Despite the number of cattle farms in NI remaining virtually unchanged over the last 10 years, significantly fewer farmers are keeping dairy cows and/or sucklers, data published by DAERA shows.

Since 2012, the number of farms in each sector is down by 10%. That equates to 1,949 fewer breeding herds in NI.

Over the same period, the number of those keeping cattle has hardly changed, standing at 20,518 in 2022, which suggests that while farmers are staying in the industry, they are switching to rearing calves or buying stores.

Annual review

The annual Statistical Review of NI Agriculture shows that the average dairy herd in 2022 stood at 99.5 cows, up from 97.9 in the previous year, and the 81.1 recorded in 2012.

Out of a total of 316,775 dairy cows, 68% are now kept in herds with over 100 cows. The total dairy herd in June 2022 was down slightly on the 318,372 from 2021, but 31,406 ahead of the figure from 2012. In total, 67 farms stopping milking cows between 2021 and 2022, leaving a total of 3,185 dairy farms.

The beef herd was also down slightly on 2021 figures to stand at 246,240, and is 32,955 head lower than in 2012. The number of farms keeping beef cows in 2022 stood at 14,051, down 128 on the previous year.

Unlike dairy, where herd size continues to grow, the beef average has remained reasonably static over many years, at 17.5 cows.

Nearly 60% of these herds have less than 15 beef cows, with just 6% keeping 50 or above.

Sheep and pigs

The DAERA statistics also show that there has been some growth in the sheep flock since 2012, with ewe numbers up by nearly 60,000 to stand at 997,227.

The number of farms keeping ewes is up 13% to 9,732, with the average flock at 102.5 ewes. Just 188 farms have 500 ewes or more.

In the pig sector, only 165 farms have 10 sows or more, with 30 farms keeping at least 300 sows and accounting for 70% of the total breeding herd.

As well as livestock numbers, the annual DAERA publication covers a wide range of agri-food related statistics, including around market destinations for NI produce.

Nearly half of all sales from the NI food and drink sector are to Britain, with 23% consumed in the home market, 16% in the Republic of Ireland, 7% in the rest of the EU and just under 5% in the rest of the world.


There is also a range of data relating to farm inspections. In 2022, DAERA undertook 544 on-farm animal welfare inspections, many of which are due to complaints from the general public or were follow on’s from checks by vets working in meat plants.

In the vast majority of cases (88%), the farms visited were in compliance with the rules. In just 3.7% of cases, a serious welfare problem was identified that required immediate action.

Pollution data included in the statistical review highlights that 31% of rivers in NI are classed as ‘good’, with 56% given ‘moderate status’ and 12% classed as ‘poor’ or ‘bad’.

During last year, 29% of pollution incidents were attributed to farms, with other main sources including NI water and industry.

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