Dairy Cows Make Up 66% Of All Farm Cattle Killed In Ireland

Once milk yields drop, dairy cows are routinely sent for slaughter


3 Minutes Read

A tagged dairy cow calf looks mournfully through a wire fence Dairy cows are killed when no longer deemed profitable as milk producers - Media Credit: Noelle Otto / Pexels

Of all the cows killed in approved Irish slaughterhouses in January and February this year, two thirds (66.3 percent) were said to have been dairy cows.

The new data comes from the Department of Agriculture. It reports that the remaining 33.7 percent of kills were attributed to beef cattle. This makes the split almost identical to that of 2022, when 66.6 percent of cows slaughtered came from the dairy sector.

As of March 26, 69,350 cows had already been killed in the country this year. The figure represents a nine percent increase on last year. However, the Irish Farmers Journal states that dairy cow kill figures have not changed drastically, despite more animals being kept on farms.

On February 1, 2023, the cattle section of the Irish Animal Identification and Movement data update showed 1,529,592 dairy cows as being kept on farms. By comparison, there were 833,939 beef cows. The latter has dropped by almost 150,000 since 2018.

Young calves with ear tags in a barn, looking through metal railings
Wijs / Pexels Calves of dairy cows face a short-lived future, whatever their sex

Why are dairy cows killed?

Dairy cows are specifically bred to produce milk in large, profitable quantities. On average, they generate high yields for three years, after which, they are often slaughtered and sold as meat.

In order to maintain high production, cows are forced to birth a calf once a year. This is made possible by artificial insemination, which cows routinely undergo three months after they have produced a baby. If the calf is born a female, she will face the same fate as her mother and join the dairy herd.

Male calves are often shot at birth, since they are considered by-products of the dairy industry. Alternatively, they are sold to be reared as veal or beef. If raised for veal, they will likely be killed anywhere between five and eight months old, having been kept in restrictive confinement up until that point. Many suffer lameness due to their living conditions.

Ireland’s dairy boom

In Ireland, dairy is big business. This is particularly true after farmers’ incomes are reported to have “jumped to record levels” in 2022. 

Farming agency Teagasc revealed that the average dairy farm income was thought to have increased by 50 percent, to €148,000. This has been attributed to a steep rise in milk prices, following stunted global supply growth.

Despite Ireland’s current dairy profitability, the plant milk sector continues to threaten the entire dairy industry. Experts predict that by 2030, the global plant milk market will reach $123.1 billion, growing at 15 percent a year. 

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