Sheep Farming


According to Bord Bia, the Irish sheep flock totalled 3.43 million head, with the breeding flock totalled 4.48 million head according to the 2016 livestock survey (CSO, 2017).

The top five counties in terms of sheep numbers are all characterised by mountainous terrain – Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Kerry and Wicklow.

In counties such as Cork, Tipperary, Carlow and Kilkenny, sheep numbers are under pressure as farmers switch to other enterprises, particularly dairy and beef.

Ireland’s sheep flocks tend to be very small scale by international standards, with 50% of sheep flocks having less than 50 ewes. This compares with an average flock size of over 200 in Scotland and 1,400 in the world’s largest exporter, New Zealand.    

A positive for Ireland’s sheep industry is that the European Union is deficient in sheep meat, with consumption of an estimated 1.2million tonnes per annum compared to production of around 0.9 million  tonnes. Globally, the sheep flock is also in decline, leading to increased opportunities for Irish exports. 2011 has seen that factor reflected in higher farm gate prices in Ireland.

Due to the small scale of the domestic market, two out of every three sheep in Ireland is destined for export. In 2015, Ireland exported 47,000 tonnes of sheep meat worth €230 million. The UK and France continue to be the core markets for Irish sheepmeat accounting for over 60% of total export volumes in 2015.


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