Farming sheep

The UK sheep industry makes best use of the different breeds, land and weather conditions in different areas of the country, by matching breeds and production methods to the area.

The sheep industry includes lowland, hill and upland production. 


Ewes (female sheep) are usually mated (known as 'tupping') with rams (male sheep) in October/November. Rams are sometimes fitted with 'raddle' harnesses, to which different coloured dye pens can be attached, allowing the farmer to see which ewes the ram has mated with and when.


A sheep (ewe) standing in a field © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

Most lambs are born in late Winter or Spring. However, some breeds naturally produce lambs at other times of the year, and certain artificial techniques can make the breeding season earlier.


Many lambs are born outside, particularly those in hill or upland flocks. Extra shelter (straw bales etc.) is often provided, and many flocks are gathered and brought down to lower, more sheltered land prior to lambing.


Indoor lambing is common, particularly for lowland flocks. Good housing facilities and management are important in order to prevent disease and heat stress problems occurring. Lambing indoors can be stressful for ewes, as they prefer to seek isolation before giving birth. However, indoor lambing can reduce the risk of lambs dying from hypothermia/exposure, and it is also often easier for stock-keepers and vets to check/treat the animals.


Most lambs spend their lives on pasture. They may be transported to different areas to overwinter on grass before returning to their home farm. These are called store lambs.

Transport and livestock markets

Sheep can be frequently transported throughout their lives and are often sold via livestock markets.


Most lambs/sheep are slaughtered at 10 weeks to 6 months, though some may be 14 months old. 

Size of the UK industry

In 2018, there were over 33 million sheep and lambs in the UK, with the sheep breeding flock containing around 16 million breeding ewes1. In 2017, over 14.8 million sheep have been slaughtered for meat in the UK2.

1Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board 2019 - The UK sheep yearbook 2019.

2 FAOSTATS. (2019) Production: Livestock primary [online]. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Statistics Division.

Find out about some of the key welfare issues for sheep.

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