Sheep farmers packing it in at a rate of 12 per week

FILE PHOTO: A farmer checks the teeth of some Jacobs sheep at the annual Maam Cross fair in the Connemara region of Maam Cross in Galway, Ireland, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A farmer checks the teeth of some Jacobs sheep at the annual Maam Cross fair in the Connemara region of Maam Cross in Galway, Ireland, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
Sean Dennehy
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Up to 12 farmers a week walked away from the sheep sector in 2018, the latest National Sheep Survey confirms.

The survey found that the number of sheep farmers fell from 35,777 in 2017 to 35,186 in 2018. This was a reduction of 591 or 1.7pc.

The drop in sheep farmer numbers was mirrored by a slide in the breeding ewe flock.

The number of breeding ewes fell by almost 90,000 head last year or around 3.2pc, dropping from 2.65m in 2017 to 2.56m last December.

Overall sheep numbers were also back, falling from 3.87m in 2017 to 3.73m last year. This is a reduction of 140,000 or 4pc.

Growth

Despite the latest reversal in numbers, the Irish flock has registered significant growth since 2009, when overall sheep numbers were just above 3m, and the ewe flock stood at 2.2m.

The breakdown in breeding ewe numbers shows that 31pc of the flock, or 800,000 head, are mountain ewes.

A further 18pc, or 448,000, are mountain crosses, while 513,000 or 20pc are lowland ewes, and 800,000 or 31pc are lowland cross ewes.

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Donegal continues to have the highest number of sheep, with 504,000 in 6,000 flocks.

Mayo has the next highest number with 418,000, followed by 409,000 in Galway. Kerry has 320,000, while Wicklow has 240,000.

Dublin, Clare and Limerick are the counties with the lowest numbers of sheep.

IFA sheep chairman Sean Dennehy (pictured) said the drop in ewe numbers must act as a wake-up call for the factories and Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed.

"Sheep farmers can't continue at the current low prices from the factories," he said.

Mr Dennehy claimed that the lack of adequate direct payment supports and the compulsorily EID tagging had also impacted on confidence in the sector.

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