Lamb Market Outlook

Lamb market outlook

In 2019 we expect:

  • 4% fall in the UK breeding flock, to 14.1m head.
  • 4% fall in the lamb crop, to 16.5m head.
  • 2% fall in lamb slaughter, at 12.6m head.
  • 5% rise in ewe slaughter, at 1.7m head.


Total production for quarter one was 71,000 tonnes, steady on year earlier levels. There was an increase of 10% in ewe cullings to 418,000 head.

The number of lambs coming forwards was down 7%, to 2.9 million head. Heavier ewe carcases helped support production, especially during March.

Estimated lamb slaughterings from the 2018 lamb crop are 6% lower than at this point last year; the estimated 2018 lamb crop fell year-on-year by 990,000 head to 17.2million head.

What next?

  • The 2019 lamb crop is forecast to be 16.5 million head, reflecting a smaller breeding flock but some small improvements in lamb rear rates. Scanning rates were reported to be poor on balance. Weather has a huge impact on lamb survival, and was considerably improved from the snow of last year. The birth weight of lambs is also reported to have increased.
  • Overall, from the 2018 lamb crop, approximately 12.8 million head are expected to be killed. From the 2019 lamb crop we expect approximately 12.3 million will come forward. Brexit can still have a big impact on this number, increasing it sharply if a no-deal exit from the EU is announced.


UK imports of sheep meat plummeted in the three months to February, down 12% year-on-year to 16,600 tonnes.

The value of imports was also down 11%, at £82 million. Last year recorded the lowest import volumes on record, could this year be lower still? Imports from New Zealand have fallen 19% year-on-year.

What next?

  • Imports are forecast to remain subdued and fall by 8% overall, driven by on-going high global prices and continued tight global supply.
  • In 2018, UK imports of sheep meat stood at 91,800 tonnes cwe, down 3% on 2017 levels and the lowest on record. Global prices are expected to remain strong for some time.
  • Export volumes will be influenced by both Brexit and domestic production. Exports are also likely to be lower in any case, by around 3%, and by even more in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Lamb consumption trends

Chicken and fish continue to record strong growth rates within the protein market, highlighting the competitive landscape for red meat. There remain significant challenges for the lamb category, with volumes down 5.7% year-on-year (Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 21 April 19). Reductions are not isolated only to lamb, but primary beef volumes are also down year-on-year (-2.6%). There has been slight growth in pork volumes over the past year.

What next?

We expect a modest decline in primary red meat consumption in the short term, with ongoing pressure from the gradual shift from traditional meat and two veg options (such as roast dinners) towards dish-based cuisines. There is further pressure from consumers aiming to moderate consumption, often referred to as flexitarians. Kantar Worldpanel defines flexitarians more tightly as consumers cutting down on red meat for health reasons, and sizes this group of people at 8% of the population.

The lamb outlook might be mitigated, if the industry:

  • Continues to innovate products to meet consumer needs of convenience and health.
  • Inspires relevant lamb dish-based cuisines.
  • Addresses health concerns by communicating the health benefits of lamb.

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You can download the gallery infographics in a handy A4 poster. Click below to access the pdf.

Beef & Lamb: At A Glance

Read UK sheep outlook

Our monthly outlook focuses on the current market situation, forecasts, costs and weather.

UK sheep outlook: April 2019

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Gallery: Beef & lamb at a glance

Click on the thumbnails below for simple visual explanations as to how the beef and lamb markets have performed, according to the latest data. Here we look at GB and international prices, consumption, slaughterings and trade figures.