The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has reported a 1% contraction in the size of the English breeding flock. There were 6.4m ewes recorded on farms on 1 December 2021, compared with last year's levels of 6.5m head.

As can be seen in the bar chart below, there has been quite a bit of variation in the size of the breeding flock in recent years. Flock numbers reduced significantly from 2017 to 2018.

The English breeding flock has experienced significant fluctuation in recent years and has fallen back after recording a significant increase in 2020.

Higher prices helped to fuel a recovery in numbers in 2020, but these have eased back once again.

In contrast, the number of sheep recorded in the category ‘other sheep and lambs’ increased by 9% to 4.6m head. This higher carryover of sheep was forecast by AHDB and is responsible for the higher levels of throughput recorded since the turn of the year.

Below normal levels

Sheep throughput in 2021 was significantly below normal levels, with fewer sheep carried over from 2020 due to Brexit concerns, while reports also suggest there was a lower lamb crop, with some farmers fearing Brexit-related disruption.

Throughput for much of 2021 was running in the region of 10% lower, with this situation switching in 2022.

The higher numbers in the market have allowed processors to maintain the upper hand in negotiations, with prices remaining static in recent weeks.

The latest AHDB price report shows deadweight prices averaging in the region of £5.66/kg or the equivalent of €6.80/kg at 83.2p to the euro.

Prices in Ireland and Northern Ireland are now running ahead of British prices, but market fortunes could change quickly, with a significant spike in demand expected for Ramadan, which begins on 2 April.