22 March 2002

Live pigs hit all-time low throughput

By James Garner

and Wendy Owen

North-east correspondent

LIVE pig sales have dropped to an all-time low since livestock markets reopened last month.

Just 500 pigs were sold through the live ring last week. Although double the figure of a fortnight ago, it still represents a miserly 0.3% of total pig marketings.

Two years ago, live pig sales averaged 7500 a week from a total weekly kill of 220,000 – 3.5% of the sum. But since the foot-and-mouth crisis, some markets have failed to reopen and others have decided against pig sales for now.

Among the casualties has been Aylsham Market in Norfolk and Ripon in North Yorks. In their heyday, each was selling over 600 fat pigs a week.

Northampton, which used to sell about 1000 fat pigs a week, has sold only a handful since it reopened. Auctioneer Mike Carter has been satisfying demand from local wholesalers by brokering deals privately.

"We have been selling 1000-1200 pigs a week and most are happy with the way this is running. We are taking a commission for brokering the deal and we do not have the expense of opening the pig market."

Prices have been fairly buoyant as well, with baconers trading at 103p/kg dw last week, porkers at 110p/kg and cutters at 106p/kg.

York, another market that had previously sold over 1000 fat pigs a week, has yet to start sales. "We have not yet reopened our live auction for finished stock because of the 20-day standstill rule, which is highly restrictive," says auctioneer Richard Tasker.

"During the F&M crisis, we built up a strong alternative trade through the collection centre. We do not feel that reopening for finished animals would be in our clients best interests. And for the market, it would mean halving numbers and increasing operational costs to meet biosecurity rules, just for the sake of reopening."

Mr Tasker adds that more than 1000 pigs are being sold through an alternative deadweight system each week. Prices last week averaged 100-105p/kg dw for baconers and 54p/kg dw for cull sows.

But Hull auction mart has recently opened at its new site at Dunswell and auctioneer Ralph Ward is bullish about prospects for both finished and cull pigs.

"We had about 120 clean pigs at the first market. Numbers fell to less than half that at the second sale, but that was largely due to one buyer being absent and I think things will pick up."

Trade for cull sows has been brisk, with more than 100 at each of the three sales. Earlier this week, the average was 35p/kg liveweight, with a top of 43p/kg.

"Farmers in the north need live auctions to make it economical to take lorry loads of animals to sow slaughterers in the midlands and south-east of England," he says.

Thirsk auction mart manager Rodney Cordingley says the mart will continue to offer a live outlet for finished pigs. But he reckons there are fewer pig producers in the area and those that are left have bigger units and do not need the auction mart to group lorry loads of pigs together.