The year 2015 marked the end of an era for the dairy industry, as this was the year quotas were abolished and the expansion period began in Ireland for dairy.

Since then, milk production has increased by over 50% – which is 55% due to the increase in dairy cow numbers in the country and 45% due to milk yield per cow.

While we all know dairy cow numbers have increased, many of us don’t know how extreme or how, in extreme, that change has been for their county, or for their province.

To make things a little clearer, AgriLand has compiled all dairy cow numbers for the past four and a half years, across each of the counties in each province.

These figures are all according to the latest figures released by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), on Friday, November 1.


Firstly, taking a look at Leinster (see graph one and two below), where total cow numbers for the 12 counties in this province come to 440,947 – an increase of 24% or 85,710 cows from 2015.

Co. Kilkenny still remains the dairy stronghold in this province, growing by a massive 27% since quotas ended – or by 19,879 dairy cows – to 94,851 cows today.

Followed closely in second is Co. Wexford, increasing by 26% since 2015 – or by 16,463 dairy cows. Today, 79,862 cows are milking in this county.

However, these weren’t the only counties which experienced huge growth in cow numbers after quotas. Co. Kildare had a 28% increase in cows from 14,328 to 18,337, with Co. Laois also increasing by 29% from 36,873 to 47,382.

Graph one: Year-on-year growth in dairy cow numbers in Leinster. Click to enlarge image…

Around the 25% mark was common among the counties in Leinster, with Co. Offaly, Co. Wicklow and Co. Carlow experiencing growth close to this figure. A 22% increase was seen in Co. Westmeath.

The only county that experienced a decrease in dairy cow numbers in this area was, unsurprisingly, Co. Dublin, falling from 3,090 cows in 2015 to 2,738 cows in 2019 – a decrease of 11%.

Graph two: Year-on-year growth in dairy cow numbers in Leinster. Click to enlarge…


Next up is Ulster (see graph three below), where total cow numbers for the three counties – in the Republic of Ireland – now stand at 102,185; an increase of 6,234 cows or 6% from 2015.

Of those three, Co. Donegal experienced the greatest increase in dairy cows – by 14% or 2,895 cows.

This was followed by Co. Monaghan, with a 6% increase or by 2,103 dairy cows and then Cavan with a 3% increase or by 1,236 dairy cows.

Graph three: Year-on-year growth in dairy cow numbers in Ulster. Click to enlarge image…


Next on the agenda is Munster (see graph four below) – the home of dairy you could say.

It is with no surprise that this region has the greatest number of dairy cows, by far, reaching 896,609 dairy cows this year – an increase of 11% or of 87,025 cows from 2015.

Co. Cork, of course, has the most dairy cows with 379,448 cows – an increase of 11% from 2015; although, this isn’t the county which has seen the greatest dairy expansion.

Co. Waterford is, in fact, the county that has seen the most expansion, with total dairy cows this year hitting 85,310 – an increase of 19% on 2015 numbers.

The second-highest county for dairy cows is Co. Tipperary, with 172,905 cows up from 148,066 in 2015 – an increase of 17%.

Following this is Co. Limerick, with 119,361 dairy cows growing by 7% since quotas ended.

Another county with a lot of dairy cows, but which has seen very little growth since 2015, is Co. Kerry, with 104,805 dairy cows – an increase of just 2% from 2015. 

Last but not least is Co. Clare, which has seen a modest – but significant – increase in dairy cows by 2,155 since 2015, or by 7%, to today home to 34,780 cows.

Graph four: Year-on-year growth in dairy cow numbers in Munster. Click to enlarge image…


Finally, taking a look at Connaught (see graph five below), it represents the province with the smallest number of dairy cows at 78,795 – an increase of 8,692 from 2015.

The county in this area which has seen the greatest increase in cows is Co. Roscommon, which underwent a 33% increase from 2015 – by 2,156 cows.

Co. Galway also saw a significant increase, moving from 33,541 cows in 2015 to 40,018 cows in 2019 – an increase of 19%.

Graph five: Year-on-year growth in dairy cow numbers in Connaught. Click to enlarge image…

In contrast, both counties Leitrim and Mayo only experienced a slight increase, by 4% and 0.6% respectively.

Co. Sligo, like Co. Dublin, had a decrease in dairy cow numbers, falling from 8,936 in 2015 to 8,768 this year – a fall of 2%.

The greatest growth in dairy seems to be in counties Kilkenny, Kildare, Laois and Roscommon, with those growing by 27%, 28%, 29% and 33% respectively.

In 2015, total dairy cow numbers stood at 1,330,875 head; whereas, this year, as of July 1, dairy cow numbers now stand at 1,520,890 head – breaking the 1.5 million mark for the first time since recording began.