The number of sheep slaughtered in Ireland in 2024 could fall by upwards of 200,000 head, or 7%, compared to 2023.

This prediction is based on a combination of factors including this week’s release of the 2023 Department of Agriculture Sheep and Goat Census.

The census shows that there were almost 100,000 fewer breeding ewes over the age of 12 months on farms on 31 December 2023.

There were over 185,000 fewer ‘other sheep’ on farm, with this category including hoggets destined for slaughter, replacement ewe hoggets and ewes not destined for breeding.

The 100,000 head reduction in breeding ewe numbers will leave the number of lambs available for slaughter in 2024/2025 at a much tighter level.

A conservative figure of one lamb produced per ewe would mean there is likely to be in the region of 100,000 fewer lambs available for slaughter as a consequence of reduced ewe numbers.

Other factors

This figure does not take into account the reduced litter size reported in early lambing flocks, the higher mortality experienced this spring, reports of fewer yearling hoggets lambing down and some anecdotal reports of a small cohort of hill sheep farmers mating fewer ewes and leaving some run dry.

An increase in lamb performance could help a recovery in throughput, but with weather remaining stubbornly poor and falling prices reducing the appetite to feed lambs there is no certainty here.

The sheep kill for the first six months of the year is already running 165,495 head lower.

Hogget throughput of 889,041 head is down 81,450 head year-on-year, while the number of lambs drafted on farms up to the end of June is running at just 230,369 head, equating to a reduction of 64,557 head. The ewe and ram kill is also running almost 20,000 head lower.