Farm Ireland

Sunday 17 December 2017

Republic slaughter increase fails to stop exports to NI

Michael A Martin

In the first four months of this year, pig slaughterings in licensed export plants in the Republic of Ireland amounted to just under 910,000, or an average of 53,509 pigs a week.

This is an increase of almost 4,500 pigs a week, or 9pc compared with the same period last year when the average per week was 49,023. However, there has been no reduction in the live export of pigs for slaughter in Northern Ireland -- in fact these have increased slightly (see table 2, below).

Excluding slaughterings in local authority-approved plants and live exports of weaners and breeding pigs, this year's disposals are 8pc higher than in the same period last year.

It is likely that a number of factors are contributing to this substantially increased pig supply, despite the serious financial problems being incurred by producers since last year's grain harvest:

  • Increased sow numbers -- In January's Teagasc survey of commercial pig herds, the number of sows recorded was 150,700. This represents an increase of 2,000 sows on the number in the previous survey in January 2009. Since several herds ceased production following the sharp increase in feed prices in the autumn of last year, the commercial sow herd is likely to have been closer to 155,000 last summer. The reduction to 150,700 would not be expected to impact on pig supplies until the second half of this year.
  • Increased sow productivity -- This is through significant increases in the number of piglets born alive per litter and reduced post-weaning losses sow productivity has increased. The litter size increase is due to improved breeding programmes and improvements in the feeding of lactating sows. Effective vaccination programmes have played a significant role in reducing mortality in weaners and finishers. An increase of 0.5 in the number of pigs produced per sow per year means an additional 1,500 pigs sold each week.
  • Increased growth rates -- Given the pressures on cash flow on units, it is to be expected that some producers would have to resort to selling pigs earlier, at lighter weights. This would have the effect of increasing disposals but on, effectively, a once-off basis. Slaughter weights are reported to have reduced only slightly but there is evidence that improvements in growth rates have helped significantly in minimising any decrease in sale weights.
  • Reduced disposals in early last year -- The 10,000 sows (less than 7pc of the national herd) in herds that were de-populated and restocked following the 2008 feed contamination problem are unlikely to have been selling at full production in the early part of last year. This year, these repopulated herds are expected to have been achieving very high levels of sow productivity. This is likely to have had some impact on the year-on-year comparison of disposals.

A national herd of 150,000 sows producing 22.5 pigs/sow/ year would result in total disposals of about 65,000 pigs a week. This level of sow productivity can be increased. The production of 24 pigs/ sow/year is a realistic target nationally.

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