Since 2008, when farmers were made aware of the abolition of milk quotas, the Irish dairy industry has under gone significant expansion.

Food Harvest 2020 set the target of a 50% increase in milk production by 2020.

While, at first, this was met with concerns in relation to the challenges facing farmers; it seems that the dairy industry is well on its way to achieving this target. Farmers have reacted positively to the opportunity and have significantly increased herd size.

Teagasc’s Padraig French said: “This year, we will have reached a 50% increase in milk solids; by 2018, we will reach a 50% increase in milk volume.

1.4 million cows will calve this year, a figure that is very close to the target set in the Food Harvest 2020. The dairy herd is progressing much more rapidly that what was originally anticipated.

In comparison with other dairy industries across the world, where cows are bred mainly to dairy bulls and overall fertility levels are low, Ireland’s dairy industry is quite unique, he said.

The dairy calf in other countries is essentially of no value and slaughtered.


Image source: Teagasc

In Ireland, as the herd grew, the proportion of dairy cows bred to beef bulls has remained constant.

French said: “Over the past few years, dairy farmers have grown scale individually with a prime focus on a short-gestation period and easy-calving traits.

“15-to-20 years ago, continental breeds were preferred over Angus and Hereford types.”

Trends in dairy Industry

As a result of the rapid expansion some trends have become evident. As it stands, 91-92% of all herds are spring calving.

According to French, this is a significant switch and it’s the direction in which the market is driving the industry.

French also stated: “We have a more fertile herd and the replacement rate is much lower; culling rate is currently 21-22%/year, which is very low by international standards.

The individual herd size is also growing significantly. In 2011, the average herd size was 59 cows; in 2015 herd size averaged 75 and it’s expected to be very close to 80 cows this year.

“However, this is somewhat of a misguided figure as there are still a number of small herds in Ireland,” he said.

Half of all cows in Ireland are in herds greater than 100 cows; there are 4,000 herds with cow numbers greater than 100, with an average size of 180 cows.

On the bigger farms, labour is becoming an issue and that’s one of the reasons why farmers are choosing short-gestation and easy-calving traits.

It is predicted that by 2021, the number of dairy-beef calves will increase to 930,000  up from 493,000 in 2015.

French concluded by saying: “The value of output of beef from the dairy herd will equal 60% of the total beef output. Therefore, it will be the dominate sector of the Irish beef industry.”