EU dairy herd declines

Published 5 October 17

Higher dairy cow cullings and fewer replacement heifers being retained last year, largely due to low milk prices, have taken their toll on the EU dairy herd. The number of dairy cows was 1% lower year-on-year, according to the Eurostat 2017 May/June cattle census results. This has been reflected in EU milk deliveries so far this year, with volumes 0.6% below year earlier levels in the first half of 2017.

Recently though, culling rates have been on the decline, with dairy slaughterings down 2% year-on-year for the first half of 2017. As well as this, the number of replacement heifers over 2 years* picked up slightly (1%), but remained lower than 2015 levels. This could suggest some firming up of the EU dairy herd, especially with significantly improved milk prices.

However, the number of female calves under 12 months is 2% down year-on-year. If this continues, it could limit the long-term milk production potential of the EU.

EU Cattle Numbers May June

On an individual country basis, Germany reported the largest decline in dairy cow numbers. The Netherlands also reported a decline of nearly 3% (50 thousand head). This reflects substantial cullings required to reduce phosphates and avoid losing Nitrates derogations. Dutch cow slaughter was 30% higher than in 2016 during the first six months of the year. Conversely, the Irish dairy herd bucked the trend and continued to expand (up 2%, 35 thousand head) on year earlier levels. Ireland also reported increasing numbers of female heifers and calves not intended for slaughter, suggesting this expansion could continue moving forwards.

Change In Dairy Cow Numbers

*Although heifer numbers are not divided into beef and dairy animals, the EU dairy herd is almost twice as large as the suckler herd, so overall numbers should indicate trends