Some pig farms have quickly gone from having to roll over 25-30% of their finished pigs each week to being told by processors they are short of contracted pigs.
The usual tightening of supply early in the year and a legacy of lower production due to autumn infertility have helped work through a backlog of pigs.
This has brought some relief to a sector in crisis.
Prime pig carcass weights and fat depths are falling, suggesting pigs are being slaughtered in a timelier fashion and exporters are in control of paperwork for shipments to Europe.
This is welcome news after a perfect storm of limited sow exports, processing backlogs caused by Covid-19 in the UK and EU, and depressed European prices due to German export bans over African swine fever.
Market Drayton’s pig section was spared the extreme lows because of a flying trade from farm shops and butchers during lockdown, said Ben Baggott of Barbers.
However, he stressed that cull boars had been as low as 1p/kg, meaning a 300kg boar was making £3.
“Boar trade was a complete disaster, but sows were helped here by really strong trade from farm shops selling sausages,” he told Farmers Weekly.
Cull sows averaged more than 60p/kg on Monday (19 April), with many at 40p/kg a fortnight before that. This is much higher than the 20p/kg averages seen earlier this year.
Finished pigs had lifted 15-20p/kg in general, with many making 125-130p/kg.
“There are definitely farms that have gone out of pigs during this tough time,” said Mr Baggott. “Two or three have already finished and one is finishing the last pigs; the sows are already gone.”
But he said prices must be sustainable: an eye-watering £60 a head, seen on Monday for a pen of 17kg weaners, was too dear.
“To pay to get them to 80kg and get 120p/kg for them just doesn’t stack up.”
Finished pig trade has jumped £30-£40 a head at Frome in recent weeks, with heavy cutting pigs up to £130 and lighter pigs regularly hitting £100.
Auctioneer Will Wallis said: “It’s taken a bit of time to warm up, but trade is certainly a lot brighter. The hospitality trade is opening up again.
“Not long ago, I couldn’t sell cull sows for £20. Last week, I sold a sow for £120 and she wasn’t a big sow.”
Mr Wallis added that buyers were hungry for sows again, with reports of some new potential export markets.