UK pig herd largest in 16 years
According to Defra, UK pig numbers on the 1 December totalled 4.7 million head.
This was 2% higher compared with the same period last year and is the largest December pig herd since 2003. Before 2009, the December census included pigs on non-commercial holdings, so on a like for like basis, the latest figure will actually be larger.
It is always important to treat census results with caution, as the trends are not always borne out in subsequent slaughter levels. However, given the significant improvement in profitability in 2019, we do believe herd expansion has been underway. Slaughter levels between December and February were also 6% higher year-on-year, pointing to increased pig numbers, perhaps even more so than suggested by the census.
The female breeding herd was reported as stable. Despite this, we believe the breeding herd has expanded. 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. So, it seems likely most of the increase has been driven by breeding herd expansion. Figures also suggest an increase in the production of pig breeding feed, again suggesting there are more animals to feed.
Figures from Scotland individually have also been released. These suggest an almost 7% decline in the overall herd and a 5% decline in the breeding herd. This is rather at odds with reports of particular expansion underway in Scotland.