Scottish cattle population shrinks while flock expands

Friday, 20 March 2020

By Hannah Clarke

Scottish cattle numbers continued their downward trend in December 2019, while sheep numbers continued to rise, according to the latest census from the Scottish Government.

The latest figures showed the Scottish cattle herd stood at 1.6 million head, down 30,000 head (-1.8%) from the previous December. This is a steeper decline than was seen in the June census. Dairy cattle numbers fell by nearly 6,000 head on the year, with nearly 2,000 fewer animals in the milking herd (over 2yrs with offspring). The uptick in younger cow numbers however may help to stabilise this in time.

Female beef cattle saw a larger contraction overall, falling by just over 11,000 head on the year. Declines were seen among all age groups, with the largest fall being among suckler cows (-6,600 head). This suggests some contraction in Scottish suckler beef supply in the longer-term.

Numbers of male and female cattle aged 1-2 years both fell by over 11,000 head, pointing to tighter beef supply in the short term, while a dip in the number of male calves suggests this trend may continue into the second half of the year.

The sheep flock however, recorded a more positive year. Total sheep numbers were up 74,500 head on the year to total just over 5 million head. Gains in lamb numbers were behind the increase, with total lambs under a year old rising by 86,000 head on the year to 1.9 million head. This, coupled with the expansion in the breeding flock, points to positive lamb production going forward.

Hannah Clarke

Analyst - Livestock

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