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Farm Livestock - Sheep



In June 2016 the sheep population was 6.83 million on around 14,900 farms in Scotland.

Ewes used for breeding in the previous season accounted for 38 per cent of the total, with rams to be used for service just over one per cent. Lambs made up the largest proportion with 49 per cent and other sheep over one year old accounted for 12 per cent. Lamb numbers increased by 90,000 (2.8 per cent) compared with last year.

Chart : Sheep population, June 2016   Source: June Agricultural Census ,Table 4

Chart 16: Sheep population, June 2016


Overall trends in the sheep population show the total decreasing by 800,000 (10.5 per cent) from 7.63 million in 2006 to 6.83 million in 2016.

The chart below displays trends for breeding ewes and lambs, which in June 2016 made up 87 per cent of the total sheep population.

Chart : Ewes used for breeding and lambs, trends 2006 to 2016   Source: June Agricultural Census ,Table 4

Chart 17: Ewes for breeding and lambs, trends 2006 to 2016


Over the past ten years there has been a decline of 410,000 among ewes for breeding (14 per cent) from 3.03 million in 2006 to 2.62 million in 2016. However, most of this decline occurred between 2006 and 2010, with more modest falls since then. Lamb numbers have declined alongside ewe numbers for much of the past decade, falling by 590,000 (16 per cent) from 3.69 million in 2006 to 3.11 million in 2013. Since then, however, numbers have recovered somewhat, with rises in two of the past three years.

The introduction of Single Farm Payments in 2005 signalled a steeper decline in sheep numbers than had been witnessed earlier in the decade (following restocking after the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak) with a decrease of 1.13 million sheep evident between 2005 and 2010 (annual average decline of 3.0 per cent).

Sheep Per Hectare in Parish, June 2016

Map 4: Sheep per hectare in parish, June 2016

Since 2010 the number of sheep has generally been around 6.7 million, with fluctuations driven by variability in the number of lambs. The annual lamb numbers have been affected by how harsh the winters and springs have been.

The map above shows the number of sheep per hectare, using the total area in the parish, not just the area of agricultural land. Where there are too few producers in an area the data are deemed disclosive and so are grouped with a neighbouring area or areas. The overall pattern is not considered to be too adversely affected by this suppression.

The latest annual trends between 2015 and 2016 show:

  • An increase in total sheep of 125,000 (1.9 per cent) to 6.83 million.
  • An increase in ewes used for breeding of 30,000 (1.2 per cent) to 2.62 million.
  • An increase in lambs of 90,000 (2.8 per cent) to 3.32 million.
  • An increase in other sheep aged one year and over of 1,800 (0.2 per cent) to 798,000.



There were 6.83 million sheep in Scotland in June 2016. Areas with the highest numbers of sheep were the Scottish Borders (1.16 million or 17 per cent of the total), Dumfries and Galloway (1.06 million or 16 per cent), the Highlands (880,000 or 13 per cent), Grampian (652,000 or 10 per cent) and Tayside (630,000 or nine per cent).

Chart : Distribution of sheep by sub-region, June 2016

Sheep by agricultural region 2016

However, once you take into account the size of these sub-regions,  while one might associate the large areas of rough grazing in the Highlands with sheep farming, the highest concentration of sheep is to be found south of the central belt, and to a lesser extent on the east coast.


Size of sheep flocks

There were 2.62 million breeding ewes in Scotland in June 2016, with the majority (1.53 million or 58 per cent) in flock sizes of 500 or more breeding ewes. These larger flock sizes were mostly located in the South East and South West.

Of the 12,685 holdings with breeding ewes, the majority (7,553 or 60 per cent) had flock sizes of less than 100 breeding ewes. However, these holdings only accounted for 230,000 (nine per cent) of breeding ewes in Scotland. Most of these holdings with smaller flock sizes were located in the North West.

Chart : Breeding sheep, by size group and region, June 2016

Breeding ewes by herd size


The value of finished sheep and lambs in 2016 was £203 million up £23 million (13 per cent) on 2015. The value of clipwool was unchanged at £6.4 million in 2016.

Sheep account for about seven per cent of income from farming. Since 2006, the value of income from sheep, including store sales but excluding related subsidies, has increased by £68 million (50 per cent) to an estimated £203 million in 2016. Between 2006 and 2008 values remained fairly steady, averaging around £140 million. Between 2008 and 2009 there was a 27 per cent increase in value followed by smaller fluctuations in the years after that. 2015 saw a 7 per cent increase, followed by a 13 per cent increase in 2016.

The volume of meat production over the past ten years has been mixed, with increases in one year being reversed the following year. Total production (including from older livestock) was one per cent higher in 2016 than in 2006, at 61,000 tonnes, though up on 2,000 tonnes on last year's level of production. The chart below similarly shows a increase in the production tonnage of finished lambs.

Chart : Finished lamb production and average price, 2006-2016

Finished lamb production and prices

Lamb prices started 2016 at 365p per kg in January and remained steady in the first quarter of the year, followed by price drops, ending the year on 355p per kg.

Chart : Monthly lamb prices in 2009, 2015 and 2016


Lamb prices

The Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture (ERSA) contains a range of tables and charts  including

  • Table A1   : Total output value , input costs and income of Scottish agriculture , 2003 to 2016
  • Table A5   : Output and prices of sheep and cattle, 2003 to 2016
  • Table B3   : Average sheep stocking, output, inputs, and Farm Business Income by type of farm: 2015-16
  • Table B12 : Enterprise performance summary table: 2015-16



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