The results of the Welsh agriculture and horticulture survey for June 2020 show sheep numbers standing at 8.98m head.
This represents a 6% reduction in sheep numbers compared to June 2019 figures. The 544,000 head fall in numbers was driven by the number of sheep aged one year and over falling by approximately 412,000, or 8%, to 4,481,000 head, as detailed in Table 1.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) estimates that in the region of 95% of these animals over one year of age are ewes. The number of lambs under one year of age also recorded a reduction, but not to the same extent as older sheep, with lamb numbers falling by approximately 132,000, or 3%, to 4,508,000.
This lower reduction in lamb numbers relative to the reduction in sheep aged over one year of age represents either an increase in the lamb crop in 2020 or a reduction in mortality. It is likely that both of these factors had an influence, with higher scanning rates reported in spring and conditions being largely favourable for mid-season lambing flocks.
The higher reduction in sheep aged over one year is a concern for the sector, however. It is likely that there were higher numbers of ewes culled in autumn 2019 due to Brexit-related market concerns.
The rate of culling slowed drastically in 2020, with the AHDB reporting 15% fewer adult sheep being slaughtered in the UK between January and November 2020 when compared to 2019 levels.