The actual size of European livestock farms
Europe’s farms offer a great diversity of food products from one region to another, so the average farm size is quite difficult to define. What is known for sure is that family farming has always been a cornerstone of agricultural activity in the European Union. When compared to third countries, European farm sizes remain relatively small. In the EU, in economic terms, smaller farms practice various activities with mixed cropping, mixed livestock, or mixed crop and livestock farming simultaneously. These hybrid systems are part of our cultural heritage, making it hard to precisely define the average size of dairy, beef or poultry farms.
Comparison of farm size, financial resources, labour force, or the number of animals per farm should be considered cautiously. Due to mixed systems, statistics on the smallest farm are hard to establish, so public data mostly comes from specialised farms in the top 10 European-producing countries. When considering the type of livestock production on a European map, a limited number of regions can be considered as having an explicit specialization.
The average size for livestock farms in Europe is below 50 hectares and hosts less than 50 “livestock units”. The “average European livestock farm” uses 34 hectares of agricultural land area and has a herd size of 47 livestock units. Even in livestock-driven regions, a farm in the European top-10 countries uses 51 ha of land, about 35 football fields, with around two people working on the farm, hosting 79 “livestock units” for a total value of 138,000 Euros.
This first set of statistics from Eurostat shows that we are far from the image most commonly portrayed that the European farming sector is a mass of “factory farms” even in the most specialized and productive countries. Even in the specialised producing countries, farms remain small compared to third countries. Among the specialised farms, those oriented in sheep farming are the largest in terms of surface, with about 90 ha, but the smallest in terms of livestock units, with an average of 61 and operating capital, which is less than 113,000 Euros.
Meat-producing farms tend to employ less labour in top-producing countries in Europe. On the contrary, granivores employ the most workforce, with more than two people. They also own the largest herds with 312 livestock units and mobilize the most capital, more than 280,000 Euros. Specialised dairy farms have the second largest herds with about 76 livestock units, mobilise the second highest capital, 231,000 Euros, and have the second highest level of employment with 1.9 people.
In all livestock sectors combined, the United Kingdom, Denmark and France host the largest farms in terms of surface, with roughly 95 ha per farm. Poland, Italy and the Netherlands have the smallest farms, with less than 40 ha per farm, with as low an average as 18 ha in Poland.
Farm size and mobilised capital have no direct link in Europe. Dutch farms are among the smallest according to the farm size criteria but are among the largest in terms of livestock and working capital, along with Danish farmers. In fact, in terms of mobilised capital, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium are the top 3 countries, far ahead of Germany, the United Kingdom and France, for example.
So, livestock “intensification” is not a systematic trend in European livestock production. Substantial differences exist in livestock “farm size” across Europe, and they each aim to ensure healthy, well-cared-for animals and affordable food prices for everyone, no matter their size.