UK pig population at record low

UK pig population
Photo: Herbert Wiggerman

The UK pig population stood at 4.68 million animals in June 2023, according to the latest figures by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

This constitutes is a loss of well 537,000 animas since June 2022 and leads to the smallest pig population in the UK since 2012.

Substantial fall in finisher numbers

A substantial fall in the number of finishers drove the drop in the total pig population. That is unsurprising given the size of decline seen in the breeding herd last year and the negative impacts the summer 2022 heatwave had on fertility, the British Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) reported.

Finishers are at the lowest number since 2015, at 4.26 million animals, a fall of 11.2% compared to June last year. However, the total breeding pig population has seen minimal change, down by only 0.2% in 2023 vs 2022, with numbers totalling 428,000 animals, AHDB said.

First green shoots of recovery for the pig sector

Chief executive Lizzie Wilson of the British National Pig Association (NPA), however, sees some light at the end of the tunnel. In her year review, she reflected: “2023 began with the pig price in a much more positive place and moving in the right direction, but with cost of production at an unprecedented high, producer members were still losing money. However, with supply tightening and only forecast to reduce further, the first green shoots of recovery for the pig sector were starting to become apparent and not a moment too soon, having lost a significant proportion of the sow herd.”

Some signs of recovery

There are indeed some signs of recovery, be it green shoots and no more. In November, the number of slaughtered pigs came in at 910,500, an increase of 2.6% compared to the previous month but still 45.900 animals or 4.8% down year-over-year. Over the first 9 months of 2023, the pig slaughter numbers were still 9.1% behind the same period last year.

Positive margins are a blessing for the pig industry

NPA’s chairman Rob Mutimer could therefore only hope that confidence returns, he said in his new year’s message: “Last year has felt rather like the hangover from the 2 previous years of carnage. We are at least seeing positive margins which is a blessing but confidence among the majority of producers is still very low with many having to restructure their business and plug financial holes from the previous years.

“Thankfully, the herd numbers are starting to stabilise, and confidence will, hopefully, start to improve throughout 2024.”

Ruud Peijs International Journalist
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