The number of breeding ewes aged over 12 months of age on farms increased by 72,000 head last year, with the national ewe flock now standing at 2.64m head.

The increase recorded in the 2020 Department of Agriculture annual sheep and goat census reflects the optimism which developed primarily on the back of improve farmgate prices.

The higher levels of interest in sheep farming in 2020, including an influx of farmers purchasing store lambs, is confirmed in 1,500 holdings becoming registered to farm sheep and a further 500 reactivating their sheep registration status.

Part of this growth was driven by beef farmers reducing stock numbers as a condition of the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure (BEAM).