15 March 2001
Livestock drop shows industry exodus

By James Garner

LIVESTOCK numbers are contracting at record rates in the UK, as producers quit a crisis-hit industry, according to government figures.

Experts have been confounded by tesults for the Ministry of Agriculture December 2000 survey, released on Wednesday (14 March).

They expected livestock numbers to fall, but not on such scale. All sectors are cutting back numbers, but breeding sows at the biggest rate of 13%.

Tony Fowler, economist for the Meat and Livestock Commission, admitted the results were a surprise. “We thought the contraction had bottomed out.”

Huge falls in the national sheep flock bring it down to just 18.5 million ewes.

The 7% decline on last year is unprecedented. “We have never seen a change as big as this,” said MLC sheep economist Lesley Green.

“It doesnt paint a pretty picture. It is certainly much bigger than we forecast, but it is part of a prolonged contraction.”

There were over 20m ewes in the national flock in 1998.

The MLC reckoned most of those leaving the industry are lowland flockowners. UK beef producers are also re-organising their businesses.

The beef herd fell by 6.5% last year and by a massive 11% in England alone.

More heifers are probably being kept as producers down-size herds and switch 20% of suckler cow quota to include heifers, said the MLC.

The diary herd continued the trend, falling by 4%.