England pig population: lowest in over a decade

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

  • Total pig numbers at lowest level since 2011
  • Fattening pig numbers have fallen by almost half a million since June 2022
  • The breeding pig population has remained flat year-on-year, supported by growth in the numbers of gilts in pig and gilts intended for first time breeding

In the latest Defra release the total pig population in England at 1 June recorded the lowest number for 12 years at 3.63 million head. This is an 11.6% decline year-on-year, nearly half a million animals (477,000). This is unlikely to come as much of a surprise to those in the industry, who are only just beginning to recover after 10 consecutive quarters of loss making.

The drop in the total pig population has been driven by a substantial fall in the numbers of fattening pigs. Fattening pigs are at the lowest number since 2012, at 3.30million head, a fall of 12.6% compared to June 2022. This evidences the historically low slaughter throughputs and pig meat production volumes being seen in 2023.

On the contrary, the breeding pig population has remained flat in 2023, with numbers totalling 329,000 head. Within the category, movements have been mixed. Overall, the female breeding herd saw a relatively small decline of only 1.5% (4,000 head), with sows in pig down 3.0% year-on-year but gilts in pig up 8.99%. Boars being used for service recorded larger declines, down 6.9% year-on-year, but on a more positive note, the number of gilts intended for first time breeding grew by 8.3%.

These breeding pig numbers, particularly the increase of gilts in pig and the number of gilts intended for first time breeding, show signs of a more positive industry sentiment and some cautious growth from producers. Although we do not expect to see the industry bouncing back to the heights of 2021 in terms of pig numbers, throughputs and production, if demand remains steady and producer net margins continue on a positive track then we anticipate some welcome growth.

Pig population in England at 01 June

bar chart showing pig population in England at 1 June

Source: Defra

Image of staff member Freya Shuttleworth

Freya Shuttleworth

Senior Analyst (Livestock)

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