English pig numbers at 1 December totalled 3.78 million head, which is around 3% higher compared with December 2018, and is the largest December pig herd since 2007, according to Defra.
Felicity Rusk, analyst at AHDB, says that whilst the pig census results should always be viewed with caution, as trends are not always reflected in slaughter levels, they do believe that pig numbers have been growing. She said “England plg slaughter levels across December and January were 6% higher than year-earlier levels. However, our weekly slaughter estimates suggest the pace of growth has dropped back since then.
The number of female pigs in the breeding herd is down 1% on the previous year, which was driven by an unusually large decline of 12% in the number of suckling and dry sows.
Rusk added that they believe there has been expansion in the UK breeding herd overall, but particularly in Scotland, so growth in England may not be so pronounced.
She said: “A sharp rise in the production of breeding pig feed also points to herd expansion. In the census, in-pig sows, in-pig gilts and maiden gilts did all record an increase in numbers compared to the previous year.
“The better financial positions of producers would be expected to allow expansion in some areas. Furthermore, optimism about the outlook, particularly in regards to the Chinese protein deficit may also be influencing producer intentions.”