UK hogg kill up, but tightening

UK abattoirs handled almost 470,000 more prime sheep in the last six months compared with the previous year, according to Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

During January alone, the UK hogg kill was 8% higher than in 2014, although Scottish supplies were tightening and Scottish abattoirs handled nearly 3% fewer hoggs in January, said Stuart Ashworth, QMS head of economics services.

Auction market throughputs for February suggest that hogg supplies have tightened further, with English and Welsh auction throughputs falling below last years levels and Scottish numbers continuing below year-earlier levels. Carcase weights continue to be heavier than last year and so the tonnage of lamb meat continues to run well ahead of last year, said Ashworth.

However the slaughtering of mature sheep continues to be well below levels of the previous year. According to Ashworth, June to January cull ewe and ram slaughterings were reported to be almost 16%, (225,000 head) lower than last year and, in January alone, the kill was nearly 24% lower.

Going forward, Ashworth said this tightening of supplies was likely to be helping hogg prices, although it could result in a further 100,000 hoggs more than last year in the system.

Equally however, many of these may be being retained for future breeding to support some growth in breeding sheep numbers and the tightening of market supplies offers support for this option, Ashworth explained.

European and New Zealand prices

Ashworth said tightening supplies in Europe and New Zealand was also helping raise UK farm-gate prices.

Hogg numbers have also tightened in Ireland where the kill since the start of the year has been nearly 3% lower than last year, again helping to support farm-gate prices.

Meanwhile, in France, the hogg kill in January was 1% lower than a year ago. European prices are consequently currently higher than last year, up in general more than 5% on the year in most major producing countries.

In contrast to the European market, the New Zealand market is currently under some pressure. After a slow start, drought conditions in several parts of New Zealand have seen a major rush of lambs into plants, observed Ashworth.

New Zealand slaughter statistics show a 35% increase in January slaughter numbers and an 11.5% increase since the start of the season. Setting these numbers in the context of Beef + Lamb New Zealands early forecasts of the lamb crop being unchanged, then New Zealand supplies must be expected to tighten as the year progresses.

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