Sheep Farming


According to Bord Bia, Irish sheepmeat production in 2018 was 69,500 tonnes, a 3.6% growth on 2017. Export values that year reached to €315m.

In total, as of December 2018, Ireland had 3.73 million sheep (3,732,955) spread across 35,186 flocks.

The top five counties in terms of sheep numbers in 2017 were 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 69% of all flocks below the average flock size of 106 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 (only 88% sufficient), with consumption of an estimated 1.2million tonnes per annum compared to production of around 0.8 million tonnes in 2017 (eurostat, 2018). 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.

In 2018 carcases accounted for approximately 30% and primal product 70% Ireland. Ireland exported 55,800 tonnes of sheep meat worth €230 million in this year. The UK and France continue to be the core markets for Irish sheep meat accounting for over 50% of total export volumes in 2018 (bordbia 2018 - 2019).


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