Sharp drop in number of lambs in England

Thursday, 30 September 2021

By Rebecca Wright

The results from the Defra England June survey are now out.  There have been significant declines in the sheep population across almost all categories. The total sheep and lamb population has contracted by 3%, to 14.6 million head.

The number of breeding ewes declined 2%, with a decline in ewes for further breeding partially compensated by a rise in ewes for slaughter, and ewes intended for first time breeding. Recorded ewe slaughter has been exceptionally low, and we would expect the majority of ewes intended for slaughter to come forwards before winter.

The number of lambs under 1 year old declined 4%. Using the trend recorded in the England survey and scaling it up to the UK, and adding in new season lamb kill from before June, there is a strong suggestion the 2021 UK lamb crop could be the smallest in around 10 years.

The results for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not yet available. These will be released over the coming months. Until then, we do see a similar in England to that recorded in the Irish June survey.

What does this mean for the forecast?

If the UK lamb crop does come in as small as this survey implies, this would naturally change our forecast of monthly production. We were already forecasting for the lamb crop to be smaller, reflecting the smaller breeding flock recorded in December 2020.

Previous analysis produced by AHDB has stated lambs this year were coming forwards at a slower pace. That analysis was produced before Defra released the England June survey results. However, even if lamb numbers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all record the same trend as England, the UK lamb kill would still be at a slower pace than we would expect in a typical year, suggesting that peak kill for this year is yet to happen.

Image of staff member Rebecca Wright

Rebecca Wright

Senior Analyst - Red Meat

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