UK breeding pig herd at 20-year low, cattle and sheep rise

The UK female breeding pig herd has fallen by 14% to 343,000 head, the lowest level for more than 20 years.

Defra census data from 1 June showed the total breeding herd, including boars and first-time gilts, had fallen by 15% on year-earlier levels to 426,000 pigs.

The numbers of sows and gilts in pig were down by 12% and 22%, respectively, which indicates the number of fattening pigs coming through will continue to shrink.

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Total pig numbers dropped to 5.2 million, down by 2.5% on the 2021 figure.

The sector has endured a long period of losses.

Pig prices remain below cost of production, with the EU-spec standard pig price (SPP) averaging 200.1p/kg for the week ending 10 December.

Producers were estimated to be losing between £23 and £29 a pig for slaughter during November, according to AHDB figures, with cost of production estimated at 232p/kg.

Carol Davis, lead analyst in farm economics at the AHDB, said: “We continue to see a turbulent marketplace for inputs, with feed values playing a prominent role in the changes to November’s estimate.

“Compound spot feed prices that witnessed increases in October have eased in the November estimate, although still higher than the levels seen in the spring.

“With the bank base rate now at 2.93% for November, short and long-term interest rates have increased. Fuel prices continue to fluctuate, and energy prices are being maintained, but at an elevated level,” she added.

In November, UK clean pig slaughterings totalled 995,000 pigs, up 0.5% on the same month last year. However, pigmeat production was down 1.5% on November 2021 levels at 92,000t.

At an average of 89.4kg in November, carcass weights remain at elevated levels, despite being marginally down on the previous month and the same month last year.


UK cattle numbers totalled 9.6 million head in June 2022, an increase of 0.3% on year-earlier levels.

The total breeding herd declined by 0.9% to total 3.3 million animals. The dairy herd accounted for 56% of the breeding herd and beef 44%.

Cattle aged between one and two years on 1 June 2022 totalled 1.5 million head, an increase of 3% on the previous year, while youngstock under one year of age rose by 1.9% to 1.7 million head.

UK prime cattle slaughterings in November reached 178,000 head, an increase of 5.2% on the same month last year, according to Defra figures.

Beef production was up 6.1% on November 2021 levels to total 84,000t.


Total sheep and lamb numbers in the UK were back above 33 million in June 2022. This was an increase of 0.3% (109,500 head) compared with June 2021.

This was largely due to a rise of 5.2% year on year, to 2.7 million, in the number of ewes intended for first time breeding.

The total female breeding flock was estimated at 15.8 million, up 1% on year-earlier levels.

Lambs under one year of age in June remained in line with year-earlier levels at 17.3 million.

November clean sheep slaughterings dropped by 2.9% on the year to total 1.1 million head.

Mutton and lamb production totalled 24,000t, falling by 3.9% compared with the same month last year.