Welsh sheep numbers continue to fall

Sheep numbers in Wales are continuing to fall, despite better returns for producers, industry leaders have warned.

The number of breeding ewes in Wales fell below four million in 2009, a drop of 5% from the 2008 figure of 4,196,000, according to a survey issued by the Welsh Assembly Government.

The fall is the latest in a 12-year downward trend, with a 27% fall in breeding ewe numbers between 1997 and 2009.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales chief executive, Gwyn Howells said: “We must remain vigilant to ensure that the number of sheep in Wales does not fall below the critical mass required to sustain a viable red meat industry.”

“We must retain the fine balance that has seen improved prices for producers, while also maintaining the supply of top-quality Welsh red meat to butchers’ shops and supermarket shelves, both at home and abroad.”

The total number of sheep and lambs in Wales fell by 3% over the last 12 months and now stands at 8.2 million. Howells said that the fact that the fall in the number of breeding ewes has not been entirely reflected in lamb production and shows that farmers are becoming more efficient.

“This increase in efficiency is a cause for optimism, demonstrating that Welsh farmers are keen to use the latest breeding techniques and technology to improve production,” he said.

“But further dramatic declines in breeding ewe numbers should be discouraged to ensure that we continue to have a thriving industry that can meet the growing demand for Welsh Lamb both at home and abroad.”