Irish cattle herd shrinks, sheep numbers grow

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

There were 1% fewer cattle but 1% more sheep in Ireland at the end of 2020 than a year ago, according to the latest survey by Central Statistics Office Ireland.


The 31 December 2020 livestock survey showed that there were 6.5 million cattle in Ireland, 30,000 head smaller than a year ago.

The overall breeding herd (dairy and "other"/suckler cows) stood at 2.4 million head, marginally smaller on the year. Within this, a 30,000 head (+2%) expansion in the dairy herd appeared to be outweighed by a 34,000 head (-4%) fall in the number of suckler cows. This continues the trends seen in Irish cow numbers over the past few years - expansion of dairy and contraction of the suckler herd. The latest numbers appear to have sparked debate around what continued expansion in Ireland’s dairy herd might mean for the country’s future climate change targets, particularly around nitrogen use and methane emissions.


Looking at other cattle, there were notable declines in the number of males (-32%) and non-breeding females (12%) over 2 years old. Smaller declines were seen in numbers of cattle aged 1-2 years old, with females shrinking by 1% and males by 3%.

Conversely, numbers of cattle under 12 months old grew compared to the year before. The number of females expanded by 2%, while males grew by 8%.


By contrast, the Irish sheep flock continued to expand year-on-year, by 1% to 3.9 million head. The breeding flock grew by 2% (58,000 head), with growth seen in ewes of all age groups. Numbers of non-breeding sheep were more stable, at 1.2 million head.

Hannah Clarke

Analyst - Livestock

Sign up for regular updates

You can subscribe to receive Beef and Lamb market news straight to your inbox. Simply fill in your contact details on our online form.

Visit the Keep in touch page

While AHDB seeks to ensure that the information contained on this webpage is accurate at the time of publication, no warranty is given in respect of the information and data provided. You are responsible for how you use the information. To the maximum extent permitted by law, AHDB accepts no liability for loss, damage or injury howsoever caused or suffered (including that caused by negligence) directly or indirectly in relation to the information or data provided in this publication.

All intellectual property rights in the information and data on this webpage belong to or are licensed by AHDB. You are authorised to use such information for your internal business purposes only and you must not provide this information to any other third parties, including further publication of the information, or for commercial gain in any way whatsoever without the prior written permission of AHDB for each third party disclosure, publication or commercial arrangement. For more information, please see our Terms of Use and Privacy Notice or contact the Director of Corporate Affairs at  © Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. All rights reserved.