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Welsh sheep population surpasses 10 million mark
Published:  19 December, 2017

The number of sheep in Wales has passed a count of 10 million for the first time since the turn of the century, newly-released statistics show. 

The Welsh government published data at the end of November for the annual June agricultural survey. Following on from a dip in numbers after the end of headage payments at the beginning of the century, the population has been on an upward trajectory in recent years. 

By June of this year, those numbers passed the 10 million barrier. This is the first time similar numbers have been reached since 2002. The sheep population in Wales accounts for nearly a third of the British sheep flock. 

“Sheep numbers have continued their upward trend this year, and prices have remained relatively buoyant, helped by a significant rise in Welsh Lamb exports,” said John Richards, industry development and relations manager at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

“But many farmers are aware that part of the reason lies in the fall in the value of the pound since last summer.

“In many of the farmer meetings I have attended over the past few months, there have been interesting discussions about how the market and industry in general might look after we leave the EU in 2019. Independent reports have suggested that the sheep sector – which sells a third of its lamb to EU countries – is one of the most vulnerable to a hard or no-deal Brexit where tariffs may be imposed on exports.”

HCC highlighted that although there was a small decrease in the number of beef cows, there were significantly higher numbers of young female beef cattle. This, according to the Welsh red meat levy board, reflects the potential of expanding the Welsh beef herd over the coming years and indicates that farmers may want to diversify and spread risk.

“It seems that some farmers are now looking at their own businesses to see if they can spread risk through either the beef herd or new ventures,” continued Richards. “An example of this may be that the number of fattening pigs on Welsh farms increased by 8%. Producers may be looking to supplement farm incomes by diversifying into rearing and finishing different types of livestock.”