Is Irish milk the best in the world?

Rich green grass, family-owned farms, a great milk-producing climate and international customer base pushes Irish milk to the top of the field


It stands to reason that the best milk comes from the happiest cows. The good news is that Ireland’s have got to be the most contented in the world. Why? Because cows love nothing better than lush green grass and Ireland’s climate provides the perfect conditions to grow it. Mild winters – and sometimes even mild summers – blessed by the Gulf Stream and well hydrated by rain, mean the grass really is greener over here.

That’s something our 1.2 million milking cows can appreciate. And with the national dairy herd due to expand by an additional 300,000 cows in the coming years, there’ll be even more of them to enjoy it, and lashings more fresh milk for us.

That’s great news, because producing high-quality milk, efficiently, is one of the things we do best in Ireland. Grass-fed cows produce higher quality, better tasting, more nutritious milk.

It’s what has helped us develop not just our world-class milk but a range of top-notch dairy products, from international blockbusters like Kerrygold butter to our highly sought after milk, cheeses and yogurt.

But our world-beating milkers don’t stop there. They’re also hard at work helping to produce the innovative milk-based products we export around the world.

And right this minute an estimated 38,000 cows are hard at work producing the milk that goes into our world famous crème liqueurs.

It’s little wonder our milk is so good. It comes from grass-fed cows that don’t, unlike their cow counterparts in other parts of the world, have to adhere to an intensive grain-fed, indoor dairy farming model.

Sure, our cows spend about two months of winter sheltered indoors – we’re not the Canaries – but they’re out living on clean, green fields for up to 300 days a year.

Around 80 per cent of Ireland’s agricultural land is given over to grass, and it really is green. Experts from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found Ireland’s dairy production is the joint-least carbon intensive in the EU. That is great news for Irish cows – who wants climate change when you have the best cow climate in the world.

The other reason Irish milk is the cream of the crop is because, with us, it’s personal. Our white gold comes from 18,500 family-owned dairy farms, with an average herd size of just 55 cows.

Many of these families have been rearing cows, and passing down their expertise in milk, for generations. Between them, they produce around 5.5 billion litres of the stuff annually, mainly from Friesian and Holstein breeds specially bred to produce milk from grass.

It’s this pedigree, combined with a yearly grass production that exceeds the European average by one third, that has put pasture-based milk production at the centre of Irish farming.

It’s also what gives Irish milk its distinctive, creamy quality. It isn’t only wine that benefits from a good terroir after all – our milk has the unique qualities that come from meadows filled with clovers and cowslips, all produced to the most rigorous quality and food safety standards.

All over Ireland, twice a day, you’ll see them lining up in their fields, making their way to the milking parlours, to ensure there’s a plentiful supply for everything from your morning cereal to your bedtime cocoa. Collected from the farm and brought to co-ops all over the country for pasteurisation and processing, this guaranteed freshness is why UHT or “long life” milk is so rarely used in Ireland.

Little wonder that, despite our small size, Ireland punches way above its weight as a producer of milk. Our tiny green island is the 10th largest dairy export nation in the world. And, we like to think, the best.

For more information visit ndc.ie/dairy-goodness

The National Dairy council