Sheep figures up at end of 2012 – but outlook for 2013 not so good

Sheep figures up at end of 2012 – but outlook for 2013 not so good

There were nearly six million sheep and lambs in Wales in December 2012 representing a 3% increase on the previous year, according to new figures.

But the recent atrocious weather conditions combined with flock health problems are likely to result in a fall in lamb numbers over the next 12 months, according to predictions by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales.

“Looking ahead in 2013, the recent heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures are expected to conspire with animal health issues including liver fluke and the Schmallenberg virus to result in lamb levels being significantly lower than those in 2012,” said HCC industry and market information officer, John Richards.

“While it is too early to say exactly how many thousands of ewes and lambs have perished due to the heavy snowfall in March, it must be remembered that there are four million breeding ewes in Wales and around 14 million in the UK as a whole,” he said.

“So consumers should not be unduly worried as they should still be able to find Welsh Lamb in the shops without too many problems during the year.

“It is possible that the dynamics of supply and demand will change, however, because there’s no doubt that the lamb crop will be reduced this year not only in Wales but also in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This could mean that the prices at the retail end of the market will change during the course of 2013 to reflect this situation.”

The overall growth in total sheep numbers in December 2012 was driven by a 27% rise in the number of lambs on farm to just over two million, according to the annual Welsh Government survey conducted in December last year.

“Within these figures the number of ewe lambs mated in the autumn of 2012 stood at 216,000, a drop of 10%, which can be explained by the poor weather last year leading to ewe lambs being in poorer condition,’’ said Richards.

The number of ewe lambs for future breeding was up 2% at 670,000 while there was a 21% increase in the other lamb category at 1.1 million head.

But despite this growth the number of breeding ewes in Wales was below the level recorded in the previous survey taken in December 2011 – the first time the Welsh breeding flock has fallen in three years.

Overall the number of breeding females in Wales last autumn was down by 2% at 3.9 million head.

“As is common with the rest of the UK, the increase in the number of lambs in December 2012 can be attributed to the poor weather earlier in the year which resulted in difficult finishing conditions and lower slaughter numbers in the first part of the season,” said Richards. “Also, the lamb crop in 2012 was slightly higher than 2011. This led to more lambs being on farm as of December as producers were still trying to finish them.

‘Since the beginning of this year we have started to see this overflow of lambs coming onto the market. In the first two months of 2013, DEFRA figures show that almost 60,000 additional lambs were slaughtered in Wales and 235,000 more lambs were slaughtered in the UK compared to the same period in 2012.

And with Easter being early this year, it is expected that total March slaughtering will be up again.

Meanwhile the Welsh suckler beef herd witnessed a 3% decline, to 214,000 head compared with December 2011. This fall was evident in both those cows which had, and had not, calved. Within the dairy herd, the number of dairy cows remained virtually unchanged at 273,000.

‘The decline in the beef herd is of concern but there are signs that some of these losses may be replaced,” said Richards. “There were increased numbers of both dairy and beef females in the system between one and two years of age, but it is still likely that the majority of these may be destined for slaughter rather than retained for breeding.’

The Welsh pig herd remains the lowest of the four UK regions and numbers in December were up 2% on a year earlier at 26,200 head. The majority of this increase resulted from a rise of 13% in the breeding herd to 3,600 head.

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