The number of sheep is at its lowest level since 2011 according to the latest Defra census figures. The UK sheep flock is sitting at 31.8m head as of June 1, 2023 – down 4.1% on the previous year.

The female breeding flock totalled 15m head, which represents a 2.4% decline compared to 2022. This was driven by a 219,000 reduction in the number of ewes kept for further breeding or slaughter compared to the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of ewes for first time breeding was down 168,000 in the year. These reductions may be linked to the high costs of feed and other inputs, alongside market uncertainty, causing farmers to scale back production.

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The greatest reduction was seen in the number of lambs aged under a year old which was down 998,000 head year-on-year to stand at 1.5m. This would suggest either a smaller or delayed lamb crop for this season, reflective of a relatively wet and cold spring and industry reports of variable scanning rates.

Comparing across the nations, the greatest contraction was seen in Wales, down 195,000 head or 4.2% in the female breeding flock year-on-year. England and Scotland saw 1.6% and 1.7% declines, respectively, in breeding female sheep populations.