By FWi staff
LIVESTOCK numbers are contracting at record rates in the UK, as producers quit a crisis-hit industry.
The results from MAFFs December 2000 survey, released last week, confounded pundits, who had expected numbers to fall, but not on such a large scale.
All sectors are cutting back numbers, but breeding sows had the biggest rate at 13%.
Meat and Livestock Commission economist Tony Fowler admits the results were a surprise.
“We thought the contraction had bottomed out. It could be something to do with swine fever slaughterings in East Anglia.”
Huge falls in the national sheep flock have seen it number just 18.5 million ewes. There were over 20m ewes in the national flock in 1998.
The 7% decline on last year is unprecedented. “We have never seen a change as big as this,” says Lesley Green, MLC sheep economist.
“It does not paint a pretty picture. It is certainly much bigger than we forecast, but it is part of a prolonged contraction.”
The MLC reckons most of those leaving the industry are lowland flockowners, but UK beef producers are also re-organising their businesses following Agenda 2000 reforms.
Nationally, the beef herd fell by 6.5% last year and by 11% in England alone, while dairy herd numbers slipped by 4%.
More heifers are probably being kept as producers down-size herds and switch 20% of suckler cow quota to include heifers, says the MLC.