“Electronic Identification Tagging (EID) is the future of the Irish sheep sector,” according to James Smyth of Irish Country Meats (ICM).

James, who is the general manager of ICM, spoke at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) National Hill Sheep Forum which took place on Thursday, September 5, at the Glendalough Hotel, Co. Wicklow.

James spoke about the value of the Irish sheepmeat sector which currently stands at €315 million; up 15% on the 2017 figure.

“We are the fourth largest exporter of sheepmeat in Europe and, if Brexit occurs, we will probably be the third largest exporter.”

James talked about the state of play within the Irish sheep sector and the opportunities and challenges that hill farmers and processors face.

Spring of 2018 had a huge effect on the increase in value of the sheepmeat sector, with lamb price at €5.50c/kg.

“We are currently trading in 30 markets across the world. In 2017 and 2018, some of these markets came under pressure.

“Sweden has been a growing market over the last 10 years, while the tonnage of sheepmeat in Belgium has increased by 10%,” he added.


“One of the big challenges facing processors is the growth and demand for smaller cuts of lamb, which countries such as Spain are producing with ease.

“Another market which was renowned for importing Irish sheepmeat was France. However, France has shown a decrease of 6% consumption in sheepmeat in the last six-to-seven years. The tonnage of sheepmeat going to France has dropped by 11%.”

The reason why there has been a reduction in sheepmeat exports to France is due to the Spanish market. The south of Spain region produces a very suitable lamb product, especially in the early part of the season

“Before this, very little sheepmeat was exported from Spain; lambs were exported live to the middle east. However, they have developed their businesses and have become more competitive.

“This affects the Irish price of lamb up until July 1, which is a lot later than normal for Spanish producers. The lamb they produce is very suitable in weight and colour, compared to Irish lambs that are heavier and have a higher fat cover.

We became maybe too reliant on the French market; we were exporting too much carcass lamb at the time, which was in the region of 75%.

“Another challenge is carefully selecting lambs for slaughter – a mixed-quality batch of lambs will result in a poor price.

“We need lambs that are 17kg+ in dead weight – light lambs less than 17kg won’t be processed. This is due to the leg and shoulder size being too small for our markets,” James added.


James highlighted three key dates that hill sheep farmers should be aware of when thinking of slaughtering lambs in 2020.

These include:
  • Easter Sunday: Generally, there is a strong demand for sheep a month before this date
  • Ramadan (April 23 to May 23): Hill farmers should benefit from good store prices, and should see feeders duly rewarded with regards to price at this time;
  • EID festival, July 31: A good volume of lamb will be taken out of the system. There’ll be no massive increase in price but it’s a good promotion opportunity when a large volume of lamb is available to sell.

James went on to explain that over the last 12 months processors are actively sourcing hill lamb, which they may not have been renowned for doing so previously.

There is 300 head of lamb being exported to Sweden 40 weeks of the year.

“There are opportunities opening in the Japanese and Chinese markets and the recent audits by Chinese officials were successful. This was largely down to the fact that the EID system was in operation.

“As a processor, we had full confidence in the traceability of our lamb which was what the Chinese officials were looking for,” James concluded.