Poultry numbers in Scotland are the lowest on record, following the closure of a number of factories and broiler farms in recent years.
Results from the annual June census show that total poultry numbers fell 11% year-on-year to 13.1m, with the broiler sector bearing the brunt – down by 2.1m birds to 5.7m birds on the ground.
“Clearly the decrease in the broiler sector is extremely worrying, but not unsurprising, given that Scottish chicken production remains in a very vulnerable situation,” said NFU Scotland policy manager Penny Johnston.
See also: Scottish poultry slaughterhouse to close
“It has been a very difficult few years for the broiler sector, following the significant restructuring of the industry that saw plant closures and contracts terminated.
“Although these figures are an historical low, we can only hope that they represent a stable base from which the Scottish chicken industry can start to rebuild. With investment at farm and processing level required, we need confidence in the Scottish industry to allow that growth to take place.”
Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the headline reductions were disappointing, although the restructuring in Scotland’s poultry processing sector had been “well-documented”.
But there was better news in the egg sector, where the number of laying hens has now overtaken the number of broilers and other table birds for the first time.
The June census shows that the laying flock grew by 7% over 12 months to reach 6.1m, continuing the upward trend seen since the conventional cage ban was introduced in 2012. Over the past decade, the number of layers has climbed 58% – or by 2.24m birds.
The Scottish breeding flock is shown to have slumped by 24% since 2005, although there are signs of recovery, with numbers up 7% in the past 12 months, to 1.19m.