The curious case of Ireland’s ‘geriatric’ heifers

Through the use of figures from the Department of Agriculture, it’s easy to paint a picture of the age profile of both the Irish beef and dairy herds.

As of June 1, just over 7.3 million cattle – a mixture of cows, heifers, steers, bulls and calves – were found on Irish farms.

At this time, the Irish beef herd stood at over 4.4 million head, while the total beef cow population settled at 1,015,348 head.

Age profile of Irish beef cows:
  • 12-18 months: 376 head;
  • 18-24 months: 2,528 head;
  • 24-30 months: 45,079 head;
  • 30-36 months: 29,398 head;
  • 36-42 months: 112,604 head;
  • 42-48 months: 37,101 head;
  • 48-54 months: 102,848 head;
  • 54-60 months: 30,175 head;
  • 60-66 months: 92,538 head;
  • 66-72 months: 29,019 head;
  • 72-78 months: 80,939 head;
  • 78-84 months: 25,016 head;
  • 84-90 months: 71,851 head;
  • 90-96 months: 22,221 head;
  • 96-102 months: 65,527 head;
  • 102+ months: 268,128 head.

From the above data, we can see that 22% of the beef cows are aged four years or below, while 42% of the beef cows in Ireland are over seven years old and 26% are more than eight years old.

Meanwhile, figures from the department also show that over 2.9 million animals were present in the Irish dairy herd as of June 1, 2018, with cows accounting for 1,494,951 of these animals.

Age profile of Irish dairy cows:
  • 12-18 months: 38 head;
  • 18-24 months: 1,673 head;
  • 24-30 months: 234,888 head;
  • 30-36 months: 25,247 head;
  • 36-42 months: 250,744 head;
  • 42-48 months: 27,500 head;
  • 48-54 months: 220,159 head;
  • 54-60 months: 23,353 head;
  • 60-66 months: 194,127 head;
  • 66-72 months: 20,416 head;
  • 72-78 months: 150,320 head;
  • 78-84 months: 17,082 head;
  • 84-90 months: 117,348 head;
  • 90-96 months: 10,496 head;
  • 96-102 months: 73,743 head;
  • 102+ months: 127,815 head.

Meanwhile, as is to be expected with the expansion of the Irish dairy industry in recent years, the age profile of the Irish dairy cow population is much younger.

Firstly, 34% of all animals found in this category are under four years old; 32% of all dairy cows are aged between four and six years and just 9% of the herd is more than 102 months old.

The heifer anomaly

Interestingly, the figures also highlight some eye-opening statistics when it comes to heifers or, in this case, ‘geriatric’ heifers.

Looking at the beef population first, figures show that there were 10,539 females aged over four present on Irish farms that never had a calf registered. Of these, 1,114 were aged over seven and 752 were aged over 102 months.

A similar trend – although not as severe – can be witnessed for the dairy population; 3,216 heifers – aged 48 months or more – never had a calf registered. Of these, 215 were aged over seven years and 90 were aged over 102 months.