UK pig herd growing, according to Defra estimates

The UK pig herd grew by 3% in 2016, including a 2% increase in the female breeding herd, according to the latest Defra survey figures.

The December 2016 pig survey showed an extra 116,000 pigs, including 8,000 more breeding pigs, had pushed the overall UK pig herd above the 4.5 million mark, driven largely by increasing numbers in England.

The Defra survey showed:

  • A 2% increase in the female breeding herd to 409,000 head
  • This included a 3% increase in in-pig sows and a 9% rise in in-pig gilts
  • A 6% reduction in maiden gilts
  • A 3% rise in feeding pigs to just over 4m
  • An overall 3% increase to 4,538,000 pigs.

All of the devolved countries recorded increases, albeit modest ones, with both the Scottish and Northern Irish breeding herds up 1%.

Although it again questioned the accuracy of some of Defra’s numbers, AHDB Pork said the upward trend reflected growing confidence on the back of sustained higher prices, which have encouraged producers to expand herd size. The Standard Pig Price was again in the week ending March 18, reaching 151p/kg, nearly 40p/kg higher than the levels of a year ago.

AHDB Pork suggested Defra’s estimate of the feeding pig rise ‘may be somewhat overstated’, given the fall in slaughtering levels over recent months. Like-for-like UK clean pig slaughterings were 9% lower in February than a year ago at 769,000 head, continuing the trend of recent months on the back of an assumed contraction in the breeding herd in 2016.

While an increase in the breeding herd was expected, Defra’s 2% figure was also ‘in excess of AHDB forecasts’.

Nonetheless, the trends ‘would all suggest that producers are beginning to expand their herds, to capitalise on the stronger price and satiate demand’, AHDB Pork senior analyst Vikki Campbell said.

The numbers support the view that, while production is forecast to be back in the first half of 2017, it will recover in the latter half of the year, she said.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.