Reduction in lamb carcase weights in 2016

The latest data released by Defra this week shows how lambs were taken to market at lighter weights in 2016.

The January edition of HCC’s Market Bulletin gives an overview of the 2016 sheep market with figures showing that lamb carcase weights were significantly lighter than in the previous year. For the eight month period from May to December, the average carcase weight in the UK was 19kg, nearly half a kg lighter than in 2015.

This supports anecdotal reports in 2016 of producers struggling to finish lambs given the unfavourable growing conditions in late spring and early summer.

The weather was one factor that had a significant effect on the lamb sector. The most momentous trading event of the year, however, was the UK’s decision to leave the EU in June. This referendum had an immediate positive impact on sheep and lamb prices. As Sterling weakened against the Euro, live weight lamb prices were boosted by 11p/kg in a week, and came at a time when, historically, the market is expected to decline.

The effect of the fall in Sterling was felt for the remainder of the year as financial returns for exports increased when compared with the previous year. Some export markets, particularly France, remained difficult for UK exporters, as consumption patterns and retail purchasing policies were unpredictable.

HCC’s Industry Information Executive John Richards said: “Looking forward, it is difficult to see Sterling strengthening greatly, especially as uncertainty continues over when the UK Government will trigger Article 50 and what will become of trade agreements in the post-Brexit era.”

On a production level, Defra slaughtering data shows that the total throughput of lambs at UK abattoirs between May and December 2016 was just over 9 million, slightly down on the same period in 2015.

John Richards added: “The June survey data suggests that there was a larger lamb crop last year. There should therefore be adequate supplies of lambs to the market in the next few months. However, as cull ewe throughputs at abattoirs last year were over 6 per cent higher than in 2015, some of these additional lamb numbers may be kept for future breeding.”

The Market Bulletin can be found on the HCC website: