UK sheep flock increases

Industry figures have revealed that the UK’s breeding flock has increased year-on-year. 

According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the total number of sheep and lambs in the UK increased by 3.1% during 2016 to an estimated 23.8 million animals.

Within this number, the UK’s breeding flock rose by 0.9% to 14.8 million animals, while the other sheep and lambs sector increased by an estimated 6.7% to 9.1 million animals. According to Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), this indicated a high carryover of lambs this year compared to last.

“Reasonable lambing conditions contributed to an increase in lambs in 2016 within Wales and the UK as a whole,” said John Richards, HCC’s industry information executive. “However, the sheep sector was also faced with unfavourable weather at certain stages during the year. As a result, some producers reported difficulties in finishing their lambs.”

Figures showed that, for the first quarter of 2017, a similar number of lambs were brought forward for 2017 compared to last year.

“The figures suggest a possibility of a high number of old-season lambs on UK farms, although it is unclear how many of these will be kept for further breeding,” added Richards. “It is also expected that, given the later Easter this year, we will see higher throughput numbers by the end of this month.

“Looking at the breeding ewe numbers, it is encouraging that the national flock seems to be in gradual growth. This hopefully suggests a greater sense of confidence and optimism within the sector, despite the political uncertainty that currently exists.”

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association chief executive, told Meat Trades Journal: “It is encouraging to see figures showing slight growth of the national breeding flock again. Although the increase in total sheep at 1 December means little, except we know there has been a high carry over of lambs and we need to get these through the system to make room for when new season volume starts to hit the market. Overall, while Brexit is bringing much uncertainty for the future, it is clear that the role of sheep within farming is well recognised and there is enthusiasm in the sector. Maintaining prices and viability will be key to ensuring this continues.”

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