Stock numbers continue to decline on Scottish farms

Figures produced yesterday by the Scottish Government show a continuing decline in the number of cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry being kept on Scottish farms.

The results from the December 2011 census show a 1.5 per cent decline in the country’s beef herd and a similar drop in the number of dairy cows. The number of breeding sheep being kept on Scottish farms fell by 2 per cent to 2.7 million while there was a 3.8 per cent reduction in the number of lambs. Overall the total number of sheep fell by 2.6 per cent to 4.47 million

The decline in the pig sector was even more marked, with a 10.3 per cent reduction leaving only 368,000 pigs being produced on Scottish farms. And the poultry sector also declined with a drop of 710,000 birds (4.8 per cent fall) to leave 13.96 million birds counting both broilers and egg layers.

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Commenting on these declines, Bob Carruth, head of communications at the National Farmers Union of Scotland said: “There was some expectation that the ongoing high prices for livestock and a better milk price would spark a growing level of confidence in the beef, dairy and sheep sectors and that this would be reflected in more stable breeding numbers.

“That is not seen in this current census and the numbers of breeding cows, ewes and young stock are continuing to slowly decline. While some will be making use of high market prices to sell cows and ewes into the cast market just now, there are fewer replacements in the pipeline, suggesting stock numbers are likely to remain tight.”

Carruth said that the pig sector had been hammered with high input costs leaving the lowest numbers of pigs being kept on Scottish farms for at least a decade. With its high welfare message, that loss of market share was disappointing he said.

The poultry sector was experiencing change and while unhappy at the fall in numbers, Carruth believed the industry was on the cusp of an encouraging period of growth.

The same survey also revealed how much last autumn’s bad weather had cut into the acreage of autumn cereals being sown. There was a 13.6 per cent drop in the acreage of winter wheat with only 98,626 hectares sown.

The oilseed rape acreage also dropped some 3.4 per cent to 35,656 hectares and winter barley by 3.1 per cent to 48,829 hectares.

Carruth said the drop was not surprising but looking forward, he said the danger with the unplanted 20,000 or so hectares would be if it all went into spring barley. “Growers may need to ensure that they will have a market for any additional spring crop that comes to the market,” he said.

In comparison to the drop in the Scottish cereal acreage, the better weather in England and Wales has resulted in 3 per cent more wheat being sown, oilseeds going up 6 per cent, and barley by 9 per cent, according to a survey by the Home Grown Cereals Authority.