UK pig numbers on 1 December 2019 totalled 4.7m head, the largest it has been in 16 years, according to the latest livestock census from Defra.
The total pig herd is 2% higher than the same period last year, and is the largest December pig herd since 2003. This number no longer takes into account pigs on non-commercial holdings, as the census stopped counting this in 2009, and so on a like for like basis the number of pigs in the UK will be larger than this.
Bethan Wilkins, analyst at AHDB, says that while it is important to treat census results with caution as trends are not always borne out in subsequent slaughter levels, given the given the significant improvement in profitability in 2019, it is probable that herd expansion has been underway.
Slaughter levels between December and February were 6% higher year-on-year, pointing to increased pig numbers, potentially more so than suggested by the census.
Wilkins added that despite the female breeding herd being reported as stable, they believe the herd has actually expanded.
She said: “The significant increase in throughput over the past three months points toward an increase in sow numbers around the middle of 2019. It seems unlikely this increase would have been reversed later in the year. GB sow productivity was stagnant in the latter half of 2019 according to Agrosoft data, and anecdotal reports have similarly talked of productivity challenges.”
In addition, figures from Scotland were released inividually, which suggest an almost 7% decline in the overall herd and a 5% decline in the breeding herd, at odds with reports of expansion underway in the country.