Livestock census surprisingly encouraging for sheep sector

The 2013 Defra livestock numbers survey showed disappointing figures in some areas, but sheep numbers were “surprising and very positive”.

Both the UK beef herd and the breeding pig herd are still in decline, but the total sheep breeding flock has increased by 4% in the UK and 6% in England from 2012.

The annual Defra statistics show cattle, sheep and pig numbers in England and the UK as at December each year.

Paul Heyhoe, senior analyst at AHDB intelligence said: “On the sheep side, there has been a sustainable growth in breeding sheep, which has come as quite a surprise.

“We had horrible weather conditions in 2012 and we were expecting to see a loss in the stock in 2013, so to see an improvement is very positive.

“It shows good resilience in the sheep industry and maybe shows more people are taking an interest in it due to its profitability.”

Overall sheep and lamb numbers were down from 22.991 million to 22.624 million, but Heyhoe said the significance lay in the breeding flock.

He added that there was now likely to be a bigger lamb crop long-term, meaning increased production in the supply chain.

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association said: “The increase in the sheep breeding flock is encouraging and we hope this can be sustained.”

Appearances were deceptive in the statistics on the pig population. The total number of pigs increased from 4.216 million to 4.383 million, but the UK breeding herd dropped by 1%.

Stephen Howarth, AHDB/Bpex market specialist manager, said: “The breeding herd is down, it’s only slightly down, but it’s a pretty negative picture.  

“Producers had a better year in 2013, with feed prices down and the financial situation improving, so it was a surprise to see the herd down. We are going to be in a tight supply situation for the rest of the year.

The cattle population also continued to suffer in 2013 with the total breeding beef herd down by 3%.

Heyhoe said: “The figures indicate fewer beef cows in the future and this will impact on business. It will add extra pressure on the supply chain.”

Rossides added: “The continuing fall, if only gradual, of the UK cattle breeding herd, and especially of the specialist beef herd, is a matter of concern to processors. Global beef demand is firm and the UK should be meeting a higher proportion of domestic needs, as well as exporting to the rest of the world.

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