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Defra survey records 3% rise in English pig herd

5th Mar 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The English pig herd grew by 3% last year to reach its highest level for nine years, according to Defra's December Pigs survey.

As of December 1 2017, the English pig total pig population stood at over 3.7 million head, the largest at this time of year since 2009. The rise was driven by a 3% rise on December 2016 in the number of fattening pigs to 3.3 million head.

pig census

"This suggests the recent year-on-year growth in pig slaughterings is likely to continue in the short term at least," AHDB Pork's Bethan Wilkins said. "The increased supplies might mean that finished pig prices remain below last year’s levels, although there is likely to be some seasonality related tightening of supplies in the coming months."

"However, Defra’s December 2016 census also indicated a somewhat surprising 2% increase in the finishing herd, despite slaughterings in subsequent months being consistently lower year-on-year. This suggests the absolute figure for 2016 may have been somewhat overstated, and the most recent census results may remain a little inflated."

In contrast, the figures suggest little change in the English female breeding herd, when compared with December 2016. The official Defra estimate of 325,000 head was just 0.4% up on the previous year, while the overall breeding estimate was down fractionally due to a drop in the number of boars being used for service.

Ms Wilkins suggested the Defra survey might have under-estimated the rise in the female breeding herd, however, and said they should be 'treated with caution'. 

"With the significant improvement to producer profitability in 2017, slightly larger growth in the breeding herd may have been anticipated, especially considering the high throughputs in recent weeks. However, with the recorded sow herd continuing to grow through the period of poor profitability in late 2015 and early 2016, these figures seem to have been overstated for some time and therefore should be treated with caution."

Nonetheless, the more detailed figures show a 3% fall in the number of in-pig gilts, which may be an indication producers are not pushing for expansion at the moment, due to uncertainty over the future level of pig prices, she added.

The Defra figures show the English breeding herd herd has remained fairly stable in size over the past five years.