England loses one-fifth of female breeding herd
27th Feb 2023 / By Alistair Driver
December census figures from Defra have confirmed a big drop in England's female breeding herd, following two years of heavy financial losses.
The female breeding herd numbered 237,000 at the end of 2022, compared with 295,000 in December 2021, a 20% decline and 25% below the 317,000 head recorded in 2020.
There was a 16% drop in the number of in-pig sows to just under 170,000 and a 31% dip in in-pig gilt numbers to below 30,000, with the number of gilts not yet in pig down 27% to 58,000. ‘Other sows’, either being suckled or dry sows kept for further breeding, were down 26% to 38,080,
The December breeding herd figures follow from June 2022 census data showing an 18% year-on-year decline.
The overall English pig herd was down 9.2% year-on-year, at 3.7 million, including a 7.9% reduction in the number of fattening pigs. However, the December 2022 figure represents a return to typical pig numbers seen from 2017 to 2020, after the backlog-inflated peak of December 2021.
While the wider UK figures have not yet been published, the implications for UK pig production are likely to be significant, especially when the impact of lower slaughter weights is added in, and with the impact of summer infertility on pigs coming through the system likely to be felt over the next couple of months.
In its 2023 Pork Outlook, AHDB is forecasting a 15% drop in UK pork production for 2023 on the back of the decline in the breeding herd, although it anticipates a gradual recovery of breeding pig numbers during 2023 and beyond.
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said: "These figures are shocking, confirming a scale and pace of contraction that we have not seen before in this industry. But, at the same time, they are not surprising, given the depth and length of the crisis that has engulfed the sector. For many producers, sadly, there has just been no way through it.
"These figures should send a message to the rest of the supply chain about what happens when one part of it fails to receive a fair price over a prolonged period. We are now facing a shortage of pigs in the UK, with many leading European pig producing countries in the same boat, which will only continue to worsen over the coming months.
"We continue to call on the Government to push through with its review of the pork supply chain, so we can introduce reforms that will ensure a fairer, more sustainable supply chain for all."