While the national flock is declining, the number of store and breeding sheep, cull ewes and prime lambs sold through auction markets continues to rise.
The latest sales figures for England and Wales, from the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), show support among farmers remains strong.
Chris Dodds, Executive Secretary, LAA, said: “Auction marts offer a good service to farmers, giving them choice and stability, and they encourage the marketplace to be open, transparent and competitive.
“In total over 11m head of livestock was sold through LAA members during 2013, with strong growth in the number of sheep driving this upward trend.
“Contrary to recent statements by some involved in the supermarkets, these figures support the position of British sheep producers - our lamb is available all year round and is being sold through our markets, in greater volumes, throughout the year.”
The value of livestock sold through auction markets in 2013 was slightly down on 2012 at £1.76bn (compared with £1.8bn). This reflects the price of cull ewes, cull cows and prime cattle coming down from the unusually high prices they were attracting in 2012. The figure is a long way ahead of the £1.54bn achieved in 2010.
Chris Dodds continued: “Store and breeding stock numbers for cattle and sheep are up considerably on 2012 and support for markets continues to grow. Prime cattle numbers fell slightly as we saw more farmers selling their stronger cattle in the store market to make the most of the excellent demand. Farmers should sell through our marts to maintain their independence and support buoyant, competitive prices.
“Auction marts pay promptly and support their customers. They remain vital to a strong and vibrant red meat sector within the farming economy in Britain.”