Indicator Climate

Cattle population

The cattle population is an important indicator of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Cattle are by far the greatest source of methane. The impact of an equal amount of methane gas is 25 times greater than that of CO2 on global warming. However, there is considerably less methane than CO2 in the atmosphere.

Assessment of the state
impossible to evaluate impossible to evaluate
Assessment of the trend
impossible to evaluate impossible to evaluate
Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2018: 1543345 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2017: 1544612 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2016: 1555396 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2015: 1554319 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2014: 1562801 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2013: 1557474 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2012: 1564631 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2011: 1577407 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2010: 1591233 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2009: 1597485 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2008: 1604287 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2007: 1571764 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2006: 1566887 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2005: 1554696 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2004: 1544547 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2003: 1570178 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2002: 1593697 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2001: 1611351 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 2000: 1588005 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1999: 1608735 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1998: 1640871 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1997: 1672930 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1996: 1747071 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1995: 1748274 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1994: 1755400 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1993: 1745087 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1992: 1782600 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1991: 1828900 Cattle population (dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves), number as in greenhouse gas inventory 1990: 1855200

Data for the graph: Excel
Source: Federal Office for the Environment: Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Comment

Switzerland’s cattle population declined between 1990 and 2004. Although a small increase was apparent from 2004 to 2008, populations have been falling again slightly since 2009. The main factors affecting the cattle population trend are agricultural policy and the macroeconomic environment. The federal government’s milk quotas were finally discontinued in 2009, and since the introduction of agricultural policy between 2014 and 2017 there is no longer any direct support for roughage-consuming animals (abolition of direct animal subsidies). This explains the slight fall in the cattle population. However, moderate price rises for beef and potential alternative federal support programmes (such as contributions for pasture-based milk and meat production) are keeping this decline in check.

Large livestock numbers generate more emissions, and smaller livestock populations would have a positive effect on Switzerland’s greenhouse gas inventory. However, if Swiss livestock populations were reduced (but not the consumption of animal products), more meat and dairy products would be imported from abroad in order to meet demand. The corresponding emissions would then arise abroad. For this reason we abstain from rating the state and the trend.

International comparison

While the indicator is internationally comparable, the explanatory power of total livestock population numbers is limited. Per-capita livestock numbers would be more informative. The Swiss Farmers' Union SFU (Schweizerischer Bauernverband SBV) gathers the livestock numbers and transmits them to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, faostat.fao.org). The cattle population data maintained by the FAO differ marginally from those of the SFU, as the SFU makes minor corrections ex-post.

Method

The cattle population indicator concerns the number of dairy cattle, suckler cows and calves. The data are collected annually as part of the Farm Structure Survey by the Federal Statistical Office, the Federal Office for Agriculture and the cantonal agricultural offices. They are supplemented every three to five years by the agricultural census. Both are comprehensive censuses. The population numbers relate to a fixed point of time in a year, and do not take account of fluctuations within that year. All cattle are marked individually and can be traced precisely from birth to slaughter.

In order to ensure a consistent and comprehensive time series, the data are consolidated by Agroscope (ART) and the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences (HAFL).

 
Last updated on: 05.01.2021

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