Following strong growth throughout 2017, the Northern Ireland pig herd as at June 1, 2018 declined by 2% year-on-year, according to preliminary results of the June agricultural census from DAERA.
The total number of pigs was reported at 638,700 head. Compared to the December 2017 census there was still a slight increase in numbers, with the breeding herd recording the largest increase.
The number of pigs for slaughter was most influential on the overall herd number, shrinking by 11,800 head (2%) in the year to June 2018. This is perhaps unexpected, based on previous strong growth in the breeding herd, which continued to rise by 4% year-on-year in the latest census. Within this, in-pig gilts rose by a substantial 23% compared to June 2017. However, maiden gilts fell by 10%, suggesting breeding herd expansion may now be drawing to a close.
The number of clean pigs slaughtered in Northern Ireland so far in 2018 has recorded a 3% increase compared to the same period last year. This is probably a smaller increase than would be expected given the 19% year-on-year increase in slaughter pigs reported in December 2017, and aside from a significant increase in mortality, perhaps casts doubt on the reliability of the previous figure.
On top of this, live imports of slaughter pigs from the Republic of Ireland are reported to have increased 12% for the year to mid-August, according to DAERA, again suggesting pig availability has been lower than previous census results suggest. In light of this, the recent decline should be treated with some caution, and may represent some adjustment in the numbers rather than a real-world decline.