UK: Abattoirs report lamb numbers up but carcass weights lighter


Reduced carcass weights are limiting production volumes despite sheep and cattle numbers climbing during the first half of 2023, according to the latest UK abattoir data.

Posted on Jul 28 ,00:05

UK: Abattoirs report lamb numbers up but carcass weights lighter

Prime lamb slaughterings have been strong so far this year with March recording the highest monthly throughput level of 1.2 million head, the latest Defra figures reveal. "This is a result of a higher carry over of Old Season Lambs into 2023 following a dryer summer and higher feed costs last year which delayed lambs coming forward at the end of 2022", explains Glesni Phillips, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales (HCC)’s Intelligence, Analysis and Business Insight Executive in this month’s Market Bulletin issued by HCC.

"Although New Season Lambs were slower to come forward initially, demand surrounding Easter and Ramadan encouraged higher numbers with June recording well over 1.0 million head", reports Glesni.

"As a result, over 5.9 million lambs have been processed at UK abattoirs so far this year – up 4 per cent (or 251,400 head) on 2022 levels, and 6 per cent ahead of the longer term 5-year average".

It was a similar story with cattle. “Overall prime cattle throughput also recorded a year-on-year one per cent increase at one million head while average carcass weights have been generally lighter to date during 2023,” writes Glesni.

The overall sheep average carcass weight for the year so far stands at 20.1kg – which is 0.5kg lighter than year-earlier levels. Cattle weights averaged 344.8kg, down 4.3 kg on the year.

The throughput of cull ewes and rams between January and June was also notably higher than year-earlier levels – up four per cent to 823,000 head with average carcase weights also being lighter at 26.4kg, down 1.9kg on the year.

The total throughput of sheep and lambs so far in 2023 reached 6.8 million head. “When compared to previous years; current levels are high and some six per cent ahead of the five-year average for the corresponding period,” writes Glesni. "However, due to the lighter carcass weights for both categories of sheep, the total volume of sheep meat produced in this period is only one per cent higher than year-earlier levels at 141,400 tonnes".

The UK pig market is the outlier in this period with 5.1 million head recorded by abattoirs, some eleven per cent (or 619,300 head) fewer than in the corresponding period of 2022. "A tight supply was forecast for 2023, with a notable drop in production compared to year-earlier levels, due to challenges within the industry leading to a contraction within the UK breeding herd as of late", said Glesni.

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