The data from the UK agricultural census taken on December 1, 2015 shows that the size of the UK breeding flock had remained stable, compared to the previous year, according to AHDB Beef & Lamb.
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The figures show that the breeding flock remained at the same levels as in 2014 at 14.6 million head. However, these results are provisional and could be subject to revisions, as has been the case in the previous two years. The figure for the 2014 breeding flock was revised downwards from the previously reported figure by one percent to 14.6 million head.
This means that the size of the 2014 flock was up by two percent, compared to the three percent previously reported.
When the stability shown in the breeding flock is broken down into the individual countries that make up the UK it shows a very different picture.
Figures from the English breeding flock show a four percent increase to 6.60 million head. However, this growth was offset by declines in both Wales and Scotland, which were down by six and one percent respectively.
The Welsh breeding flock fell to 4.09 million head, while the Scottish breeding flock was at 3.01 million head. The size of the breeding flock in Northern Ireland was up by three percent at 0.91 million head.
As the size of the UK breeding flock was stable in December 2015 compared to a year earlier, the size of the lamb crop in 2016 would be expected to be at a similar level to that seen in 2015, depending on seasonal conditions. This suggests high supplies of lamb are expected to continue in the second half of 2016.
The number of other sheep on the ground on December 1, 2015, which will comprise mainly of lambs under one-year-old, was up by five percent compared to the same point in 2016 at 8.49 million head. This would represent a large increase in the number of lambs carried over into 2016 from the already high levels in 2015.
However, with lower numbers of sheep slaughtered in the three months since 1, December, this would mean that the number of old season lambs remaining to be slaughtered is up sharply. The number of other sheep was up in England, Wales and Scotland.
In England numbers were up by one percent at 4.28 million head, while in Wales numbers were up by 15 percent at 1.86 million head. In Scotland other sheep numbers were up by eight percent at 1.95 million head and in Northern Ireland numbers increased marginally at 0.40 million head.
Although the numbers must be treated with some caution, if they are to be believed, there will be a large number of lambs slaughtered in the coming months, with a very large carry over followed by another big lamb crop.
This suggests that supplies in 2016 will continue to be at a high level. As this suggests that supplies in 2016 will increase, demand in the year will also have to rise to maintain prices.
Early signs this year are positive for demand levels, with retail sales remaining up on 2015 levels so far this year. The exchange rate has also been positive for UK lamb prices with the pound falling in value against the euro since the beginning of 2016. ■
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