The annual national sheep and goat census for 2021, similar to 2020 has thrown up some positives.

The data for the census, gathered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), showed a 3.6% increase in the national sheep flock compared to 2020.

2021 sheep census forms were issued in December 2021 to 47,123 sheep keepers registered with DAFM, with approximately 2,100 of these sheep flocks being either newly approved by the Department in 2021 or reactivated to keep sheep during the year.

Of the 42,014 (89%) responses received, 36,163 flocks kept sheep while 5,851 flocks kept no sheep at the time of the census.

Furthermore, just under 700 respondents who were not keeping sheep on the census date said that they did not intend to re-enter sheep farming in the near future, the DAFM added.

Data from the 2021 census returns showed that 4.02 million sheep were kept in 36,163 registered flocks at the end of 2021 (up 571 on 2020 figure of 35,592) – which was an increase of 3.6%, or approximately 120,000 head on the 2020 figure.

Data source: DAFM

There were 2.7 million breeding ewes over 12 months of age, which is an increase of approximately 55,000 (2.1%) on the previous year’s breeding ewe population of 2.6 million, the DAFM said.

1.24 million ‘other sheep’ were recorded (which included lambs, wethers and cull ewes), while 86,216 breeding rams were recorded.

The average flock size was 111, an increase of 2 on the 2020 figure, while 68% of flocks (24,610) kept 111 sheep or less.