Sheep Census – Donegal Has Highest Sheep Population

There were 14,000 fewer sheep registered in the country in 2022 compared to 2021, representing a decrease of 0.35%, with Co. Donegal recording the highest sheep population.

The latest Sheep and Goat Census published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) shows that 4.01 million sheep were held across 42,215 active flocks in 2022.

As required by the EU Animal Health Law, the DAFM carries out a census of sheep and goats annually.

This census report records the number of sheep and goats kept in Ireland on December 31, 2022 and is based on data submitted to the department by April 28, 2023.

Data from the 2022 census shows that of the respondent active flocks, sheep were kept on 35,555 at the time of the census.

Goat census returns record a total of 9,243 goats kept across 1,011 active registered flocks at the end of December 2022.

The 2022 goat population shows an increase of approximately 1,166 (14%) on the figures recorded in respect of December 2021.

Sheep Census

2022 sheep census forms were issued in December 2022 to 48,627 sheep keepers registered with DAFM.

This included approximately 1,700 sheep flocks either newly approved by the department in 2022 or reactivated to keep sheep during the year.

Responses were received from 42,214 flocks, representing a response rate of 87%. Of these, 35,555 flocks kept sheep, while 6,659 flocks kept no sheep at the time of the census.

Just under 900 respondents who were not keeping sheep on the census date indicated that they did not intend to re-enter sheep farming in the near future.

Approximately 46% of 2022 returns received (16,426) were submitted online via the department’s agfood service. Of these, some 2,600 were submitted by agents on behalf of keepers.

Overall, 2022 online responses showed an increase of some 13% on 2021 figures.

According to the census data, there were 2.66 million breeding ewes over 12 months-of-age, which is a decrease of almost 36,000 (1.3%) on the previous year’s breeding ewe population.

A total of 85,802 breeding rams were recorded – a decrease of over 400 on the previous year.

1.26 million other sheep were recorded (including lambs, wethers, cull ewes etc.). This category increased by over 22,000 in 2022 (1.78%).

The number of registered holdings keeping sheep decreased by over 600 from 2021 to 35,555.

DAFM Sheep Census – Source DAFM.

Overall, the greatest number of sheep was kept in Co. Donegal with a sheep population of 541,063. Co. Limerick recorded the fewest number of sheep (21,727), just 0.5% of the total population.

46.7% of the total population are classified as mountain / mountain-cross breeds, according to the DAFM, while 53.3% of all sheep recorded were classified as lowland / lowland-cross breeds.

The greatest number of mountain sheep was kept in Co. Mayo with 229,260. The greatest number of mountain-cross sheep was kept in Co. Donegal with 112,829.

The smallest number of mountain sheep was recorded in Co. Clare (1,367), with Co. Limerick keeping the smallest number of mountain-cross breeds (3,396).

The greatest number of lowland (126,117) and lowland-cross (171,349) breeds were in Co. Galway. The smallest number of lowland sheep was kept in Co. Dublin (5,588), with Co. Limerick recording the smallest number of lowland-cross breeds (5,566).

Of the 35,555 flocks keeping sheep, the average flock size was 113 compared to an average flock size of 111 in 2021. A total of 69% of flocks (24,541) kept fewer than the national average of 113.

2022 was the first year since 2018 to record a decrease in the national sheep flock. However, the 2022 population remains over four million and at the second highest level in recent years, after 2021.

Map of sheep flocks – Source DAFM


Census returns were received from 1,011 registered goat keepers, representing a response rate of 69%.

A total of 9,243 goats were recorded – an increase of 13% (1,166 goats) on the December 2021 figure.

734 respondent keepers declared that they kept goats in December 2022, representing a decease of just one since 2021.

A further 277 keepers declared that they had no goats at the time of the census and of those, 78 declared that they would not be re-entering goat farming.

With 106 flocks, Co. Cork had the greatest number of goat herds in 2022.The greatest number of goats was kept in Co. Tipperary where 1,004 goats were recorded, followed by Cork with 809.

(Source – Agriland – Stella Meehan – 23/05/2023)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rural Enterprise Skillnet
Rural Enterprise Skillnet

The Rural Enterprise Skillnet is funded by member companies and the Training Networks Programme, an initiative of Skillnets Ltd. funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.

Read More