Higher sheep throughputs drive year-on-year production rises in January

Friday, 24 February 2023

Last Thursday Defra released their latest figures for UK sheep meat production, with production totalling 21,400 tonnes in January. This was a 19.7% decline (-5,200 tonnes) from December figures. Production typically falls when moving into the new year, as supply and demand ease after the festive period. Year-on-year, production was up slightly by 0.5% (100 tonnes).

Graph showing UK sheep meat production in January marginally up YOY

Clean sheep carcase weights averaged 20.1kg in January, also following seasonal movements, increasing by 3.1% (0.6kg) on December’s average. However, compared to January 2022, average carcase weights were down 2.8% (-0.6kg). This follows the trend seen in the second half of last year. Adult sheep carcase weights also followed this trend, at 23.9kg, up 0.8% (0.2kg) on December’s figure but down 10.0% (-2.6kg) on the same month last year. The year-on-year decline may be explained by several factors. Increased input costs and dry conditions last year hampered winter forage production and cover crop establishment, while high feed prices have likely added pressure on supplementary feeding for many.

Graph showing clean sheep carcase weights marginally up YOY

With carcase weights down versus a year ago, the annual increase in production resulted from increased throughputs in January. Both clean and adult sheep kill throughputs increased on year earlier levels, totalling 941,300 head (up 3.4%) and 105,000 head (up 10.9%) respectively in January. However as expected, throughputs saw month-on-month declines, with clean sheep kill down 23.6% (-291,200 head) and adult sheep kill down 5.8% (-6,500 head)*.

Graph showing clean sheep slaughter up YOY

Graph showing adult sheep slaughter up YOY

The increase in throughputs in January compared to year earlier levels follows our expectation of a higher carry-over of lambs into 2023. This resulted from lower lamb kill than usual in H2 2022, with pressure from drought on forage and feed production, and higher feed costs slowing lamb development. For a more detailed view of lamb production going forward, take a look at our 2023 lamb market outlook.

*Please note AHDB has queried Defra’s published slaughter numbers and continues to work with industry and Defra to resolve issues arising from the data set.

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