Ireland’s breeding ewe flock decreased by 3% in 2018 on 2017 levels, the latest sheep census figures from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine show.

Census returns show that in 2018 the number of breeding ewes in the country stood at 2.56 million compared to 2017, when there were 2.64 million breeding ewes.

Ram numbers also decreased, compared to 2017 levels. The figures show that ram numbers were down 2.1% on 2017, with 2,681 fewer rams present on farms in 2018.

In total, as of December 2018, Ireland had 3.73 million sheep (3,732,955) spread across 35,186 flocks, including 2.56 million breeding ewes over 12 months-of-age.

There was an average of 106 sheep per flock in 2018, the census returns show.

69% of flocks had below-average numbers, compared to 68% in 2017.

Census forms for 2019 were sent to 45,432 registered flock-keepers on the department’s database. Returns were received from 40,891, representing a response rate of 90%.

Future intentions

A total of 5,704 respondents had no sheep in December 2018. 868 of these indicated that they did not intend to return to this type of farming in the near future.

The overall number of flock-owners who declared that they had stock in 2018 was 35,186. That’s a decrease of 591 (approximately 1.7%) on the December 2017 figure of 35,777.

This means that the total number of sheep declared in December 2018 was approximately 140,000 lower than 2017 – representing the largest decrease in sheep numbers since 2014.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

According to the data, Donegal is the county with the most sheep (504,408) in the country. It was followed by Mayo (418,361) and Galway (408,835).

Kerry had the next greatest number (318,720). Meanwhile, Limerick had the lowest number (21,638).

Due to its big sheep population, Donegal had the highest number of flocks (5,986), followed by Mayo (4,852). Dublin had the least (201).