The results of the June UK livestock survey show a continued contraction in the UK sheep flock.

The total number of sheep and lambs on farms on 1 June 2021 fell by 290,000 head or 0.9% to 32.408m.

The survey estimates show a reduction in each category with the exception of ‘other sheep aged one year and over’, with this classification of sheep increasing by 72,000 head or by 16.1% to reach 521,000 head, as shown in Table 1.

It appears as though this increase is linked to higher numbers of sheep on farms that will be culled in the future, as the survey estimates show the number of ‘ewes intended for further breeding and slaughter’ recorded at 12.729m head and reducing by 89,000 head (0.6%) on June 2020 figures.

There is some stability in the number of replacements or ‘ewes intended for first time breeding’ entering the flock, with the numbers reducing marginally by 6,000 head, or 0.2%, and recorded at 2.546m head.

Greatest reduction

The greatest reduction recorded was in the number of lambs under one year old. There was 16.220m lambs on farms on 1 June, which represents a decrease of 266,000 head, or 1.6% fall.

This percentage fall in deemed relatively small in the overall context of the UK sheep flock, but the scale of the decrease is shown if it were to be expressed as a percentage of the Irish lamb / hogget kill, as it would equate to over 10% fewer sheep available for slaughter.

The timing of the report adds more weight to recent forecasts of tighter supplies of sheepmeat across Ireland and the UK in the coming months, following last week’s revelations of a significant drop in the volume of sheepmeat imported in to the UK from New Zealand in the run up to Christmas.

Price update

Meanwhile, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board's (AHDB) latest market update shows a steadying in the price of lambs traded through livestock auctions in the week ending 13 October.

The average standard quality quotation (SQQ) liveweight price was recorded at £2.35/kg (€2.79/kg at Friday afternoon's exchange rate of 84.3p to the euro), with the price update also highlighting that numbers traded through auction markets had increased by 8% to 124,000 head.

The deadweight price continues to follow upward momentum, with the midweek British price recorded at £5.22/kg or €6.19/kg.

Prices vary significantly across regions, ranging from £5.10/kg to £5.30/kg (€6.04/kg to €6.29/kg).