UK meat processors have been dealt another blow with the news that breeding cattle and sheep and youngstock numbers are well down on the year.

The Defra figures reveal that the UK sheep flock has seen a drop of more than 5% on the year at 21.2m head.

The number of breeding females is now at its lowest level on record at 13.8m head.

Breeding flock numbers contracted the most at 616,000 head, or -4.3%, with the ‘all other sheep and lambs’ sector, falling 6.6%.

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Furthermore, the figures are based on the June 2023 census with this year’s breeding flock and lamb numbers expected to be down even more due to record hogg trade which will see more slaughtered instead of being kept on as gimmers.

The 2024 lamb crop is also predicted to be one of the worst on record due to Schmallenberg affecting huge numbers in the south and the horrendous weather in Scotland.

The UK cattle population is also down on the year by 1.8% to 9.2m with the breeding herd, which makes up 34% of the total population, falling 2.2% to 3.2m head at the time of the survey.