Sheep breeding flock rises to nine-year high

Sheep numbers in England have increased for the fifth year running, according to DEFRA’s December survey. At 10.94 million head, the total sheep flock was almost 2% higher than the previous year.

“This was driven by a 6% increase in the total breeding flock, to 6.91 million head,” said a report by EBLEX. “At this level the breeding flock is at its highest point since 2005, when support payments were decoupled.”

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However, the number of other sheep and lambs, most of which are lambs less than one year old, fell by nearly 6% on the year, to 4.04 million head. This was partly due to the poor weather of 2012 and early 2013, which probably led to a smaller lamb crop in 2013. Also, better finishing conditions in the second half of 2013 meant more lambs were slaughtered before 1 December, said the report.

Cattle numbers increased by 0.3%, to 5.3 million head, although the total female breeding herd fell for the 11th consecutive year, to 1.84 million head. The dairy breeding herd grew by more than 1%, to 1.14 million head, while the suckler herd declined by 3%, to 699,000, reflecting ongoing concerns over profitability in the beef sector.

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