Farmer Focus: Slaughter dates adjusted after being docked 61p/kg

African swine fever continues to be a major problem in China, with the forecasts suggesting anywhere between a 10% and 30% drop in output. 

AHDB analyst Felicity Rusk said Chinese imports are likely to rise by 40% and it is estimated that EU exports may rise by 11% as a result. 

Mainland EU producers have seen substantial price rises, with the EU reference price leaping from 117p/kg in February to nearly 146p/kg at the end of April. Not in the UK, however.

In April, the UK price had barely budged since February – sitting 7p below last year – with only tiny rises being seen, despite exports to China being up 40% year-on-year. 

See also: A guide to African swine fever and how to minimise the risks

Finally, at the beginning of May, the price rose by just over a penny to reach 139.84p/kg.

UK producers are questioning why the UK is being left behind. Some have blamed high storage levels ahead of Brexit, but many believe processors are just trying to avoid the unavoidable. 

Combining Chinese demand with tightening UK supplies and a high EU price that makes imports look less favourable, all analysts point to a rapid rise soon.

We have actually seen some phenomenal growth. Of the 838 pigs slaughtered in the latest batch, 781 were sent as bacon weight pigs at an average of 155 days old.  

Their average liveweight was 120kg, resulting in a deadweight of 90kg. This means they did 873g/day from weaning.

We sent 17 pigs early at 138 days old. These pigs gained 978g/day from weaning. 

Unfortunately, we were heavily penalised for overweight pigs, to the tune of 61p/kg. Optimal weights at the farm that suit our contract tend to be 87-88kg.

Two of the loads were spot on, but the other two loads averaged 94kg and 92kg, meaning we lost huge potential value on these pigs had we not kept them for as long (not to mention the cost of feed). 

Why did this happen? Pigs were stocked lighter than usual, optimal weather and, probably, some poor selection management. 

We’ve already pulled the slaughter dates forward for the next batch for similar reasons.

Sophie Hope is a Farmer Focus writer from near Cheltenham. Read her biography