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Estonia: Animal Production in 2004–2010

  • The developments in poultry, pig, beef and milk production in Estonia over the period are outlined by Liina Jurgenson, Head of the Bureau of Animal Products at the Ministry of Agriculture in a report entitled ‘Animal Breeding in Estonia 2004–2011’ from Estonian Animal Breeding Association.

    Livestock Numbers

    The number of cattle, including dairy cows, decreased by 18 per cent over the period 2004 to 2010 (Table 1), as several small-scale producers stopped dairy farming. Pig numbers have been growing slightly in recent years driven by an increase in demand in the Eastern European markets. The number of sheep and goats has been increasing steadily over recent years and has more than doubled since 2004. This is due to ewe subsidies, including subsidies for raising organic sheep (58 per cent of the total number of sheep) and goats (27 per cent of the total number of goats). Poultry numbers showed a decrease between 2005 and 2007 that can be partly attributed to disease outbreaks. A remarkable increase in poultry population followed over the past two years.

    Structure of Animal Production

    The share of animal husbandry in the total agricultural output has been more than 55 per cent during the period 2004 to 2010. In 2010, milk accounted for 55 per cent of the total animal production, whereas it has comprised almost a third of the total agricultural production over recent years. Based on the net value, pork made up 22 per cent of the total animal production in 2010 (Figure 1), while beef has comprised 9 to 12 per cent over the past seven years.

    Milk Production

    The total number of holdings with dairy cows has decreased from 9,210 in 2005 to 6,121 in 2007. Almost half of the dairy cattle were kept on holdings with more than 300 cows in 2007, whereas the percentage of such farms has been rising from year to year. On the other hand, the share of smaller dairy holdings with up to 50 cows has dropped from 26 per cent in 2005 to 21 per cent in 2007.

    Figure 1. Output value of animal products, 2004–2010


    Figure 2. Milk production data, 2004–2010

    Table 1. Number of livestock and poultry as of 31 December (thousands)
    Source: Statistics Estonia

    Table 2. Meat production in 2004–2010 (tons)
    Source: Statistics Estonia

    Although the number of cows has shown a slight decrease in recent years, the total milk production has increased as a result of a steady improvement in productivity (Figure 2). The year 2009 was unusual, as due to the global economic recession the demand for dairy products was down and dairy industry suffered from low milk prices, which resulted in the decrease in milk output. In 2004, the total production was 652,400 tons of milk, while the average yield per cow was 5,528kg. By 2010, the total production reached 676,000 tons, and the average production per cow was 6,977kg. The milk quota system, applied since Estonia joined the EU, has not had any negative effect on milk production. Moreover, the output of milk has not yet reached the quota limits. Milk production figures were the closest to the delivery reference (94.08 per cent) in quota year 2005/2006.

    A typical cowshed in Estonia
    (A. Tänavots)

    Over the past seven years, the milk with 4.1 per cent fat content and 3.3 per cent protein content made up 82–91 per cent of the total milk sold to the dairies. From 2004 to 2010, the quality of milk has been improving. In 2004, 58 per cent of milk was sold as elite grade and 38 per cent as high grade milk, while in 2010 the corresponding figures were 61 and 37 per cent, respectively.

    The average contract prices have seen a slow but gradual increase between 2004 and 2010 (Figure 3). Dairy farmers were paid €245.29 per tonne of milk in 2004, and €277.13 in 2010. In this respect, the year 2009 was different, as prices dropped dramatically (-29 per cent) after the steady rise that had started at the end of 2007, and continued through 2008. Along with applying the EU management measures opened by the EU Commission, some extraordinary measures were taken to handle the problems.

    Figure 3. Average contract prices of milk, 2004–2010

    Meat Production

    Meat production has generally been increasing since 2006 (Table 2), and has exceeded 74,000 tons over recent years. The growth can mainly be attributed to poultry meat the production of which has reached the level of the years preceding the major disease outbreaks of 2004. In years 2008–2009 the sheep meat production has grown, while the total sheep population is still quite small. In 2010, the production of beef and pork decreased compared to 2009, whereas one of the reasons was a substantial increase in live cattle exports.

    Consumption of meat increased from 69.5kg to 70.1kg per capita between 2004 and 2009. The most popular type of meat is pork that accounts for 50 per cent of all the meat consumed in Estonia. Poultry meat consumption, after a considerable decline between 2004 and 2006, has returned to its pre-decline level (32 per cent of the total meat consumed). In 2010, beef consumption dropped again to the 2004 levels (16 per cent of the total meat consumed). The share of sheep meat in the total meat consumption is relatively small, but it increased from 0.3 to 0.7 per cent between 2004 and 2010.

    Domestic production has not been able to meet the growing demand since 1993, even though the total meat output has been increasing since 2006.


    Over the past seven years, the pig numbers have increased The number of holdings keeping pigs, however, has been decreasing (from 4,707 in 2005 to only 2,888 in 2007). The average number of pigs per holding has increased from 75 in 2005 to 128 in 2007. Most of the pigs (80 per cent) are kept on holdings with 2000 pigs or more.

    Pork carcass quality has been improved
    (A. Tänavots)

    A total of 654,000 piglets were born in 2004, whereas the birth rate was the highest in 2006-2007 when the number of births increased by 22,000 to 30,000. After a decline in the years of economic recession, the number of births recovered by 2010, when 755,000 piglets were born, which is 31,000 more than in 2009. Pork output started to increase in 2005 (Figure 4) and reached its highest level of 46,196 tons in 2008. The average carcass weight of pigs has been 77 to 80 kg. The share of pork in the total meat production has shown a slight increase over the past seven years, and it accounted for more than 60 per cent in 2008–2010.

    Figure 4. Meat production, 2004–2010


    Since 2005, the total number of cattle has declined. Certain growth occurred in 2010 which was due to the increase in the number of beef cows. During the past seven years the number of holdings keeping beef cattle has also risen. According to the Estonian Agricultural Registers and Information Board, beef cows, including crossbreds, were kept on 612 holdings in 2005, 844 in 2007 and 1,108 in 2010. 

    The overall numbers of beef cattle have also increased. A total of 14,266 head of beef cattle (including crossbreds) were registered in 2005, 22,774 in 2007, and 39,214 in 2010. By 2010, 13 different breeds of beef cattle were registered the most numerous being Aberdeen-Angus, followed by Hereford and Limousine cattle.

    Beef cattle have gained popularity
    (R. Toi)

    Beef production declined from 15,422 to 12,926 tons between 2007 and 2010. Purchase of beef cows has also decreased, mostly due to a gradual increase in live cattle exports. Cows comprise 60 per cent of the total purchases of beef cattle. The average weight of carcasses has been growing, and reached 235 kg in 2010. The share of beef in the total meat output has decreased from 21 per cent in 2004 to only 17 per cent in 2010.

    Sheep and goat meat

    Sheep population has almost doubled during the past seven years, while the number of sheep holdings showed a sharp decrease from 3,185 in 2005 to only 2,470 in 2007. Almost a half of the sheep are reared in flocks with 100 heads or more. The number of households with goats has declined from 1,164 in 2005 (a total of 5,132 goats) to 823 (4,359 goats) in 2007.

    Sheep and goat numbers have increased

    Sheep and goat meat production has grown from 310 tons in 2004 to 666 tons in 2010. The average sheep and goat carcass weight is 19 kg. The share of sheep and goat meat in the total meat output is low, but it has increased two times during the past seven years (from 0.4 per cent in 2004 to 0.9 per cent in 2010).

    Poultry meat

    The number of holdings with poultry flocks has decreased from 12,511 in 2005 to 8,322 in 2007.

    Poultry meat production fell during the years of disease outbreaks in 2005–2007, but it has shown growth again since 2009. In 2010, poultry meat production reached 15,997 tons. Over the past seven years the share of poultry meat in total meat output was the lowest in 2007 (16 per cent) and the highest in 2010 (21 per cent).

    Egg production also decreased between 2005 and 2008, and began to recover in 2009. The total production of eggs over the past seven years is shown in Table 3. Egg output was the lowest in 2008 (146,483 thousand eggs) and the highest in 2004 (230,894 thousand eggs). The average yield has exceeded 263 eggs per hen over the past three years.

    Table 3. Egg production in 2004–2010
    Source: Statistics Estonia

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