The UK sheep breeding flock for 2022 increased by 3% on 2021 to 14.5m, with a corresponding increase in lamb numbers forecast for this year of 17.5m according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board's (AHDB) latest sheep forecast.

It also reports an 8% increase in lamb slaughterings for the first six months of 2022 to 5.6m, though this could be partially explained by reported numbers for 2021 being lower than the actual throughput.

The AHDB estimates that there will be 7.3m lambs available for slaughter in the second half of 2022.

Looking ahead to 2023 and 2024, the AHDB forecasts that sheep trends will be relatively flat, with 1% year-on-year growth.

It points out that the largest risk to longer-term growth is “government policy on stocking density”, as BPS payments will be phased out by 2024 and future environmental schemes are unlikely to promote growth in production.


Both imports and exports have been significantly higher so far in 2022 compared with last year, as the disruption of COVID-19 and leaving the EU recedes.

Exports in the period of January to May are up by 22% and the AHDB expects this trend to continue for the remainder of this year.

The AHDB also notes the likelihood of Australian lamb arriving into the UK market

Imports for this period are 25% higher than last year, but the AHDB expects that this will slow down for the remainder of 2022.

The AHDB also notes the likelihood of Australian lamb arriving into the UK market before the end of the year when the trade deal with Australia comes into effect.

However, it also points out that the implications of this is more likely substitution of other imported product as opposed to overall increase in imports.

Lamb consumption

High consumer price inflation has affected meat sales, with lamb particularly hit, as it is the most expensive meat option.

The AHDB reports that over the past 12 months, lamb sales are down 12% (volume) and 12% lower than they were before the pandemic.

However, out-of-home consumption has shown some growth, with lamb-based takeaways up from 7% in 2019 to 11% in 2021.

Eating out has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and the AHDB estimates that overall lamb consumption in 2022 will be down 18% on 2021 and 16% down on 2019.

Irish sheepmeat exports have also increased in 2022, up 21% at 30,055t for the period January to May compared with last year.

Britain is a significant customer, taking 5,424t between January and May, a 15.6% increase on the same period last year.

Ireland is less exposed to the British market for sheepmeat exports than for other product categories, but it still represents almost 20% of Irish exports and a similar percentage of UK imports.

Ireland is the joint-top supplier of imported lamb to Britain, along with New Zealand. This makes Ireland vulnerable to the opening of the market in Britain to Australian imports, which will add uncertainty to sales in 2023.