Cattle and sheep abattoir size, and throughput risk in England

Friday, 29 May 2020

Beef sector news from the US has been dominated by the temporary closure of large slaughterhouses due to outbreaks of coronavirus. Although many are now up and running again, albeit at reduced capacity, it raises the question whether England is vulnerable in the same way.

The US has a huge number of slaughterhouses, but importantly, it has a small number of extremely large establishments. These large slaughterhouses are often running close to and, in some cases, above nameplate capacity. As a result, when one is closed the impact is large and there is not enough slack in the system for others to fill the void.

Cattle and sheep slaughter capacity in England appears to be less concentrated, and more distributed than in the US. There is less reliance on single large facilities. This leaves the sector less vulnerable to the closure of even its biggest single site.

In England, sheep slaughter is much more seasonal than cattle slaughter, although even in the autumn, analysis indicates that there is more spare capacity in the sheep slaughtering sector. At that time of year, national sheep slaughter is around 75% of its maximum capacity, while cattle slaughter is closer to 85%. The biggest ten sites account for 50% of cattle slaughter and (a different ten) account for 60% of sheep slaughter. Maximum capacity is typically only used on a handful of days each year.

Given too, this apparent spare capacity in the system, it would probably take the simultaneous closure of the largest four or five sites per species, before throughputs were materially affected.

Duncan Wyatt

Lead Analyst - Red Meat

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