Provisional figures from Defra indicate that the UK pig herd stood at 4.85 million head on June 1 this year.
While this was 8% higher than at the same point in 2012, the increase is mostly due to there being 9% more fattening pigs recorded.
These figures would place the total herd at its largest size since 2006, in contrast to the record low level recorded in the December 2012 census, however BPEX is sceptical about the numbers.
The organisation’s Pig Market Weekly says an increase on this scale appears unlikely given the reduction in the breeding herd last year, even allowing for a significant increase in sow productivity.
“Furthermore, most of these fattening pigs would have been finished in the months since June, but there’s been no significant uplift in slaughterings.”
The total breeding herd declined by 1% on the year, with 4% and 5% fewer in-pig sows and gilts respectively. Maiden gilt numbers helped partially offset the fall, increasing by 4%, suggesting the trend towards younger, more productive, breeding sows continues.
The maiden gilt numbers may also signal some optimism among producers. Nevertheless, with productivity gains meaning more fattening pigs can be produced using fewer breeding pigs, there seems less need for the breeding herd to expand back to historic levels.