Lamb numbers increase as pig numbers and carcase weights decrease

Lamb numbers increase as pig numbers and carcase weights decrease

Reduced carcase weights are limiting production volumes despite sheep and cattle numbers climbing during the first half of 2023, according to the latest UK abattoir data.

Despite other sectors reporting more slaughter, the pig industry is down 11% when looking at the same period in 2022.

Defra figures have revealed that prime lamb slaughterings have been strong so far in 2023 with March recording the highest monthly throughput level of 1.2 million head.

“This is a result of a higher carry over of old season lambs into 2023 following a drier summer and higher feed costs last year which delayed lambs coming forward at the end of 2022,” said Glesni Phillips, Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC)’s intelligence, analysis and business insight executive in this month’s Market Bulletin issued by HCC.

“Although new season lambs were slower to come forward initially, demand surrounding Easter and Ramadan encouraged higher numbers with June recording well over 1 million head,” reported Phillips.

“As a result, over 5.9 million lambs have been processed at UK abattoirs so far this year – up 4% (251,400 head) on 2022 levels, and 6% ahead of the longer term five-year average.”


“Overall prime cattle throughput also recorded a year-on-year 1% increase at 1 million head while average carcase weights have been generally lighter to date during 2023,” said Phillips.

The overall sheep average carcase weight for the year so far stands at 20.1kg – which is 0.5kg lighter than year-earlier levels. Cattle weights averaged 344.8kg, down 4.3kg on the year.”

Sheep and lamb

The throughput of cull ewes and rams between January and June was also notably higher than year-earlier levels – up 4% to 823,000 head with average carcase weights also being lighter at 26.4kg, down 1.9kg on the year.

The total throughput of sheep and lambs so far in 2023 reached 6.8 million head.

“When compared to previous years, current levels are high and some 6% ahead of the five-year average for the corresponding period,” said Phillips. “However, due to the lighter carcase weights for both categories of sheep, the total volume of sheep meat produced in this period is only 1% higher than year-earlier levels at 141,400 tonnes.”

Pig production

The UK pig market is the outlier in this period with 5.1 million head recorded by abattoirs, some 11% (or 619,300 head) fewer than in the corresponding period of 2022.

“A tight supply was forecast for 2023, with a notable drop in production compared to year-earlier levels, due to challenges within the industry leading to a contraction within the UK breeding herd as of late,” said Phillips.

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