Scottish ewe numbers fall to ‘lowest levels in a generation’

Scottish ewe numbers have dropped below three million for the first time in a generation, according to Douglas Bell of SAC.

Speaking at SAC’s Outlook Conference, Mr Bell said the fall in ewe numbers was more significant in certain parts of the country such as the north-west.

Almost a third of Scottish farmers have sheep, with QMS data suggesting it is more likely farmers could make a positive net margin from sheep than from suckler cows, he said.

Concern for the industry

Currently a quarter of the EU’s sheepmeat comes from the UK and around 20% of that is from Scotland – equivalent to 56,000 tonnes a year.

“So against a relatively strong economic situation the sheep numbers have been disappearing,” Mr Bell said.

“Clearly Foot and Mouth had a big impact with the collapse of the lamb market and that is an immediate concern for the industry.

Reliance on exports

“Export lambs are a reasonable price at the moment but those stuck with big lambs which are over-finished and overweight are looking at very, very low prices.”

Foot and Mouth had strongly highlighted the reliance of the Scottish sheep industry on exports, with 22% of Scottish sheep meat exported annually, he added.

“Quality will be vital going forward.

“Some would argue there are more challenges in the sheep industry to presenting a consistent lamb eating quality and there is a serious issue in the reduction of the number of lambs meeting spec as the season progresses,” he said.

Back to SAC Conference special report