The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) have published a map outlining the bovine population per km2 across the Republic of Ireland.

While Leinster and Munster contain the largest cattle populations, certain areas of Ulster and Connacht also contain pockets where stocking density is surprisingly high.

Areas that bovine population is highest per km2 can be linked with counties that traditionally have a high dairy cow population, such as Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Kilkenny.

Map showing dispersal of cattle in 2020:

As the map indicates, cattle numbers are unevenly dispersed across the island, but the most densely populated regions appear to run in a diagonal band from Monaghan to Cork, with a few exceptions.

Since quotas have been lifted in Ireland, an increase in livestock numbers has been witnessed in areas that would have traditionally been tillage regions.

This is a recent trend developing in the past number of years as some tillage farmers are opting to convert to dairy in an effort to increase profit margins on their farms.

The map was published in DAFM’s Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) Bovine Statistics Report for 2020.

2020 slaughter figures

Taking a look at slaughter figures from 2020, the year began with similar numbers being killed to 2019; numbers ranged from 34,599 head up to a yearly peak of 40,882 head at the beginning of March.

From the end of March onwards – factoring in a seasonal decline and also the impact which Covid-19 had – kills were hitting lows of 25,225 head by mid-April.

The recovery of processings began truly in late May, as numbers exceeded the 31,000 head mark. From then on during the summer months, the numbers of cattle that passed through plants were ranging from approximately 33,500 head to 36,500 head.

pressure Beef sector, rollout demand

The beginning of October witnessed the seasonal rise in kills again as high numbers of grass-fed finishing cattle came on the market. This period of kills rose to highs of 39,262 head in early November.

For the final week of 2020, where kills were operated over three days in most plants, the number of cattle slaughtered reached 21,389 head.

In total for 2020, the figures released by the Department of Agriculture show that beef kills accumulated to 1,798,682 head (including veal) – which is an increase of 61,397 head or 3.5% in the levels of kills from 2019.

Although, it must be noted that these Department of Agriculture figures are accounting for a 53-week kill period in 2020 and a 52-week kill for 2019.

Total number of cattle slaughtered 2020 versus 2019:

  • Young bull: 142,361 (-66,914 head or -32%);
  • Bull: 32,813 (-1,762 head or -5%);
  • Steer: 700,338 (+72,164 head or +11.5%);
  • Cow: 369,703 (+22,391 head or +6.4%);
  • Heifer: 524,841 (+20,923 head or +4.1%);
  • Total: 1,798,682 (+61,397 head or +3.5%).

There were major changes in throughput last year in young bull and steer slaughterings.

Bull-beef finishing witnessed a major exodus during 2020 due to a change in market demands. It led to more farmers castrating their bulls and switching to steer finishing.

Heifers and cows also experienced a rise last year which attributed to the increase in overall throughput.