The number of sheep, cattle and pigs in Wales remained relatively stable during 2021 despite Welsh farming facing the twin uncertainties of Covid and Brexit, as shown by the data collected for the 2021 Agricultural & Horticultural Survey for Wales.
Total sheep and lamb numbers in Wales have been steady for several years at around 9.5 million head. 2021 followed this trend with numbers totalling 9.46 million according to the June Survey – this is within 1% of their levels in 2019 and up by 5.3% on 2020. The total number of lambs (aged under 1) stood at 4.54 million, making it the largest lamb crop recorded since 2017.
This is in contrast to the size of the UK lamb crop, as highlighted by a recent report published by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC). Report author Glesni Phillips said: “The report references data from Defra which shows a 1.6% decrease in the size of the 2021 UK lamb crop when compared against 2020 figures, and a 2.7% decrease on 2019.
“This has led to a tight supply of lambs in the market, which, along with many other factors, has meant strong average prices for lambs. They are currently averaging some 25% above last year’s levels.
Cattle prices are also historically high with numbers remaining fairly static. The total number of cattle and calves in Wales stood at 1.13 million – a slight increase of less than 1% on year-earlier and 2019 levels. Overall, the Welsh breeding herd (beef and dairy combined) stayed relatively stable on year-earlier levels (+0.2%) at 415,000 head. But separately, the dairy breeding herd increased by 1.3% whereas the beef breeding herd dipped by 1.5% over the last 12 months.
The beef breeding herd is currently at its lowest since 2004 with the dairy breeding herd in Wales accounting for a gradual increased proportion of the total cattle breeding herd over recent years, and currently accounts for almost 62% of the Welsh breeding herd.
When compared to the rest of the UK, Wales accounts for a very small proportion of the total pig herd. The herd has contracted year-on-year due to a 5% decrease in the number of fattening pigs. However, the total number of pigs in Wales stood at 27,200 head, which is 4.4% fewer than 2020 but a notable 11% more than in 2019.
Glesni Phillips added: “It is hoped that consumer demand for red meat will continue during the run-up to Christmas, with consumers having already shown a strong level of support towards red meat.
“People spent 4.4% more on beef across Great Britain during the 12-week period to 31 October 2021 than they did during the same period in pre-Covid 2019. Total spend on lamb on the other hand was a significant 9.5% ahead of 2019 for the 12-week period ending 3 October, with roasting joints proving very popular.
“This increased consumer spend at retail, buoyant retail demand as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, decreased imports from New Zealand and Australia in particular, and Brexit-related issues at processing sites have all contributed to the increased farmgate prices during 2021.”
HCC’s report – ‘Lamb Supply – Update & Outlook 2021’ – analyses the outlook for the sheep sector and is available to download from the website: https://meatpromotion.wales/en/news-industry-info/market-analysis