Beef and lamb market update: lower production for 2023

Tuesday, 23 January 2024

Key points:

  • UK beef production fell 2.5% in 2023.
  • December monthly production lowest for 5 years for both beef and sheep, with wet weather a challenge for farmers finishing animals.
  • UK sheep meat production dropped 1.8% for 2023.

Please note there have been revisions to Defra production data from January 2022 onwards and figures may not match with previous articles.


Beef production in 2023 totalled 901,000t, a fall of nearly 23,000t (-2.5%) from 2022. December 2023 totalled 67,200t, a fall of nearly 11,800t from the same month in 2022. This was the lowest volume of production in December in over five years, with a 15% decline year on year, and 21% month on month. Carcase weights fell for 2023, down to an average of 342kg, the lowest weight since 2018.

Prime slaughter fell 1.3% for 2023 to total 2.04m head, as throughputs for December fell by 14% year on year to 150,800 head. This is the lowest December prime kill for over 5 years, as reports of wet weather have impacted ability to finish cattle and caused wider disruption. Cow kill also dropped for 2023, down by 16,000 head to total 612,000 head. Cow kill remained tight in the second half of the year, with December kill standing at 49,500 head, a fall of 17% from 2022.

UK beef production - full year

Graph showing Uk beef production

Source: Defra


Sheep meat production in the UK totalled 286,000 tonnes for 2023, a fall of 5,300t (-1.8%) from 2022. Average clean sheep carcase weights for 2023 fell by 0.4kg from 2022, to 19.8kg. Carcase weights in the final quarter of the year were down on 2022, as weather and higher feed costs impacted on finishing.

Clean sheep slaughter grew by 20,000 head (+0.2%) to reach 12.28m head for 2023, despite a lower kill in December at 1.14m head. This is the lowest December kill since 2019, with reports of wet weather making it harder to finish. Adult sheep kill fell by 2.5% to 1.65m head for 2023, as census data shows contraction in the total sheep flock for June 2023. Throughputs for December 2023 stayed pretty level from November at 129,500 head, marking the first period without growth between these months since before 2018.

UK sheep meat production - full year

  Graph showing UK sheep production

Source: Defra

Image of staff member Isabelle Shohet

Isabelle Shohet

Analyst (Red Meat)

See full bio

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