Carcase weights decline impacts sheep and cattle production volumes

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Carcase weights fell despite an increase of volume in 2023
Carcase weights fell despite an increase of volume in 2023

Related tags Meat & Seafood

Reduced carcase weights of sheep and cattle are limiting production volumes despite slaughter numbers climbing in the first half of 2023, according to the latest UK abattoir data.

Prime lamb slaughterings reached a record monthly throughput of 1.2 million head in March this year, while overall prime cattle throughput also recorded a year-on-year increase of 1% at one million head.

However, the overall average carcase weight for both sheep and cattle have been generally lighter to date during 2023 – down 0.5kg and 4.3kg respectively year-on-year.

“When compared to previous years; current levels are high and some six per cent ahead of the five-year average for the corresponding period,” ​said Glesni Phillips, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) intelligence, analysis and business insight executive.

Total volume decreases

“However, due to the lighter carcase weights for both categories of sheep, the total volume of sheep meat produced in this period is only one per cent higher than year-earlier levels at 141,400 tonnes.”

More than 5.9 million lambs have been processed at UK abattoirs so far this year, up 4% on 2022 levels and 6% ahead of the longer-term five-year average.

“This is a result of a higher carry over of Old Season Lambs into 2023 following a dryer summer and higher feed costs last year which delayed lambs coming forward at the end of 2022,”​ said Phillips.

Demand for lamb

“Although New Season Lambs were slower to come forward initially, demand surrounding Easter and Ramadan encouraged higher numbers with June recording well over 1.0 million head.”

The pig market however did not see the same success, with abattoirs reporting an 11% drop compared to the same period in 2022 to 5.1 million head – equal to 619,300 head.

“A tight supply was forecast for 2023, with a notable drop in production compared to year-earlier levels, due to challenges within the industry leading to a contraction within the UK breeding herd as of late,”​ said Glesni.

Meanwhile, with many smaller abattoirs forced to close, is it time for the meat inspection process in the UK to change in support of independents​ – and what is the government already doing to help?

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