Ireland’s breeding ewe flock increased by 3% in 2015 on 2014 levels, the latest sheep census figures from the Department of Agriculture show.

Census returns show that in 2015, the number of breeding ewes in the country stood at 2.5m compared to 2014 when there was 2.42m breeding ewes.

The census shows that since 2009, the ewe breeding flock has increased by 14%. Ram numbers on Irish farms have also increased on 2014 levels.

The census figures show that ram numbers are up 6% on 2014, with an extra 4,499 rams present on farms in 2015.

In total, as of December 2015 Ireland had 3.76m sheep (3,760,425) in 35,254 flocks, including 2.5m breeding ewes over 12 months of age.

There was an average of 107 sheep per flock compared to 104 sheep per flock in 2014, the census returns show.

A total of 69% of flocks contain sheep numbers below the average flock size which is the same figure as that in 2014.

Sheep census forms for 2015 were sent to 44,453 registered sheep flock-keepers on the Department’s database and returns were received from 40,099, representing a response rate of 90%.

A total of 4,845 respondents had no sheep in December 2015 with 1,308 of this number indicating that they do not intend to return to sheep farming in the near future.

The overall number of flock owners who declared that they had sheep in December 2015 was 35,254 which is an increase of 705 (approx 2%) on the December 2014 figure of 34,549.

The total number of sheep declared in December 2015 represents an increase of approximately 180,000 (5%) on the number declared in December 2014 and reflects the highest levels recorded since 2006.

sheep numbers

According to sheep census figures, Donegal is the county with the most sheep, with 468,309 sheep in the county. It is followed by Galway with 409,785 and Mayo, which has 400,225.

Kerry had the next greatest number of sheep with 316,253. Meanwhile, Limerick had the lowest sheep numbers, with 22,189, followed by Dublin with 23,705.

Due to its high sheep numbers, Donegal also had the biggest number of sheep flocks, with 5,771, followed by Mayo with 4,725.

Dublin had the lowest number of sheep flocks, with 201.