The UK’s broiler sector has ended an uncertain year with a small overall gain compared with 2022.

Day-old chick placings during 2023 were up by 3 million on the year before at 1.19 billion, amounting to a fractional gain of a quarter per cent.

It was a year marked by a pattern of stop-go throughout, and both starting and ending with two of the biggest monthly declines of the year.

Chick numbers recorded a year-on-year increase in five months, and down in seven, with the final total just coming out on the plus side. 

In reality, though, there has been little net movement for two years. Last year’s placings total was 1m below the 2021 figure. 

Expansion in the sector has been derailed in the face of high input costs, higher borrowing costs, and the persistent threat from avian influenza. 

The lack of growth was not the result of faltering UK consumption, which as we revealed last week, grew by almost 3% during the first nine months compared with the same period of 2022 (final quarter figures are yet to appear). This was achieved through an overall rise in net imports.

Big fall for turkeys

For the turkey industry it has been the worst year in terms of bird numbers for at least 10 years, following a drop in day-old poult placings of 22% compared with 2022. The final total of 10.7m for the year was down by 3.0m on the year before.

Day-old turkeys were down in every month of the year, with the year concluding with a drop of 30% compared with December 2022.

In fact, the past two years have witnessed the two most significant year-on-year declines of the last 10 years, amounting to an overall fall of 29%. 

Since 2013, when annual poult placings were 17.1m, the turkey sector has contracted by 6.4m birds, or well over a third. Bird numbers were down in seven years out of the last 10.

After years of steadily declining numbers, the turkey sector is now a fraction of the size it was back in in 1995, when placings peaked at 43.2m.