The size of the UK breeding flock increased by 3% in 2021 to reach 14.5m breeding ewes.

The 400,000 head increase was reported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and is based on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs annual census, which took place on 1 December.

The increase comes despite ewe numbers in England reducing by 1% to 6.4m head.

The number of other sheep on farms on 1 December increased from 8.1m to 8.3m head year-on-year, as reflected in the graph below.

Uncertainty due to Brexit had reduced the size of the UK's ewe flock in recent years, but with the UK's departure from the EU and higher prices, sheep numbers have recorded growth over the last 12 months.

The higher numbers in the system were expected, with the drafting pattern only getting back to normal after being disrupted by Brexit for the last few years.

Market trends

This applies in particular to farmers in Britain, with the sheep kill in Northern Ireland holding closer to the normal seasonal throughput.

This has resulted in the British hogget kill in 2022 running up to 10% higher than in 2021 in recent weeks and kept a lid on prices.

However, there has been some upward movement recorded over the last week. The AHDB reports the standard quality quotation (SQQ) for old-season lamb (hoggets) increasing by 6p/kg on average to £2.68/kg.

This is the equivalent of €3.18/kg and, as detailed in the price graph below, prices in 2022 continue to lag behind 2021 levels, with prices stagnant throughout February and much of March.

Hogget prices have been stagnant in recent weeks, with higher throughput giving factories more purchasing power.

Throughput in marts was recorded at 123,000 last week, some 19% higher than the corresponding week in 2021.

The AHDB also reports the SQQ old-season deadweight lamb price is stagnant.

Prices have averaged in the region of £5.69/kg (€6.75/kg) in recent weeks and the strong supplies are reflected in a kill of 228,250 head running 21% higher than the corresponding week 12 months earlier.