Sheep numbers rise as prices fall

A steady increase in sheep and lamb numbers was witnessed in the UK in 2014, suggesting a strong and healthy national flock.

This has contributed to a subdued market place for both new and old season lambs during the past month.

Charlotte Morris, Industry Information Officer at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) said: “An increased population of breeding ewes, a good lambing season and more lambs on the ground have contributed to the recent price pressures on the spring lamb market.

“A combination of subdued demand and increased level of production, particularly following the Easter period, as well as the strength of the sterling against the euro, have also presented difficulties in trading.”

According to the UK December Survey of Agriculture, the total number of sheep and lambs in the UK reached 22.9 million head on 1 December 2014 - an increase of four per cent on the previous year.

For the fifth consecutive year, breeding flock numbers also increased, with a rise of three per cent.

Changes in the number of sheep and lambs sent to slaughter were also witnessed in 2014 with a reduction in adult sheep slaughterings and a higher level of slaughtered lambs.

Cull ewe slaughterings between December 2014 and March 2015 were 150,000 head lower than the same time in the previous year, a decline of 24 per cent. This indicates that the increased numbers of breeding ewes witnessed in December are still on the ground.

In total, some 4.08 million lambs went through UK abattoirs in the four months between December 2014 and March 2015 – nine per cent, or 330,000 more than in the same period in the previous year.

Miss Morris added: “This combination of factors suggest that lamb producers retained their breeding ewes for this year and future production. 

“Furthermore, lambs were not presented at market during November and December, and as a result, there was a larger carry-over into 2015, contributing to the additional 460,000 lambs that were reported in the December 2014 survey.”

With a larger breeding flock on the ground, an increased lamb crop is expected in the 2015/16 season. This will result in more lambs entering the market in the coming months, particularly given the favourable conditions most farmers experienced during the lambing period.