Meat & Livestock News

UK’s Pig Population Hits Lowest Point Since 2012

The United Kingdom’s pig population has reached its lowest level in over a decade, according to the latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). As of 1st June 2023, the pig population stood at 4.68 million, marking a significant year-on-year decline of 10.3%. This decrease, amounting to a loss of over half a million animals (537,000), represents the smallest recorded pig population in the UK since 2012.

The primary driver behind this decline is a substantial reduction in the number of fattening pigs, which has reached its lowest since 2015, standing at 4.26 million head. This 11.2% fall compared to June of the previous year aligns with the decrease observed in the breeding herd last year and the adverse effects of the summer 2022 heatwave on fertility.

The reduced number of fattening pigs correlates with the historically low slaughter throughputs in 2023, with the clean pig kill from January to November trailing 9.1% behind the numbers recorded last year.

In contrast, the total breeding pig population has remained relatively stable, showing only a marginal decrease of 0.2% in 2023 compared to 2022, with a total of 428,000 head. Within this category, there have been mixed movements.

The overall female breeding herd saw a slight decline of 1.5%, totalling 338,000 head. Notably, the number of sows in pigs decreased by 3.6% year-on-year, while gilts in pigs increased significantly by 13.0%. The number of boars used for service dropped by 5.4% year-on-year, but there was a 6.5% growth in the number of gilts intended for first-time breeding.

The rise in the number of gilts in pigs and those intended for first-time breeding indicates a cautiously optimistic sentiment within the industry, partly due to improved farm margins.

However, despite these signs of potential growth for some producers, the industry is not expected to return to the heights of 2021 in terms of pig numbers, throughputs, or production soon. A more detailed forecast will be provided in the 2024 Market Outlook, set to be released in the new year.