Despite reduced numbers in national breeding herds and flocks, latest throughput figures from south of the Border, reveal the growing popularity of the live ring with increased numbers in most sale categories sold in 2023 compared to 2022.

The figures released from the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) show that store and breeding cattle, dairy cattle, calves, prime sheep and cull ewes all saw increased numbers sold through the live ring, with prime cattle and cull cows remaining largely similar to the previous year.

Overall turnover across England and Wales reached well over £2.2bn – up almost £115m on the year, highlighting the significant rise in values being achieved through the live auction market.

In total, some 3,962,000 head of store and breeding cattle and sheep to include dairy cattle were cashed, with the final figure of finished stock to include cattle, sheep and pigs amounting to 6,993,000.

Total throughput figures of all classes of livestock through the auction markets in England and Wales in 2023

  • Store and breeding cattle (incl. dairy) – 756,000
  • Store and breeding sheep – 2,941,000
  • Store and breeding pigs – 14,000
  • Calves – 251,000
  • Total store, breeding and youngstock headage – 3,962,000
  • Finished cattle – 261,000
  • Finished sheep – 6,662,000
  • Finished pigs – 70,000
  • Total finished number of stock – 6,993,000
  • Total livestock – 10,955,000
  • Total turnover – £2,224,634,000.00

Significantly, livestock values have also improved on the year according to LAA development officer Zanna Dennis.

“A key pull-out from the latest figures is the increase in the value of stock, with a rise in every category bar cull ewes.

With the strong cull ewe trade seen again this year, we can even allay any longer-term concerns there too,” she said.

“What has also been equally significant, is despite the national herd and flock decreasing, we are actually seeing more through the live ring,“ she adds.

Defra livestock population figures across the UK state that as at June 1, 2023, the total number of cattle and calves had decreased by 0.8% on the year, while the breeding herd fell by 1.9%.

The total number of sheep and lambs fell by 4.1%, while lambs, accounting for almost half of all sheep, saw a decrease of 6.1% on the year.

Conversely, the livestock markets saw an increase in prime sheep and cull ewe throughput figures in England and Wales, as well as store and breeding cattle. Dairy and calf figures remained fairly static, with a slight increase in calf numbers over 2022 numbers.

“We expected store and breeding sheep to drop with the dry summer resulting in lamb percentages being down, therefore we did not see those new lambs,” says Ms Dennis.

“Likewise, there were less suckler herds nationally, and the cull cow numbers were not there. This was obviously all beyond our control, but plays into why those categories were slightly reduced on the year,” she adds.

While numbers overall have remained consistent and encouraging across most categories, despite industry challenges across the year, the true story has been in the prices achieved.

The value of store and breeding sheep rocketed in 2023, with a 12% increase in store sheep in England and 10% rise in value year on year for breeding sheep in Wales.

Store cattle prices rose 8% in England and 10% on the year in Wales, while prime cattle saw an 11% upturn in England, equating to an extra £177 per head. Dairy cattle prices followed a similar trend, up 13% in England and 7% in Wales, or an extra £176 or £84 respectively.

“The trade for prime sheep and cull ewes has been exceptional, as has that for store cattle, and we have seen that in the numbers and stock forward in the live ring,” says Ms Dennis.

“When we see the numbers in the market, and the value being so high, and on the increase, it demonstrates the strength of using the live sales ring, against other systems.

“While demand and supply will always be the main driver for livestock values, it is clear that these numbers demonstrate that the live auction ring is the farmers’ choice for a fair price,” she concludes.