Average prices for both lamb and beef have remained at historically high levels for the first weeks of the new year, driven by strong consumer and retail demand following the Christmas period, and a tight supply.

The average liveweight price of lambs at auction in Wales has increased steadily since the start of 2021, and has gone up again this week by 13.1p.

The current price has reached 260.6p/kg, over 50p higher than the same time last year. Cull ewe average prices also increased this week by £4.60 to average £77.80/head.

Farmers are receiving an additional £7/head this year, and more than £25 when compared to the five-year average.

Deadweight prices for steers in Wales and England increased by 4.4p in the week ending January 16, to 374.8p/kg, which is 48.4p higher than last year.

Deadweight prices for heifers, young bulls and cull cows also increased by 3.9p, 8.7p and 7.3p respectively.

Insight into livestock trends

The Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Market Bulletin survey, conducted annually by the Welsh government, provides an important insight into the year’s livestock number trends in Wales.

It revealed a slight decline in both the size of the beef breeding herd and in the total number of sheep over 12 months old in 2020 and also shows a smaller lamb crop than in previous years.

It is important to note that, as a result of being conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, the data capture process was altered on this occasion.

Therefore, the results may not be a completely comparable reflection of the current state of the sheep sector.

The survey results revealed that the total number of lambs on Welsh holdings on June 1 was a reported 4.5 million, a drop of 2.8% when compared to 2019.

There was a slight decline of 0.3% in the size of the Welsh breeding herd, both dairy and beef breeds.

However, the total number of cattle and calves in Wales increased by 0.2% to 1,122,400 head.

Pigs on the other hand, bucked this trend.

A significant increase of 16.4%, or 4,000 head was captured by the survey, with the total number of pigs in Wales totalling 28,400.

This was due to an increase of 20.5% in the number of fattening pigs.

HCC data analyst Glesni Phillips has scrutinised this new information.

She said: "Some caution should be taken when analysing these figures, however, it’s a valuable exercise and provides a useful snapshot into the state of the industry.

The decline in both beef and sheep numbers are not a complete surprise given the timing and the uncertainty over our trading relationship with the EU.

"With a strong start to market prices and a post-Brexit trade deal finally in place, let’s hope for a stable and profitable 2021 for farmers in Wales," she concluded.