal crops in the ground at December 1, 2015 is estimated at 17,700ha, a 6% increase compared with 2014.

The area sown to winter wheat was up 6% to 8,600ha.

The winter barley area sown increased by 15% to 8,200ha, the highest recorded since December 1997 when 9,400ha was sown. In contrast, DARD found that winter oats decreased by more than one-third to 900 hectares.