Figures presented by Joe Burke at last week’s Bord Bia beef farmers webinar showed that for the first 15 weeks of 2021, live cattle exports totalled 118,963 head.

This figure is on par with the same period last year. However, the make-up of the cattle types differs slightly.

Live calf exports are running 4.2% behind the same period last year, while both store cattle (+53.6%) and finished cattle (+42.9%) are up significantly, albeit from a much smaller base.


Spain has become the number one destination on a per-head basis, with 39,317 cattle exported to the country so far this year, up 23% or 9,042 head on 2020 levels.

Around 80% of these animals are comprised of calves, with Irish calves, mainly Friesian and Angus-cross dairy-bred, becoming more popular in the Spanish market in recent years.


Spain takes the mantle as number one from the Netherlands, which had held the spot for the last number of years.

The country could yet seal top position once again, with a strong performance over the last few weeks closing the gap on Spain.

To date, 31,144 cattle, of which the vast majority were calves, have been exported to the Netherlands.

This is down from 47,339 for the same period last year, a reduction of 34%.

Northern Ireland

The number of Irish cattle heading to Northern Ireland has increased by 125% so far this year.

While there has been a significant increase in the number of calves that have headed north of the border, the biggest increase has come in the form of finished cattle going for direct slaughter or short-keep cattle kept for a short finishing period prior to slaughter.

Tight supplies of finishing cattle in both Northern Ireland and Great Britain has driven demand, while a favourable exchange rate has made Irish cattle very competitive in the North.

Other countries of note

While the countries in the top three positions account for over 80% of all cattle exported, other countries still play an important role in the overall export market.

Italy has performed very well this year, up 77% on the same period last year to a total of 11,971 head.

France is currently running 15% behind the same point in 2020 at 2,480, while the likes of Belgium, Poland and Great Britain are all back by more than 50%, accounting for 1,425, 958 and 837 head of cattle respectively.

Libya is running 46% behind 2020 levels, with 3,032 cattle currently exported to the country so far this year.

However, there is a boatload of bulls destined for the country in the pipeline in the coming weeks.