New figures published by Defra show there were 4.4 million pigs in the UK on December 1, 2013.
At about 4% higher than the same date in 2012, the figures represented the largest pig herd since 2010.
The increase was due to a 5% rise in the number of fattening pigs, with greater totals recorded for all weight bands of pigs raised for slaughter.
BPEX’s Pig Market Weekly notes, however, that there an even larger rise was recorded in the June survey figures, but this hasn’t been reflected in an increase in slaughterings. It remains to be seen whether this rise indicates more plentiful supplies in the coming months.
In contrast, the female breeding herd contracted by 1%, or 2,000 head, compared with December 2012. While sows in-pig increased by 2% year on year, this was more than offset by an 11% decline for in-pig gilts.
In addition, maiden gilt numbers fell by 10% on a year earlier, although it’s worth noting that last year’s figure was particularly high and maiden gilt numbers were up on December 2011.
Despite improving productivity levels, the decline in the breeding herd, combined with fewer maiden gilts, is likely to mean that tight supplies continue for much of 2014.
Figures for Scotland’s pig herd, which were also released this week, show a different picture. The overall herd was down 9% on the year to 293,000 head. However, after two years of sharp declines, the breeding herd has stabilised with a 1% increase to 28,500 head.