In 2020, Ireland accounted for 8.5% of total bovine numbers in Europe, almost the same level as Spain, according to a recently published document, Key figures on the European food chain.

The first edition of this Eurostat publication gives an overview of agriculture and fisheries, focusing on production. It then turns to the processing, distribution and consumption of food and beverages. And, it finishes with a look at environmental issues related to various stages of the food chain.

In terms of livestock, the report breaks down Europe’s sizable population in 2020.

That year recorded 146 million head of pigs; 76 million head of bovine animals – including cattle or buffaloes; and an estimated 75 million head of sheep and goats on EU farms.

But during the last two decades, there has been a decline in livestock populations across the EU, the report states.

And, between 2001 and 2020, the EU’s total livestock count for pigs, bovine animals, sheep and goats fell by an estimated 8.9%.

The largest overall decline (in percentage terms) was recorded for the number of sheep, while the reduction in pig numbers was relatively modest.

In fact, between 2019 and 2020, the population of pigs in the EU increased by 2.2%.

There was small reduction (0.5%) in the number of head of sheep in 2020, while there was a 0.9% fall in the number of bovine animals.

A closer look at the share of EU livestock populations as presented in the report reveals that a majority of the EU’s livestock is held in just a few of the EU member states.

Livestock populations

For example, between one fifth and one quarter – 23.3% – of the EU’s bovine population was found in France, and similar shares of the EU’s pig and sheep populations were in Spain – 22.4% and 24.8%, respectively.

Greece with 28.8% and Spain with 21.4% together accounted for more than half of all the EU’s goats.

Share of EU livestock populations in 2020 (% based on head of animals). Image source: Key figures on the European food chain

Some EU member states are relatively specialised in terms of livestock farming, and Ireland fits in here.

As mentioned, Ireland was home to 8.5% of the EU’s bovine animals in 2020, just behind Spain with 8.7% of the population.

Italy sat just behind Ireland with 8.4% of the total bovine population; Denmark had 14.8%; and France accounted for 23.3%.

In terms of Europe’s pig population, Denmark accounted for 9.2% of it, almost the same level as in France.

After Spain – with 24.8% – the second and third largest sheep populations in the EU were in Romania and Greece, with 16.8% and 13.3%, respectively

Meat production

Pigmeat production dominated in 2020 with 23 million tonnes produced within the EU.

This was considerably more than the estimated level of poultrymeat production (13.6 million tonnes), which in turn was twice as high as the level of bovine meat production (6.8 million tonnes).

More than one fifth of all the EU’s bovine meat production was from France (21%, or 1.4 million tonnes), with relatively large shares for Germany (16%), Italy (10.7%), Spain (9.9 %) and Ireland (9.3 %).

For sheepmeat production, Spain came out on top with 27.1%, or 115,000 tonnes, while more than three fifths of the remaining production in the EU came from France (18.9 %), Ireland (15.6 %) and Greece (11.6 %).