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According to recently released figures on the European food chain livestock populations across the EU dropped in the last two decades. Between 2001 and 2020, the EU’s total livestock count for pigs, bovine animals, sheep and goats fell by an estimated 8.9%.

According to the figures, the number of head declined for each livestock population during the period under consideration. The largest overall decline was recorded for the number of sheep. The reduction in pig numbers was relatively modest.

The EU has a sizeable livestock population. In 2020, there were 146 million head of pigs, 76 million head of bovine animals (cattle or buffalo), and an estimated 75 million head of sheep and goats on EU farms.

Looking in more detail at developments between 2019 and 2020, the population of pigs in the EU increased by 2.2%. There was small reduction (down 0.5%) in the number of sheep in 2020, while there was a 0.9% fall in the number of bovine animals.

During the period 2015-2020, EU output price developments were relatively stable for most animals, with the price of pigs being the main exception. Having risen at a rapid pace between 2016 and 2017, output prices for pigs then fell back in 2018 before rebounding in 2019, and fell again at a somewhat slower pace in 2020.

The output price of cattle was relatively unchanged, although price developments followed a downward path in both 2019 and 2020.

Throughout the period from 2016-2019, output prices for sheep and goats remained below their average level for 2015, but then grew at a rapid pace in 2020 (up 7.8%).

Having fallen at a relatively rapid pace in 2016, output prices for poultry remained relatively stable during the remainder of the period under consideration.

A majority of the EU’s livestock is held in just a few of the EU Member States. Between one fifth and one quarter (23.3%) of the EU’s bovine population was found in France and similar shares of the EU’s pig (22.4%) and sheep (24.8%) populations were in Spain. Greece (28.8%) and Spain (21.4%) together accounted for more than half of all the EU’s goats.

Some of the EU Member States are relatively specialised in terms of livestock farming. For example, Ireland accounted for 8.5% of the EU’s bovine animals in 2020 (almost the same level as recorded in Spain), while Denmark accounted for 9.2% of the EU’s pig population (almost the same level as in France).

After Spain, the second and third largest sheep populations in the EU were in Romania and Greece, with 16.8% and 13.3% shares respectively.

The livestock density index is calculated as the stock of animals (measured in livestock units) per hectare of utilised agricultural area. Based on this measure, the highest livestock densities in 2016 among EU Member States were recorded in the Netherlands (3.8 livestock units per hectare of utilised agricultural area), Malta (2.9) and Belgium (2.8). By contrast, livestock farming was relatively extensive in the Baltic Member States and Bulgaria, with fewer than 0.30 livestock units per hectare of utilised agricultural area.

An alternative measure of livestock density can be defined as the number of livestock units per livestock farm. Based on this indicator, the average sizes of livestock farms in Denmark (200 livestock units per holding), the Netherlands (185) and Belgium (148) were particularly high. At the other end of the range, there were fewer than 10 livestock units per livestock farm in Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania where semi-subsistence livestock farming in relatively small farms tends to predominate.