The results of the June 2013 Agricultural census reveal that the English breeding herd has decreased during the past year, although the June figures do represent some recovery from the low point recorded in December 2012.
The number of female breeding pigs was 346,000 on June 1, compared with 351,000 on the same day in 2012. The December 2012 figure was 332,000.
A sharp drop in the number of in-pig sows and gilts – down from 244,000 to 234,000 and 57,000 to 53,000 respectively – suggests that the number of piglets born over the summer will have remained constrained. In turn, this implies that pig supplies will remain relatively tight for the rest of this year.
In contrast, the number of maiden gilts rose, from 72,000 to 75,000, continuing a long-term trend driven, in part, by a greater producer focus on replacing sows to ensure herds are younger and more productive.
While the results for the breeding herd are broadly in line with expectations, the figures for the number of fattening pigs are unexpected. They show a significant increase, with more than 400,000 extra pigs compared with a year earlier.
With the breeding herd declining during the second half of last year, this seems unlikely as many of these pigs would have come to slaughter since June but no upturn has been apparent.
Defra figures do show that English clean pig slaughterings between June and August 2013 were 5% up on a year earlier, but this is largely due to more Scottish pigs being killed in England.