The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has revised 2024 lamb production estimates on the back of changing production trends.

The organisation had predicted that there would be 400,000 fewer hoggets carried forward from 2023 and available for slaughter in the first half of 2024.

However, with higher numbers of yearling ewe hoggets now being drafted for slaughter, this figure has been revised upwards, with the carryover of hoggets now estimated to fall by by 185,000 head to 4.1m head compared with the first half of 2023.

This will have a positive influence on 2024 production, but will have longer-term consequences in reducing breeding ewe numbers.

The AHDB highlights that a vibrant trade for all slaughter-fit sheep is underpinning higher drafting of ewe hoggets, with farmgate returns currently running at record levels.

"The current market situation seen in the domestic sheep market is a perfect storm of lower supplies (both domestically produced and imported) and better-than-expected consumer demand (domestically and through export channels), delivering a period of robust market prices.

"Given these developments and using recently released data, we have updated our domestic supply side predictions for the 2024 outlook".

Lower production

This increase in production in the first half of 2024 will be cancelled out by a higher-than-predicted fall in breeding ewe numbers.

The predicted lamb crop (spring 2024 to spring 2025) now sits at 15.9m head, a fall of 1.2% from 2023 levels.

The combined effect of these two trends is total sheepmeat production is expected to fall by 1.4% to 282,000 tonnes in 2024.

A reduced adult sheep slaughter is also expected to feed into lower production, with throughput predicted to fall by over 3%.

This will be most apparent in the first half of the year, with kill numbers expected to rebound slightly in the second half of the year.

Current trade

The latest AHDB market update for 18 April highlights that British deadweight sheep prices rebounded from the dip experienced a few weeks ago.

"The British old season lamb SQQ reached 851p/kg for the week ending 13 April. This was growth of 21.2p from the previous week, and 214p above the same week last year.

"Domestic supplies remain tight, as the AHDB estimated GB slaughterings are down by 7.6% (238,000 head) in the year to date, compared with 2023.

Estimated kill for the week ending 13 April totalled 176,000 head, which was a fall of 76,000 head from the equivalent post-Easter week in 2023."