Dairy Factsheet

1 – Dairy Farming and Milk Production

18,000 Dairy farmers

Average herd size approx. 90 cows

Average production: 450,000 litres

Yield per cow : 5,300 litres (relatively low yield reflects grass-based system)

National dairy herd : 1.5 million cows (+400,000 cows in the last 5 years)

National milk production: 8 billion litres (2019)

Production is essentially grass-based, and therefore very seasonal, with peak/trough ratio rising to 10 to 1 (May versus January) in 2019.  This ratio has increased as a result of the ending of quotas in March 2015.

Source: CSO

2 – Number of dairy cows per county

Cork has by far the largest number of dairy cows, at just under 381,000, followed by Tipperary at 174,000, then Limerick at 119,000 then Kerry at nearly 105,000.

Numbers of cows have increased in most counties in the last four years, with the exception of Dublin, Leitrim and Sligo.

Source: ICBF

3 – Dairy farming economics

Though 2018 was a challenging year, with weather factors increasing feed costs especially and squeezing margins, dairy farming delivered the highest level of Family Farm Income per farm.  The average number of labour units on dairy farms is 1.9, and the remuneration of the farmer’s own labour is not netted from this figure.

Source: National Farm Survey 2018 – Teagasc

The huge increase in feed costs caused by a succession of wet spring, snow storm and summer drought show clearly in this graph, and go a long way towards explaining the significant income reduction compared to 2017.

Source: National Farm Survey 2018 – Teagasc

Lastly, much of the improvement in dairy farmers’ incomes relates to the higher volumes they have been able to produce since the end of quotas, but also to the greater efficiencies and stronger solids they have achieved through hard work.

Source: National Farm Survey 2018 – Teagasc

Source: CSO

4 – Milk Utilisation by Processors

Production of the main dairy products in 2019:

Liquid milk536 m litres
Cheese (mostly cheddar)224,100t (2018)

Source: CSO

5 – Ireland’s milk purchasers/processors are mostly co-operatives

The following is a map of the catchment area of Ireland’s dairy co-operatives for 2018, as produced by the Irish Farmers’ Journal.  The map also recaps the consolidation of dairy co-operatives since the introduction of milk quotas in 1984.  The only piece missing from the map is the merger of Lakeland with LacPatrick in 2019 (the latter in bright yellow on the map).

Source: Irish Farmers’ Journal

6 – Find out more about Irish agriculture…

You will find more facts and figures about the importance of agriculture and agri-food within the Irish economy at the Department of Agriculture factsheet at the link below:


For more on Irish farming economics and incomes, you should also check the Teagasc National Farm Survey – the 2018 survey is available here:


At the link below, Bord Bia report on food and drink export trends and values for 2019/2020:


CL/IFA/18th February 2020