UK sheep slaughter figures have increased by 12% in February compared to 2022, with factory throughput up 105,000 head compared to last year.

The latest figures confirm industry forecasts of a significant hike in British sheep slaughterings this year.

The most recent data from Britain’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) shows that throughput of clean sheep in UK slaughter plants was 969,700 animals in February.

This was an increase not only on last year, but was also 27,000 head higher than the throughput figure for January.

The increase in numbers was reflected in the higher output of sheep meat, with overall production topping 22,000 tonnes in February. Output for January was 21,500 tonnes.

“This bucks the seasonal trends seen in the previous five years whereby throughputs have fallen from January to February by an average of 126,000 head. The higher throughputs for February are likely due to higher carryover,” AHDB stated.

Production figures

“Carcase weight changes had little bearing on production figures for February, with clean sheep sitting in line with January at 20kg/head. Carcase weights have eased 0.9kg/head year-on-year, and sit only 0.3kg/head under the 5-year average,” it added.

UK sheep meat exports this year are forecast to increase significantly on the back of higher output and an 8% drop in consumption across Britain and Northern Ireland.

Overall, UK sheep meat production this year is forecast to total around 302,000 tonnes. This is an increase of 9% on 2022.

“For 2023, UK supply and demand projections could suggest exports continuing to prove crucial, with volumes forecast to increase by over 15% versus 2022, closer to volumes seen in 2020,” AHGB stated.

“The competitiveness of UK product in the EU will be key to exports; current macroeconomic conditions point to relative weakness in sterling being maintained. However, other projected market dynamics in the EU remain a risk. Consumption is expected to come under pressure in 2023, linked with price inflation and tighter consumer budgets,” it added.

Increased British exports have been blamed for contributing to the recent slide in Irish hogget prices.

Factory quotes ranged from €6.35/kg to €6.50/kg this week, but the ICSA has warned that €8.30/kg is required to keep farmers in sheep.