The total number of sheep imported from Northern Ireland was down by 85,000head, a decline of 18% in 2014 according to figures from the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) in Northern Ireland.

It says the reduction in exports to the Republic of Ireland was influenced by a less favourable exchange rate and stronger levels of domestic lamb supplies in the Republic which meant that lamb slaughter levels there were maintained despite a lower level of imports from Northern Ireland.

The LMC end of year figure’s show that in 2014, the Northern Ireland sheep kill increased significantly despite an underlying decline in the volume of lambs produced by Northern sheep farms.

The lamb and hogget kill increased by 11% in 2014 and this was further boosted by heavier carcases which meant that overall production of clean sheepmeat was up by 13% year on year.

The LMC also says there has been a significant uplift in ewe slaughterings in 2014, with throughput reaching 51,000 head.

It says this is an increase of a quarter compared to the previous year and is the highest level of ewe throughput in Northern plants since 2010 when 58,000 ewes were slaughtered.

The ewe kill has been running at higher levels all year, with a sharp increase in the kill during the autumn. The overall Northern Ireland sheep kill was up by 54,281 head in 2014, an increase of 12% compared to 2013.

The LMC says with more ewes culled in 2014, there may be concerns about a decline in production in 2015.

However, it says with fewer Northern Irish lambs presented for slaughter north and south of the border in 2014, it remains to be seen how much, if any, of this decline was associated with an increase in the number of ewe lambs retained for breeding.

The LMC says developments in this regard will have a bearing on the size of the Northern Irish flock and production in 2015 and beyond.