Significant numbers of Irish lambs are currently being finished with too-low a fat score, according to Bord Bia’s sheep sector manager, Seamus McMenamin.

“The plants are reporting that a high proportion of Irish lambs coming through for slaughter at the present time are killing out with carcasses that are under-finished.

“This is being attributed to the high cost of inputs and, possibly, a shortage of grass on farms.”

Up to the end of July, Irish sheep throughput for 2022 totalled 1,600,824 head, a 9% increase from the 1,475,078 head processed in the same period last year.

However, much of this increase can be attributed to the higher hogget kill in the early months of the year with spring lambs slower to come forward for processing this year.

The lamb kill for 2022 is operating over 71,000 head behind 2021 levels with higher input costs along with some variable grass growth across the country, contributing to this trend.

The Irish ewe kill in 2022 to date, has remained similar to 2021 levels despite the very strong prices available, however there have been some indications of additional ewes being exported to Great Britain, by way of Northern Ireland. ​

Trade for sheep and lambs

The deadweight sheep trade came under some downward pressure during June, however it then stabilised in early July to coincide with the Eid al-Adha festival and the associated increase in demand for lamb from our export markets.

Supplies of lambs for processing are expected to be tight in the short-term as many producers will have weaned lambs and this tends to put a check in performance (and supplies for slaughter) for a few weeks.

As the year progresses however lamb supplies are expected to increase with forecasts indicating a bigger lamb crop in 2022.

There are some concerns at processor level of tight supplies up until the autumn and then a sharp improvement in availability for slaughter. For this reason producers are being encouraged to keep lambs moving and slaughter lambs when ready.

Seamus McMenamin spoke at the recent EasyCare Open Evening, hosted by Co. Antrim breeder Campbell Tweed.

“The market demand is for lambs killing out with carcass weights up to 21.5kg. Waste levels increase if carcass size increases beyond this specification,” McMenamin said.

“Retail outlets account for 80% plus of the lamb produced in Ireland. And it is retail pack sizes that are driving the specification required off farm.”


The Bord Bia representative confirmed that market conditions in the UK, the largest export destination for Irish lamb, remain challenging.

“Consumers there are opting for cheaper protein sources,” McMenamin continued.

“The Irish market is also under pressure, where lamb is concerned.

“The latest survey results indicate that more people in Ireland are actually eating lamb. However, consumption rates per person have fallen.”

According to McMenamin, Bord Bia focuses its promotional activities in those markets where there is a significant undersupply in home-produced lamb output.

“China and the United States fall into this category at the present time,” he further explained.  

“Supply/demand factors will always dictate the strength, or otherwise, of international lamb markets.”

Looking to the future, McMenamin pointed to a number of challenges that will confront the Irish sheep sector.

“Lack of available labour, both on farm and in processing plants is one of these,” he commented. “The continuing rise in production costs is another.

“And there seems little doubt now that the reduction in the levels of fertiliser usage on Irish farms this year will impact negatively on the total volume of lamb supplies coming to market as 2022 progresses,” he concluded.