Census confirms record numbers of cattle on Irish dairy farms

Overall number of farms fell by 3.4% but dairy cow herd increased by almost half

Sustained expansion of the Irish dairy sector has continued over the past decade, resulting in record numbers of dairy cattle, according to preliminary results of the 2020 agricultural census.

While the overall number of farms fell by 3.4 per cent to 135,037 between 2010 and 2020, there was a 46.4 per cent increase in the dairy cow herd, a 15 per cent decrease in other cows and an 8.8 per cent increase in all other cattle.

This combined to establish a 10.7 per cent increase in total cattle, figures released by the Central Statistics Office on Thursday confirm.

There were 1,567,681 dairy cows in 2020, the highest dairy herd total ever recorded in a Census of Agriculture. There were fewer farms with dairy cows (17,495) in 2020 compared with 31,809 in 2000. The average size of herd is 90 dairy cows, which is 53 greater than in 2000. The census is conducted every 10 years.


There were 7.3 million cattle, 5.5 million sheep, 1.6 million pigs and almost 16.5 million poultry on Irish farms in 2020, while the average farm size has increased by 0.7 hectares (or 2.2 per cent) in 2020.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times