Ireland’s dairy industry is built on the tradition of intergenerational family farming. There are approximately 17,000 multigenerational family-owned dairy farms.
The average size of an Irish dairy farm is 32.4 hectares or 0.32 square kilometres with the average herd size being 83 cows. In 2021, Irish dairy cow numbers totalled 1.6 million, producing approximately 8.8 billion litres or 5,648 litres per cow.
Ireland covers 6.9 million hectares. 64% of this land is dedicated to agriculture and 81% of agricultural land is devoted to pasture, hay or silage. This permanent pasture acts as a carbon store and Irish dairy farmers also use multi-species swards of grass for greater biodiversity and animal health.
Ireland also has the longest grass growing season in the northern hemisphere. The advantage of a long grass growing season is bestowed on the country by virtue of its island location on the western edge of Europe, with a temperate climate, plentiful rainfall and rich, deep soils.
A natural supply of water from the rain and ground provides sufficient water for agricultural purposes, therefore there is no need to irrigate the land. Ireland gets an average of 1,750–2,400mm of rainfall per year, ensuring optimum grass growth from February to November that will meet dairy herd requirements.The mild climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean which prevents extremes of temperature means animals can graze outdoors for large parts of the year. Hills and mountains, many of which are near the coasts, provide shelter from strong winds and from the direct oceanic influence.Ireland also boasts the advantage of fresh clean air as PM 10 levels are theThese ideal agricultural conditions result in cows in Ireland spending, on average, 240 days each year on pasture, with 95% of their diet consisting of grass.
Increasing milk supply and quality
Milk production in Ireland has consistently increased since the abolition of EU milk quotas in 2015. In 2021 alone, milk production increased by over 6% to reach 8.8 billion litres. In addition to the growth in production volumes, there has been an increase in fat and protein levels in Irish milk in recent years.
Welfare Friendly Farms
Citizens of the EU and Ireland care deeply about animal welfare and are concerned about the ethical treatment of animals. Under EU law, animals are recognised as sentient beings, meaning they are capable of feeling pleasure and pain.
The guiding principle underlying the animal welfare provisions within the EU is that “everyone is responsible”. These principles apply at every link of the supply chain-on the farm, during transport and at the abattoir. Animal welfare provisions are rigorously enforced by national governments and monitored to ensure that they meet their objective.