An analysis of cull cow slaughter data published by the Department of Agriculture shows throughput of dairy cows increasing by 81,598 head, or some 39%, since 2019.

The lift in dairy cow throughput is responsible for the total cow kill rising by 77,248 head during the same period and recorded at 438,701 in 2023.

The higher kill of dairy cows is not surprising given recent growth in the national dairy herd.

Animal identification and movement data published by the Department shows the number of dairy cows on farms on 1 January 2023 standing at 1.5m head. This represents an increase of 130,975 compared with 1 January 2019 and 407,932 head since 1 January 2014.

Some in the industry had forecasted dairy cow throughput to increase further in 2023 given the pressure on margins, driven by a lower milk price and elevated input costs, combined with a significant reduction in nitrates derogation stocking rate limits.

Beef cow kill

Throughput of beef cows has, on the face of it, remained static since 2019, with throughput of 148,619 cows reducing marginally by 4,350 head, or 3%, as detailed in Figure 1.

While the slaughter figure of beef cows in Ireland has not changed significantly, the fact that throughput remains steady at a time when the national suckler herd is reducing is worrying.

The number of suckler cows on farms on 1 January 2023 was recorded at 837,815. This is 114,166 cows lower than 1 January 2019 and 217,953 head lower than 1 January 2014.

The number of beef cows slaughtered in 2023 could also be higher than stated, given there was a firm appetite for much of the year from agents sourcing cows for exporting for slaughter in Northern Ireland.

Table 1 details the slaughter destination of cows over the last five years. The number of cows slaughtered in local authority-approved slaughter plants increased gradually until 2021 before easing back since then.

2024 kill

There is no data published yet regarding the breakdown of the cow kill for January 2024.

Beef kill data shows continued upward trajectory in cull cow throughput, with the kill figure of 44,434 head for the first five weeks of the year up 4,313 head on the corresponding period in 2022.