Why is Rural Newfoundland & Labrador Not a Haven for a Thriving Sheep Industry?

Fields of Sheep, Northern Ireland

After exploring parts of Ireland during a vacation in November 2010, I was astounded by the resemblance to rural Newfoundland & Labrador. However, one key difference was all the lambs and sheep local in fields all throughout the island. This is a missed opportunity for our island that thrives in Ireland and New Zealand.

Fast facts

  1. 1. Meat is New Zealand’s second-largest food export and is worth $5.14 billion.
  2. 2.  Approximately 90 percent of sheep and lamb and 80 percent of beef meat producedeach year is exported. New Zealand’s key export markets for meat products are the United States and the European Union.
  3. 3. The main farmed species are sheep (34.2 million), cattle (9.6 million), deer (1.7 million) and goats (0.09 million).
  4. 4. New Zealand has the largest deer farming industry in the world – there are an estimated 4,000 farms with deer in New Zealand. It has around half the global farmed deer population (http://business.newzealand.com/common/files/Meat-industry-in-New-Zealand.pdf)

Sheep have been brought to our island since the 16th and 17th centuries. We have a climate that should enable sheep farms to thrive. However, local demand historically has been low and rural farms are in decline.  There were 341 sheep producers in Newfoundland and Labrador at the end of 1995, this represents a decline of 20% from 1977, according to the records of the Department of Forest Resources and Agrifoods and the Sheep Producers Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Between 1977 and 1995 the sheep population fluctuated between 5,700 and 9,700. Therefore, it can be concluded that the average flock size per farm has been increasing, but the total number of sheep farms has been on a decline [Handbook of Selected Agricultural Statistics, Page 11]. www.nr.gov.nl.ca/nr/agrifoods/marketing/lamb_beef_pork.pdf

Sheep in Rural Northern Ireland

 I was unable to find sheep numbers more recent than 1995, but I would hope they have increased from 10,000. In comparison to New Zealand’s current 35 million sheep, we do not factor in the global marketplace. A visit to the Sheep Producer’s Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (http://www.nfld.net/spanl/had the following message:

Welcome to the home of SPANL’s new Web Site. The SPANL website will begin further development in the upcoming months. The membership apologizes for the delays in finishing the site. We are a non-profit organization attempting to utilize the resources of our membership. Today computers are as common in the household and business as the VCR, practically everyone has access to the Internet. Through the development of this Website it is felt that a larger audience can be reached to showcase the SPANL and its tireless efforts to rebuild an industry that is part of Newfoundland’s history and culture.

Sheep have been a focus of Newfoundland popular culture. One only has to listen to the late Dick Nolan’s song, “Aunt Martha’s Sheep” which describes a sheep being stolen in Carmanville, NL. He was a talented folk musician, born in Corner Brook, NL.

There is a great opportunity for Newfoundland & Labrador to further develop and grow this industry, especially in rural areas.  Escalating meat prices, growing local demand and limited farmers committed to the future of the industry has established an environment for growth in this market. Historically we have been great mariners of the sea – there is room to transfer these skills to ranching and better land-base utilization.

Live Rural NL –

Christopher C. Mitchelmore 


  1. My name is Francis Aylward. I am from King’s Cove Bonavista Bay. My family and I live reside in Alberta for the moment. We are moving home to Nlfd this fall. We will be making an attemot to try and farm sheep and chickens and vegetables starting in the spring. If anyone has any helpful info pleas pass it on.

    1. Hi Frank – Have you contacted the Agriculture Development Specialist. There are programs for Agricultural Assistance, including the Growing Forward Program. It would be worth contacting the Department of Forestry & Agrifoods and Innovation, Business & Rural Development.

Leave a Reply