World-renowned Dutch dairy products outrank all other agricultural produce, and livestock provides two-thirds of total agricultural value. In 2001 there were four million head of cattle, 13.1 million pigs, 1.3 million sheep, and 100 million chickens.
Milk production in 2001 totaled 11.3 million tons. Meat production in 2001 was 2.6 million tons (including pork, 1,458,000; beef and veal, 364,000; and poultry, 757,000). Butter production was 130,000 tons; cheese, 662,000 tons.
Friesland is the most important region for the production of milk and butter. Excellent grazing lands and a long growing season have greatly helped the Frisian dairy industry, whose main support is the famed Frisian strain of cows. The making of cheese is connected with such famous brands as those named for Edam and Gouda, towns in the province of South Holland, and Alkmaar in North Holland.
The Netherlands regularly imports calves from the United Kingdom. In 1995, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, in response to the possible connection of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, responded with a program to destroy all imported UK veal calves. The total slaughter amounted to 64,000 calves and led to losses of approximately $32 million to the livestock industry.