SHEEP MORTALITY during 2018's lambing season was certainly the worst for five years, according to data compiled by the National Fallen Stock Company – and possibly the worst since the company started to track mortality trends back in 2011.

Assessing the exact number of animals lost at lambing time is impossible due to the way that fallen stock collections are recorded. While some collections are on a headage basis, others are on a weight or volume basis, particularly when what is being collected is a big pile of small lambs.

Nevertheless, despite the imperfect nature of the data, NFSCo’s records are the only guide to fallen stock trends in the UK, and this year’s lambing season was clearly affected by the exceptionally cold weather that started on February 23 with the so called 'Beast from The East', and then continued throughout March.

Records show that nearly half of all lamb losses occur in March, April and May. Looking at 2018’s data for these months, and comparing it to the average losses since 2011 shows that recorded lamb losses across the UK – excluding those recorded on a volume basis – were the highest at over 250,000, and 30% higher than the average.

Adult sheep losses were also the highest for five years, up by a third, while unassigned losses allocated on a weight or a volume basis were also around 10% more than average.

NFSCo chairman Michael Seals said: “The data from this year show that the 2018 lambing season was certainly the worst season since 2013, and probably ever, even factoring in a large allowance for the shortcomings of the data.

"Lambing time was an extremely challenging time for sheep farmers and for the 100 or so collectors whom NFSCo works with, and who worked hard to maintain their excellent service levels during some of the worse weather the UK has seen in years.

"The fallen stock collectors are an important, ever present, but often overlooked cog in the livestock supply chain, and it is only in times of difficulty like this year where their work comes to the fore," added Mr Seals. "I and the NFSCo Board would like to formally recognise them, and thank them for their work during this difficult season.”

NFU Scotland livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam commented: "Scottish livestock farmers are still feeling the impact of an exceptionally bad start to 2018. Poor conditions throughout the autumn and winter were exacerbated by extreme weather events in early spring.

"These NFSCo figures back up the anecdotal evidence received from many sheep keepers around the country," said Mr Adam. "Stock losses are extremely upsetting and the impact is both emotional and financial. The weather impact was discussed at the May meetings of both the union’s livestock and Less Favoured Area committees and there was significant concern for those who have faced large losses to their lamb crop and breeding flocks.

"The £250,000 Scottish Government support for fallen stock uplift, secured through NFUS lobbying, will go some way to help meeting the costs for some," he added. "However, the true cost will be more apparent over time. This autumn, there will be the loss of marketable stock for some. Where the breeding flock has suffered losses, this can impact a business for several seasons."

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The beautiful weather conditions we are experiencing now make it easy to forget the atrocious conditions experienced across the country during lambing time and this is a deserved respite for our sheep farmers.

"If it wasn’t for the current strong finished lamb prices, sheep farmers would be desperate and there will be many individuals that have not benefited directly and are not out of the woods yet.”