2024 Lamb outlook: production update

Thursday, 18 April 2024

The current market situation seen in the domestic sheep market is a perfect storm of lower supplies (both domestically produced and imported) and better-than-expected consumer demand (domestically and through export channels), delivering a period of robust market prices. Given these developments and using recently released data, we have updated our domestic supply side predictions for the 2024 outlook.

Key points

  • Total sheep meat production is expected to fall by 1.4% to 282,000 tonnes in 2024.
  • The predicted lamb crop (Spring 2024 – Spring 2025) now sits at 15.9m head, a fall of 1.2% from the previous year.
  • Carryover of old season lambs is forecast to fall by 185,000 from 2023 to 4.1m head from January – May.
  • New season lamb slaughter is expected to grow in the second half of the year by just under 1% to 6.4m head.
  • Adult sheep slaughter is predicted to fall by just over 3%, especially in the first half of the year before rebounding slightly.

What has changed?

  • The female breeding flock has fallen from our original estimate, following updated Defra data, which in turn has reduced the number of ewe replacements coming through.
  • A greater proportion of ewe lambs are expected to be slaughtered rather than being kept for further breeding next season. Therefore, the number of old season carryover lambs has increased into 2024, making the year on year decline smaller.
  • The lamb crop has fallen from our previous estimate, given the expected fall in number of ewes kept for breeding this season. The number of new season lambs available for slaughter has fallen slightly as a result of this.

Breeding flock

The size of the female breeding flock in December 2023 totalled 13.8m head, according to Defra statistics. This is a decline of 4.3% (615,000 head) from the same time in 2022 and represents the lowest breeding flock since current records began in 1996. The breeding flock consists of ewes intended for further breeding and slaughter, and ewes intended for first time breeding (ewe lambs).

Using this data, we predict that the number of ewe replacements has fallen for the 2023/24 year (December-December). This suggests a greater proportion of these ewe lambs will be slaughtered in the OSL crop (from January-May 2024), as opposed to kept for breeding. This could be due to the record-high lamb prices currently seen in the first four months of 2024.

Lamb crop

The predicted size of the lamb crop for the 2024 – 25 season (March - March), now sits at 15.9m head. This is a decline of 185,000 head from the previous season, representing a fall of 1.2%. A smaller than expected female breeding flock at 1 December 2023, combined with challenging scanning rates, are expected to contribute to this decline in the lamb crop. However, disease risks such as Schmallenberg and Bluetongue Virus have not been factored into lamb crop calculations due to current levels of uncertainty.

Clean sheep slaughter

Carry over and H1 slaughter

The revised estimated carryover for 2024 of old season lambs, is now 4.1m head from January - May. This is a decline of 185,000 head (-4.3%) from 2023, following an increased proportion of ewe lambs potentially intended for first time breeding coming forward in the first five months.

The predicted total number of new season lambs to be slaughtered in the first six months of the year has fallen from our previous estimate, to around 1.57m head, a decline of 82,000 head from the same time in 2023.

H2 slaughter

Slaughter in the second half of the year (July – December), assuming a typical slaughter pattern alongside the forecasted lamb crop, is predicted to be 6.4m head. This is growth of just under 1% (52,000 head) from the same period in 2023.

Actual and forecast UK clean sheep slaughter

Bar chart showing estimated clean sheep kill for 2024

Source: Defra, AHDB forecasts in hashed bars

Adult sheep slaughter

We are expecting the adult sheep slaughter to fall by 3% across the full year from 2023. This is following a steep decline in slaughter in the first quarter of the year compared to 2023, with a slight rebound forecast in the second half.

Actual and forecast UK adult sheep slaughter

Bar chart showing estimated adult sheep kill for 2024

Source: Defra, AHDB forecasts in hashed bars


Total sheep meat production for 2024 is set to fall by 1.4% across the year from 2023, to 282,000 tonnes. We are assuming that wet weather conditions that have been persistent throughout the last quarter of 2023 and into 2024 have impacted on lamb carcase weights.

Image of staff member Isabelle Shohet

Isabelle Shohet

Analyst (Red Meat)

See full bio

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