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UK pig population falls to lowest level since 2012, as breeding herd stabilises

22nd Dec 2023 / By Alistair Driver

The UK pig population contracted by 10% to its lowest level since 2012, while the breeding herd has stabilised but not shown any growth, Defra’s June census shows. 

Female breeding herd 2023The UK pig population stood at 4.68 million head in June 2023, a decline of 10.3% on June 2022, reflecting the loss of 537,000 pigs. 

The drop in the total pig population was driven by a 11.2% fall in the numbers of fattening pigs to 4.26 million head, the lowest number recorded since 2015. AHDB analyst Freya Shuttleworth said this reflected the size of the decline in the UK breeding herd last year and the negative impacts the summer 2022 heatwave had on fertility.

These figures tallied with low slaughter throughputs being seen in 2023, with the clean pig kill in the year to November sitting 9.1% behind numbers recorded last year. 

Following the dramatic decline seen in the June 2022 survey, the total breeding pig population has stabilised, falling by only 0.2% over the year to 428,000 head.

Within the category, movements have been mixed, however. After declining by 14% last year, the overall female breeding herd saw a relatively small decline of 1.5% to total 338,000 head, with sows in pig down 3.6% year-on-year.

However, gilts in pig were up a significant 13%, while the number of gilts intended for first time breeding grew by 6.5%. Boars being used for service recorded a loss of 5.4% year-on-year.

“The increase of gilts in pig and the number of gilts intended for first time breeding shows signs of improved industry sentiment, likely in part due to improved farm margins. While this may indicate cautious growth for some producers, we do not expect to see the industry bouncing back to the heights of 2021 in terms of pig numbers, throughputs or production,” Ms Shuttleworth said.