UK pig herd at its largest for sixteen years

Defra figures show the 2019 December pig herd is the largest since 2003
Defra figures show the 2019 December pig herd is the largest since 2003

The UK pig herd is at its largest for sixteen years as pig numbers on 1 December 2019 totalled 4.7 million head, according to Defra figures.

This was 2 percent 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, according to Bethan Wilkins, AHDB Senior Analyst.

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, she added.

The female breeding herd was reported as stable. Despite this, AHDB believes 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, Ms Wilkins explained.

GB sow productivity was stagnant in the latter half of 2019 according to Agrosoft data, and anecdotal reports have similarly talked of productivity challenges.

"It seems likely most of the increase has been driven by breeding herd expansion," Ms Wilkins said.

"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," the AHDB analyst said.