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UK - Beast from the East takes its toll on sheep numbers

Results from the ‘June Survey’ of Welsh agriculture, released this week, show that the total number of sheep and lambs in Wales has fallen by 5 per cent in 2018, to 9.53 million.

There has been a steady increase in the national sheep flock over the past decade to 10 million in 2017. This year’s fall is being widely attributed to climatic factors which have made the past twelve months a particularly difficult period for Welsh farmers.

The wet winter in 2017-18 may well have impacted on the condition of ewes, taking a toll on fertility rates, and the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap hit Wales during the peak lambing time in late February and March.

The Welsh lamb crop was therefore down by 6 per cent in 2018, in line with figures released in October for England (which showed a 1 per cent fall) and Scotland (8 per cent).

Glesni Phillips, data analyst for Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), said: “The fall in Welsh sheep numbers in 2018 is not unexpected. There were reports that the poor conditions experienced during last autumn and winter led to lower scanning results.

“This, followed by the arrival of the Beast from the East during lambing meant that a decrease in the number of lambs was anticipated. Throughput numbers at abattoirs during the months that followed also reflect this – lamb throughput so far this year is currently 3 per cent below previous levels.

“This year has undoubtedly brought extreme and challenging weather for Welsh livestock farmers, with a wet winter being followed by a cold snap during peak lambing time, and a very dry early summer.”

Beef cattle numbers in Wales are stable, in line with recent patterns. In 2018 the beef breeding herd stood at 166,600 according to the June Survey, a fall of just 0.7 per cent year-on-year.

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