The Northern Ireland dairy herd currently has the highest cow numbers on record, with 306,300 cows on record.

Results of an agricultural survey by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland (DARD) show that there has been an increase of 9% in the dairy herd since 2013.

“The dairy herd stood at 306,300 cows in December 2014, exceeding the previous high of 304,900 reported in December 1985,” DARD said.

Dairy farming in the North has seen expansion in cow numbers and this has been accompanied by an increase in the volume of milk production, the survey shows.

DARD says that total farm output totalled 2.2 billion litres in 2014, 9.5% higher than in 2013.

The survey also provides estimates of the numbers of cattle, sheep and pigs on farms in the North as of December 2014.

Hay and silage production and the sowing of winter crops are also included in the survey.


“The number of beef cows in December 2014 was 254,100 a decrease of 2% compared with the previous year,” DARD said.

Cow numbers are now 21,600 less than in December 2012, the second year of falls in the beef herd, the survey said.

DARD says that “increasing costs of production and consequent tight margins for producers are likely to be the main drivers behind this fall in suckler cow numbers.”

“In total there were 1.564m cattle on Northern Ireland farms, a 1% increase compared to December 2013.

“Increased beef from the dairy herd has largely been balanced by falls in suckled beef production over the last two years,” DARD said.

DARD said that weather conditions earlier in the season and short price movements can also have a knock-on effect on the timing of sales and therefore the total number of cattle present on farms during December.


The survey found that there has been a 3% increase in the size of Northern Ireland’s sheep breeding flock between December 2013 and December 2014 with figures now at 890,300.

There has been a 50% increase in the amount of ewe lambs entering the breeding flock at the end of 2014, it says.

DARD attributes the increase as a result of an increase in the number of sheep flocks during the past year.


The Northern Ireland pig breeding herd stood at 40,800 in December 2014, 1% higher than in the previous year, DARD said.

“The total herd increased by 9% to 497,100 compared with the previous year, largely as a result of more fattening pigs.

“This in turn was due to improving productivity and the import of pigs for finishing,” the survey said.

Hay and Silage

DARD said that hay yields improved marginally in 2014, while the area cut increased approximately 5%.

Overall production (157,000t) was 9% higher than in 2014 and almost double that achieved in 2012.

“The production of silage also increased from 2013 to over 9.8m t. The area cut was up 6% while yields were also marginally better,” the survey said.

Winter Crops

“The area of cereal crops in the ground at December 1, 2014, is estimated at 16,700 hectares, a 2% fall compared with 2013.

“The area sown to winter wheat was down 7% while the area in winter barley fell by 9%. In contrast, winter oats increased,” DARD said.