Sheep Facts

Find out more about the amazing world of sheep

Most commonly, female sheep are called ewes, male sheep are called rams, and young sheep are called lambs.

It is estimated that there are around one billion sheep worldwide. The UK is home to 25% of the EU sheep flock, and 3% of the global flock, producing one third of EU sheep meat and currently sitting as the sixth biggest producer worldwide. 

Country

Total number of sheep

Of which breeding ewes

UK (2015)

33,337,000

16,240,000

England (2015)

15,142,000

7,057,000

Scotland (2015)

6,701,376

2,588,174

Wales (2014)

9,739,000

4,766,000

Northern Ireland (2015)

1,989,674

890,300

Republic of Ireland (2014)

3,581,818

2,420,374

Australia (2015)

70,9000,000

 -

New Zealand (2015)

29,500,000

 -

Spring is when most ewes in the UK give birth to their lambs, but lambs can be born anytime between December and May, depending on the system and location. By the time they give birth, ewes will have been pregnant for five months.

You might think all bleating sounds the same, but ewes recognise their lambs by their call when they wander too far away or get mixed in with the flock.

Sheep are called ‘ruminants’ because they have four stomachs.See what this means here.

There are more than 90 different breeds and crosses of sheep in the UK and they all have a role to play. Some can survive on mountains (even in the wildness of the Scottish Highlands), some make really good mothers and some produce lots of yummy lamb chops!

Around 60% of UK farmland is only suitable to grow grass. Sheep and cattle farming is the most suitable way to convert this land into healthy food that our growing population can eat.

Land that can only grow grass is rarely (if ever) cultivated, meaning carbon is locked into the ground and not released into the atmosphere to contribute to climate change issues. Uplands and farmland in Wales alone store 400 million tonnes of carbon. This land also holds and filters rainwater.

More than 40% of our breeding flock is based in the uplands of the UK- and it is no accident that our strong sheep areas are also our biggest tourism areas, as sheep have created and continue to maintain our iconic landscapes.

As well as creating beautiful landscapes, sheep also support wildlife and plant biodiversity. Without sheep our grassland, and upland land in particularly, would become overtaken by scrub and coarse vegetation, becoming less valuable to many types of plants, small mammals and ground nesting birds, and at risk of environmental damage by wildfires. areas are also our biggest tourism areas, as sheep have created and continueto maintain our iconic landscapes. 

In lowland areas sheep put lots of natural nutrients back into the ground that the growing of cereals and vegetables takes out. Yes, we’re talking about poo!

Sheep produce a thick woolly coat called a fleece to protect them from the weather, both hot and cold. Wool is the most sustainable fibre in the world. It's a natural product of the sheep’s life cycle and the welfare of sheep is improved by them being shorn. Wool is a stable carbon store that is produced by little more than solar powered grass and herbage.

An adult sheep produces one fleece per year, which is skilfully removed by a sheep shearer. It costs the farmer anywhere between £0.90-£1.10 per sheep for the shearing process, and they can get anything from £0.50-£3.00 per fleece in return.

Wool was incredibly valuable before the invention of synthetic fibres and was the foundation of an economic boom in the 13th century. That’s why you see pubs called The Fleece, The Lamb and The Drovers Arms, terraces of Weavers’ Cottages and grand Mill Houses in many towns and villages. These days the priority on most farms is producing meat rather than wool, but the UK still has an output of more than 28,700 tonnes in the most recent wool season (2015).

Farming has the ‘multiplier effect’. For example, in England there are 34,000 people employed on sheep farms and other 111,405 in allied industries, contributing £291.4m to employment. That’s great news for the economy.

When buying lamb look out for the Red Tractor logo, or regional logos such as Welsh Lamb, Scotch Lamb, the Quality Stand Mark England, or Farm Quality Assured Northern Ireland. These logos mean every critical step of the food supply chain is independently inspected to ensure food is produced to quality standards from farm to pack. See here for a buyer’s guide to lamb.

Eating lamb is good for a healthy, balanced diet, as it has lots of nutrients in a relatively small amount of food, including iron, protein, folates, zinc and B vitamins. 

Fully trimmed raw lean lamb contains just 8% fat. The UK produced nearly 290,000 tonnes of sheep meat last year, of which over one-third was exported around the world. 

The average person in the UK eats 1.9kg of delicious lamb a year. 

The UK produces 298,000 tonnes of sheep meat a year, of which 64% is consumed domestically and 36% is exported around the world.