Sheep population down by over 8 percent in 2023

© ANP / Peter Hilz
The number of sheep in the Netherlands fell by 61 thousand (-8.4 percent) in 2023 compared to the previous year. This fall was due in part to Bluetongue virus, which has been prevalent in the Netherlands since September 2023. There were also fewer pigs and cattle than in 2022. This is clear from the latest figures released by Statistics Netherlands (CBS).

Sheep and goat populations
JaartalSheep (x 1 000)Goats (x 1 000)
* provisional figures

On 1 December 2023, there were over 662 thousand sheep in the Netherlands. The numbers of sheep kept for milk (only a small proportion in the Netherlands) and sheep aged six months or less have not fallen by much, if at all. However, the numbers of sheep aged between seven months and one year (-15.6 percent) and older than one year (-6.8 percent) have fallen.

Bluetongue virus is prevalent among ruminant animals, such as sheep, goats and cows. The virus can be fatal, particularly in sheep. The impact of the virus on the number of goats appears limited: the Netherlands’ goat population is down by 9 thousand (1.6 percent) compared to 2022. This fall is comparable to the decline seen the previous year.

Decline in sheep numbers particularly pronounced in Noord-Holland and Fryslân

The decline in sheep numbers has been the greatest in the provinces of Noord-Holland and Fryslân. In both these provinces, the sheep population fell by about 15 thousand. In percentage terms, the number of sheep fell the most in the province of Noord-Holland (15.7 percent). The decline in Fryslân was lower, at 11.5 percent, but still above average.

The decline in the province of Utrecht of 15.4 percent (6.5 thousand sheep) was also well above average. In Groningen and Limburg, the sheep population remained at around the same level as the previous year. Noord-Brabant was the only province where the sheep population actually increased relative to 2022 (+6.4 percent).

Change in sheep population, December 2023* relative to previous year
ProvinciePercentage ( %)
Fryslân -11.47
* provisional figures

Downward trend in number of cattle and pigs continues

The population of cattle and pigs in the Netherlands also fell slightly last year. On 1 December 2023, the cattle population had fallen to 3.7 million, a decline of nearly 28 thousand (0.7 percent) compared to one year earlier. The number of cattle has fluctuated at around this level since 2018, when the phosphate reduction plan was introduced.

The decline seen last year is particularly evident in dairy farming,. The number of both young stock (-1 percent) and mature dairy cows and calving cows (-1.5 percent) fell slightly.

The pig population also declined somewhat last year. There were nearly 10.5 million pigs at the start of December, around 235 thousand fewer (2.2 percent) than one year earlier.

Livestock population
JaartalGoats (2018=100)Cattle (2018=100)Sheep (2018=100)Pigs (2018=100)
* provisional figures