State of the Ontario Sheep Industry

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 430
Publication Date: September 2013
Order#: 13-061
Last Reviewed: September 2013
Written by: Delma Kennedy, Sheep Specialist, OMAF and Sarah Copeland, Student Assistant, OMAF

This Factsheet provides an overview of the state of the Ontario sheep industry for 2013 (based on the 2013 report).

The use of Imperial and metric measurement in this Factsheet reflects the way information is reported by the original source for the sheep industry. Prices for live animals are reported in pounds (lb). Prices for hanging carcasses are reported in kilograms (kg). Prices for the U.S. are reported in Imperial. The data has been left in its native form to reflect the standards used in the sheep industry.

Conversion Chart

1 lb = 0.453 kg. To convert from pounds to kilograms, multiply by 0.453.

1 kilogram = 2.204 lb. To convert from kilograms to pounds, multiply by 2.204.


Inventory - Canada

  • The national sheep flock expanded by 0.6% between January 1, 2012 and January 1, 2013, with the breeding flock increasing by 0.3%.
  • The Canadian breeding flock is now 672,900 head.
  • Ontario maintains the "largest breeding flock" status in Canada with 185,600 mature breeding ewes and 27,100 breeding replacements.
  • Provincial breeding flocks also increased in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
  • Breeding flocks in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador decreased in size, while the Prince Edward Island breeding flock maintained its size.

Inventory - U.S.

  • The national U.S. sheep flock decreased by 0.6%, and the breeding flock decreased by 0.5%
  • U.S. breeding flock now stands at 3.98 million head.

Market Prices

  • Ontario prices fell sharply in July 2012, resulting in annual average price decreases of 8%-13% across all of the market classes. Year-to-date prices for 2013 have remained low.
  • In 2012, 79% of sheep and lambs slaughtered were sold through auction markets.

Canadian Lamb Supply

  • Canadian sheep and lamb slaughter increased by 2.4% to 519,100 head.
  • Ontario continues to account for the majority of the national sheep and lamb slaughter at 50.6% (262,700 head).
  • Salvage value on cull sheep decreased in 2012 to C$93.65.
  • Lamb/mutton imports declined by 19.1% to 16,707 tonnes.
  • Lamb/mutton exports decreased by 40.4% to 161 tonnes.
  • Imports of live sheep and lambs for slaughter from the U.S. increased 65% to 33,000 head.
  • Export of live sheep and lambs to U.S. for slaughter decreased from 9,000 to 2,500 head in 2012.
  • Lamb consumption fell to 0.87 kg per capita in 2012 from 0.94 kg in 2011.

Wool Market

  • Canadian wool prices in 2011 were C$1.25/kg, up from C$0.86/kg in 2010.
  • Although official data is not yet published, reports state that wool prices decreased in 2012 and remain low due to the global economic downturn.

Sheep and Lamb Inventory - Canada

  • According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian sheep flock is holding steady with flock increases in Western Canada offset by flock decreases in Eastern Canada.
  • The total number of sheep and lambs on Canadian farms was estimated at 892,100 head - an increase of 0.6% compared to a year ago.

On January 1, 2013, the national flock consisted of:

  • 583,500 breeding ewes
  • 27,000 breeding rams
  • 89,400 replacement lambs
  • 219,200 market lambs

Figure 1 shows the historic national sheep flock breakdown from 1984 to 2013, while Figure 2 shows 2013 provincial flock size for each province.


According to Statistics Canada, Ontario's total flock size continues to increase, showing a 0.8% increase to 269,000 head, compared to the 2012 inventory of 267,000 head. Ontario's breeding flock remains almost the same, with an increase of 0.2%, and consists of 185,600 ewes, 27,100 replacement lambs and 8,600 rams. Ontario has the largest breeding flock in Canada, accounting for 33% of the national breeding flock. Figure 3 shows the historic Ontario sheep flock breakdown from 1984 to 2013.


Quebec has the second-largest breeding flock in Canada, representing 25% of the national flock. Quebec's breeding flock size decreased for the fifth year in a row, showing a 3.4% decrease compared to January 1, 2012. The Quebec breeding flock now consists of 140,900 ewes, 21,500 replacement lambs and 5,900 rams.

Western Canada

Expansion trends were seen in all the Western provinces. Alberta and Saskatchewan flock inventories on January 1 increased by 2.3% (to 158,000 head) and 4.1% (to 102,000 head), respectively. The Manitoba and British Columbia inventories also increased by 3.4% (to 60,000 head) and 2.2% (to 47,000 head), respectively. Alberta's breeding flock is third largest in Canada, accounting for 16.9% of the national breeding flock, at 113,400 head, followed by Saskatchewan with 10.8%, at 72,800 head, Manitoba with 5.6%, at 37,900 head, and British Columbia with 4.9% at 33,200 head.

Figure 1. A line graph showing Canadian sheep flock inventories from 1984 to 2013. The y-axis (vertical) goes from 200,000 at the bottom to 1,100,000 at the top. The x-axis (horizontal) lists the years 1984 to 2013 from left to right. Changes in ewe, replacement lambs, rams and market lamb numbers show a slight decline in the late eighties, then a rise to a peak in the early 2000s and then a decline.

Figure 1. Canadian Sheep Flock Inventory, 1984-2013. Shows the changes in the Canadian sheep flock and its subcategories since 1984. Source: Statistics Canada.

Figure 2. The 2013 provincial flock size is shown as a bar graph with representation for market lambs, rams, replacements and ewes. The graph lists the provinces in geographic order across the bottom, starting with British Columbia and moving to Newfoundland. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 at the bottom and goes up to 300,000, representing the number of head of each type.

Figure 2. Provincial Flock Size. Shows the current flock size and make-up for each province. Source: Statistics Canada.

Figure 3. A line graph showing the Ontario sheep flock by year and animal class. The x-axis (horizontal) lists the years starting at 1984 on the left, going to 2012. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 and goes to 300,000 head. Changes in ewe, replacement lambs, rams and market lamb numbers show a slight decline in the late eighties, a rise to a peak in the early 2000s and then a decline.

Figure 3. Ontario Sheep Flock, January 1 by Year, by Animal Class. Shows yearly changes in the Ontario sheep flock, by sheep class since 1984.

Figure 4. Bar graph showing representation for market lambs, rams, replacements and ewes for the U.S. The x-axis (horizontal) lists the years starting at 1997 and moving to 2013. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 at the bottom and goes up to 9 million head. The graph shows a slight decline in numbers from 1997 to 2013, where the numbers seem to level off.

Figure 4. U.S. Sheep Flock, January 1, by Year. Shows yearly changes in the U.S. sheep flock over the past 5 years and census years, by sheep class. Source: USDA-NASS Sheep & Goats.

Atlantic Provinces

The Atlantic Provinces showed an overall decrease in breeding flock size of 2.7%. Prince Edward Island was the only province to maintain its breeding flock size, while the other provinces showed decreases. The Atlantic breeding flock consists of 26,000 head, representing 3.9% of the national breeding flock. Nova Scotia is home to the largest portion of the Atlantic Canada breeding flock, with 15,000 head, followed by New Brunswick, with 5,400 head, Prince Edward Island, with 4,100 head, and Newfoundland and Labrador, with 1,500 head.

Sheep and Lamb Inventory - U.S.

Sheep and lamb inventory in the U.S. totalled 5.34 million head, on January 1, 2013, down 1% from 2012. Breeding sheep inventory decreased to 3.98 million head on January 1, 2013, down 0.5% from 4 million head on January 1, 2012. Ewes 1-year-old and older, at 3.14 million head, were 0.8% below last year. Figure 4 shows the changes in the U.S. sheep flock over the past 5 years and census years since 1997.

Market sheep and lambs on January 1, 2013, totalled 1.36 million head, down 0.7% from January 1, 2012. Market lambs comprised 94% of the total - 23.5% were lambs under 65 lb, 11.8% were 65-84 lb, 22.4% were 85-105 lb, and 36.8% were over 105 lb. Market sheep comprised the remaining 6% of the total.

Figure 5. Line graph showing annual average price for Ontario lambs. The x-axis (horizontal) lists the years 1996 through 2012. The y-axis (vertical) starts at $50 at the bottom and goes up to $250. Five lines show prices for new crop lambs, 79 lb, 80-94 lb, 95-109 lb and greater than 110 lb. The lines decrease from 1996 to 2001, then rise to a high in 2011.

Figure 5. Annual Average Price for Ontario Lambs in Different Weight Categories. Shows annual average price and 5-year average price for the past 5 years and census years, C$/100 lb.

Markets - Canada


During 2012, market prices in Ontario dropped significantly for all weight categories. Figure 5 shows the annual average prices for lambs in Ontario over the past 5 years and census years. Actual prices received by producers were similar to 2011 for the first 6 months and much lower than the 2012 yearly average for the last 6 months of the year.

The prices of lambs 65-79 lb, with an average price of C$201, were 9.3% lower than in 2011. Average price received for 80-94-lb lambs during 2012, at C$179 was 13.7% lower than in 2011.

Price for heavier lambs showed decreases as well, with lambs 95-109 lb 14.7% lower at C$174, while lambs over 110 lb were 9.7% lower at C$163. Sheep prices at C$93 were 8.4% lower compared to 2011.

Volume of sheep and lambs sold through Ontario's eight major lamb markets showed an increase of 12.8% for 2012 and consisted of 166,000 lambs and 42,500 cull sheep. All sheep and lamb categories showed an increase in volume from 2011. Sheep volumes increased by 20.8% to 42,500 head. See Appendices A and B at the end of this document for more details of price and volume of lambs by weight category, and by month.

In 2012, the volume of sheep and lambs sold through auction markets in Ontario, as a percentage of those slaughtered in the province, rose compared to 2011 and represented 79.4% of the sheep and lambs slaughtered in Ontario plants (federal and provincial).

Table 1. Average value of lamb and sheep per head, by market sale category, by year
Type Average weight1 2012 $/Head 2011 $/Head 2010 $/Head 2009 $/Head 2008 $/Head
65-79 lb
80-94 lb
95-109 lb
+ 110 lb

1 Average weight calculated using 2008-2012 monthly average weights.

Source: OSMA Website and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Table 1 provides a comparison of lamb and sheep value based on a calculated average weight and yearly average prices for the weight categories representing the majority of lambs sold live. The price spread in dollars received per head from light to heavy lambs varies by year, with 2011 showing the greatest price spread.

Market prices generally show seasonal fluctuations. Figure 6 shows current 2013 Ontario weekly prices for 80-94-lb lambs compared to 2012 prices and 5-year average price. So far, weekly prices have been significantly lower than in 2012 and also lower than the 5-year average price. In the first half of 2013, prices seemed to follow the seasonal trend with an increase in price around March and a decrease at the beginning of the summer months. Contrary to the usual trend, there has been a marked increase in price since July 2, 2012, back to price levels seen in the summer of 2012. However, prices still remain significantly lower than 2012 average prices.

Figure 6. Line graph showing the average weekly price for lambs 80-94 lb from January to January. Price per hundredweight listed along the y-axis (vertical), starting at 125 at the bottom and going up to 250. Prices show a peak around May and then decline. 2013, 2012 and 2008-2012 are shown.

Figure 6. Ontario Weekly Average Price for Ontario Lambs 80-94 lb. All sales from all reporting markets. Source: Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency.


All Quebec lambs, 80 lb and heavier, must be sold through the single desk lamb marketing program of the Fédération des producteurs d'agneaux et moutons du Québec (FPAMQ). The index price is based on warm-dressed carcass weight and carcass grade, and is renegotiated on a regular basis. The most recent negotiated price for 2013 is C$8.10/kg for the period June 2-July 27. This price has been the same since February 17. See Table 2 for previous index prices.

Lambs weighing less than 80 lb continue to be sold outside the single-desk selling program. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in 2012, lambs less than 79 lb averaged C$215.98. This is a decrease of 3.1% from 2011. New crop lambs averaged C$234.90/100 lb, down 1.5% from 2011.

Slaughter sheep averaged C$90 in Quebec, down 11% from 2011 and C$3 less than the average price in Ontario.

Table 2. FPAMQ Index Price
Year Time Period Negotiated Base Price ($/kg)
2012 January 1-January 31
February 1-June 2
June 3-September 1
September 2-December 1
2013 December 2-February 2
February 3-February 16
February 17-May 4
May 5-June 1
June 2-July 27

Source: FPAMQ Website

Markets - U.S.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, average market lamb prices at San Angelo were much lower in 2012 than 2011. Prices for 2013 continue to be lower again. The average annual price for lambs in 2012 was US$141.08 per 100 lb, down 17.4% from 2011. The latest price for June 2013 was US$95.25 per 100 lb. As seen in Figure 7, U.S. prices are showing a decreasing trend, similar to Ontario prices.

The prices for market sheep in the U.S. have increased slightly. According to the USDA, in January 2013 the average price was US$129/cwt, up 8.4% from the same time last year.

Slaughter - Canada

Canadian sheep and lamb slaughter increased in 2012 to 519,100 head, 2.4% higher than the 2011 figure of 507,100 head. As shown in Figure 8, all four regions showed a small increase in sheep and lamb slaughter.

Figure 9 illustrates the volume of sheep and lambs slaughtered, by inspection method, in each region of Canada. The number of sheep and lambs slaughtered in 2012 in the Western provinces increased to 106,900 head, up 6.6%; Quebec slaughter increased to 139,100 head, up 1.3% from 2011; and Ontario increased to 262,700 head, up 1.2%. The Atlantic Provinces also showed a slight increase up, to 10,400 head.

Note: Federal slaughter data for the Atlantic region is now combined with Quebec data. As such, the graph indicates provincial slaughter only for Atlantic Canada.

Ontario continues to have the largest combined slaughter, accounting for 50.6% of all sheep and lambs slaughtered in Canada, down slightly from 51.2% in 2011, while the Western provinces make up 20.6% of the national sheep and lamb slaughter (up from 19.8% in 2011). Quebec makes up 26.8% of the national slaughter, and the Atlantic Provinces make up the remaining 2%.

Figure 7. A line graph showing the average U.S. prices by month for 2013, 2012 and 2011. The y-axis (vertical) starts at $0 at the bottom and goes up to $250. The x-axis (horizontal) starts at January and goes to December. Prices show a generally decreasing trend.

Figure 7. U.S. Average Prices. Shows the average monthly prices for lambs at San Angelo in US$/100 lb for 2011-2013.

Figure 8. Stacked bar graph showing Canadian lamb and sheep slaughter by year. The x-axis (horizontal) starts at 1996 and goes to 2012. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 at the bottom and goes up to 600. An increase is shown from 1996 to 2006, then a slight decline in 2011 and 2012. The proportions of slaughter for Ontario, the West, the Atlantic regions and Quebec are shown.

Figure 8. Canadian Sheep and Lamb Slaughter. Shows the regional contributions to national slaughter by year. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Figure 9. Stacked bar graph showing the sheep and lamb slaughter for 2012 by region for Ontario, Quebec, the West and the Atlantic regions. Provincial slaughter is the bottom part of each bar and federal slaughter is the top part. Ontario has the most provincial slaughter, followed by Quebec. Quebec has the most federal slaughter, followed by the West. Across the x-axis (horizontal) are listed the West, Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic Provinces. The y-axis starts at 0 at the bottom and goes up to 325,000.

Figure 9. Sheep and Lamb Slaughter 2012, by Region, by Inspection Method. Shows regional contributions to national slaughter. Source: Statistics Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Figure 10. A stacked bar graph showing Ontario sheep and lamb slaughter by year and inspection method. Provincial slaughter is the bottom part of each bar and federal slaughter is the top part. The x-axis (horizontal) starts at 1996 and moves to 2012. The y-axis (vertical) lists the number of head slaughtered in total, starting at 0 at the bottom and increasing to 350,000. Slaughter peaked in 2006.

Figure 10. Ontario Sheep and Lamb Slaughter, by Year and Inspection Method. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Animals that are slaughtered under federal inspection can be sold throughout other provinces in Canada as well as exported to international markets. Of the total sheep and lambs slaughtered in Canada in 2012, federal slaughter accounted for 30.9% (160,200 head), up slightly from 2011. Animals slaughtered in provincial facilities can only be sold within the province where they were slaughtered.

As shown in Figure 10, Ontario's federally inspected slaughter in 2012 decreased by 23.7% compared to 20,325 head a year ago, and accounted for 7.7% of the total sheep and lamb slaughter in the province. Conversely, the majority of lambs slaughtered in Western Canada are done so under federal inspection.

In 2012, 69.1% of sheep and lamb slaughter was provincially inspected in Canada.

Slaughter - U.S.

In 2012, commercial sheep and lamb slaughter in the U.S. totalled 2.28 million head, up 0.8% from 2.26 million head in 2011. Of the total commercial sheep and lamb slaughter in 2012, 88.4% comprised federal inspection. Lambs accounted for 92.9% of the slaughter at 1.87 million head. The average live weight was up 6 lb to 147 lb. Average carcass weight was up 4 lb to 74 lb.

Table 3 lists the major sheep and lamb slaughter regions within Canada and the U.S. Ontario ranks as the third-largest slaughter region. Quebec and Alberta continue to remain among the top 10.

Table 3. Top 10 North American sheep & lamb slaughter regions, 2012, also ranked by flock size (January 1, 2013)
  # Slaughtered (per 1,000 head) Breeding Flock Size (per 1,000 head)
Region 2011 2012 Rank 2012 2013 Rank
7 (U.S.)
2 (U.S.)
1 (Canada)
20 (U.S.)
25 (U.S.)
2 (Canada)
New Jersey
3 (Canada)
1 (U.S.)
14 (U.S.)
10 (U.S.)

* Slaughter data is extrapolated from regional numbers

n/a New Jersey's flock data is combined with a number of other states

Source: USDA-NASS and Statistics Canada

Imports into Canada - Dressed Meats

Imports of dressed lamb and mutton into Canada decreased by 19.1% in 2012 to 16,707 tonnes (Figure 11). Dressed lamb imports in 2012 increased by 1.9% to 13,311 tonnes, while dressed mutton imports fell by 20.1% to 2,182 tonnes.

New Zealand supplied 61.2% of the lamb imported into Canada (8,148 tonnes) in 2012 and 82.2% of the mutton (1,794 tonnes). Australia continues to make inroads in the Canadian market, now supplying 34.8% of the lamb meat and 16.2% of the mutton imports. Imports of dressed lamb from the U.S. increased from 294 to 482 tonnes in 2012.

Lamb cuts bone-in is the single largest category of imported dressed meats, accounting for 67.2% of total imports in 2012. Lamb and mutton carcasses accounted for only 1.1% of the total imports in 2012, compared to 6% and 8% in the mid-1990s.

Exports from Canada - Dressed Meats

Figure 11 also illustrates that in 2012, Canada exported 161 tonnes of dressed lamb and mutton, a decrease of 40.4% from 2011. Canada's main export market is the U.S., which accounted for 58.4% of all dressed lamb and mutton exports in 2012.

Imports of Live Sheep and Lambs from the U.S.

In 2012, imports increased to 33,137 head. This was an increase of 65% from 19,536 in 2011.

Exports of Live Sheep and Lambs to the U.S.

In 2005, exports of market sheep and lambs to the U.S. resumed, after being prohibited as a result of the border closure since May 20, 2003. In July 2005, the border reopened to slaughter lambs less than 12 months old. In 2012, 2,569 head of live sheep and lambs were exported from Canada to the U.S., down from 9,008 in 2011. Figure 12 shows yearly export and import of live sheep trade with the U.S. in relation to the total slaughter in Canada. Adjusted slaughter refers to the slaughter of Canadian-raised sheep and lambs, excluding those that have been imported.

Lamb Consumption

Lamb consumption in Canada fell again in 2012 (Figure 13). Per-capita consumption of lamb and mutton in 2012 was 0.87 kg, a decrease of 7.4% from 2011.

Figure 11. Line graph showing the imports and exports of lamb and sheep meat into Canada. The x-axis (horizontal) lists years across the bottom, from 2003 to 2012. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 and goes up to 30,000. Exports are shown as a nearly flat graph along the bottom. Imports are relatively constant till 2006, when they increase, then there is a decline to 2012.

Figure 11. Imports and Exports of Lamb and Sheep Meat into Canada, metric tonnes. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Annual Canada and United States Sheep and Lamb Comparison 2012.

Figure 12. A line graph comparing Canadian yearly slaughter and imports and exports. The x-axis (horizontal) starts at 1993 and goes to 2011. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0 and goes up, to 600,000 head. Three lines are shown, with a vertical bar at the year 2004 crossing the three lines.

Figure 12. Comparison of Canadian Yearly Slaughter and Imports/Exports of Live Sheep and Lambs to U.S. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Figure 13. Bar graph showing lamb consumption in Canada per capita. The x-axis (horizontal) lists years from 1996 to 2012. The y-axis (vertical) starts at 0, going up to 1.2 kg. Lamb consumption generally rose till a peak in 2006 and 2007 and then has fallen off.

Figure 13. Lamb Consumption in Canada, per Capita, kg per Year, Carcass Weight. Source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Wool Market - Canada

Prices that Ontario producers received for their wool during 2011 rose to C$1.14/kg. According to Statistics Canada, the quantity of Canadian wool purchased from farms in 2011 totalled 1.26 million kg, an increase of 6.6% over the 2010 quantity of 1.18 million kg. The 2011 wool production was valued at C$1.64 million, an increase of 54.5% over 2010. Ontario, Quebec and Alberta were the primary wool producers in 2011, accounting for 37.4%, 24% and 19.7%, respectively, of the quantity of the national wool clip. On a value basis, Alberta's wool clip represents 28.3% of the national clip, Ontario represents 33.7%, while Quebec represents 17.1% of the value of the national wool clip.

Wool Market - U.S.

Shorn wool production in the U.S. during 2012 was 28.5 million lb, down 2.7% from 2011. Sheep and lambs shorn totalled 3.93 million head, down 2.5% from 2011. The average price paid for wool sold in 2012 was US$1.53/lb for a total value of US$43.6 million, down 10.8% from US$48.9 million in 2011.

Genetic Evaluation Program

The Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency supports genetic evaluation for Ontario producers as a tool that producers can use to improve the genetic merit of their flock and monitor flock performance. A large database of the performance records of tested sheep breeds in Ontario and throughout Canada is maintained at the University of Guelph. It is accessed by the GenOvis and BioFlock programs to provide genetic improvement information with the purpose of helping producers evaluate potential breeding stock and compare the productivity of ewes in a flock.

According to the 2012 Annual Report, in Canada, 174 producers tested 43,696 lambs, 19,030 ewes and 1,750 rams, representing 30 breeds (not including cross-breeds). The average number of lambs born per lambing was 2.09, and the average number weaned per lambing increased to 1.81. The average number of ewes and lambs per producer in 2012 was 109 and 251 respectively.

Table 4. Cheese imports into Canada (varieties typically made from sheep's milk) in kg
  2009 2010 2011 2012
Fresh - Ricotta