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AHDB Pig Market Weekly

05 March 2012

AHDB UK Market Survey - 2 March 2012AHDB UK Market Survey - 2 March 2012

The results of the Irish December livestock survey show that livestock numbers increased year on year.


Irish livestock numbers increase

Cattle numbers were marginally higher year on year while sheep and pig numbers were up six and four per cent respectively.

The number of dairy cows in the cattle herd increased, recording a three per cent rise to 1.06 million head. This reflects the profitability of the dairy sector and its growing importance to the Irish economy. In the face of the expanding dairy sector the beef herd contracted by one per cent with cow numbers falling to 1.06 million head.

Falling herd numbers in recent years has resulted in the number of cattle aged between one and two years being considerably lower. The number of male cattle was down nine per cent while female numbers declined two per cent. There does appear to be increased numbers further down the system, likely aided by lower cereal costs encouraging the retention of males from the dairy herd. There was a 15 per cent increase in the number of male cattle under one year of age and the number of females in this age range were up six per cent.

Male cattle numbers of all ages fell nearly two per cent while female numbers were up one per cent. The cattle herd totalled 5.93 million head, a marginal increase on the year.

The higher finished prices on offer to sheep producers continued to encourage the rebuilding of the national flock. The sheep flock rose by more than six per cent, to 3.32 million head, although this still represented a decline of almost a third over the past 10 years. The breeding component of the flock increased four per cent to 2.52 million head; fuelled by a 13 per cent increase in the number of younger ewes under two years of age. This indicated a large increase in the number of ewe lamb retentions over the past 18 months as producers have responded to the increased optimism within the sector.

The number of other sheep, generally lambs, within the population increased 13 per cent to 797,000 head, indicating increased availability in the early part of 2012. Bord Bia indicate that lamb throughputs in the year up to 11 Feb were eight per cent higher, despite live imports from Northern Ireland being lower.

While the dairy breeding herd and the breeding sheep flock grew the pig breeding herd has contracted, as the sector still deals will the losses incurred over the last year or so. At 148,000 head the number of breeding pigs was two per cent lower year on year. The number of breeding pigs in all categories was lower, with the exception of gilts which are yet to be served but are intended for breeding. The total number of pigs did increase however, up four per cent to 1.55 million head, as the number of non breeding pigs increased more than four per cent to 1.41 million head.

Cattle market trends


In week ended 25 February, with continued tight supply and the Easter bank holidays approaching, the upward trend in cattle prices continued. Changes to prices for the different categories of prime cattle mirrored last week’s changes, with the price of R4L steers marginally down but R4L heifers increasing by a penny. As a result, the overall prime cattle average increased by a penny to 335.3p per kg. The average price of –O4L cull cows strengthened to a further record level, increasing by five pence on the week to 269.8p per kg.

Following last week’s decline, throughputs at GB auction markets bounced back in week ended 29 February, up by six per cent week on week. The average steer price increased by a penny to 188.5p per kg, whilst heifers were two pence cheaper at 191.6p per kg.

Regional slaughterings

In January 2012 throughputs of prime cattle at UK abattoirs totalled 185,000 head, down 12 per cent year on year. However, it is important to note that slaughterings in January 2011 were high as a result of the movement disruptions brought about by the bad weather in December 2010. There was a 22 per cent decline in the number of young bulls slaughtered, steer numbers were down 9 per cent and heifer numbers were 11 per cent lower. Declines were recorded in all regions of the UK. Slaughterings in Scotland recorded the largest decline in both steers and young bulls down 12 and 34 per cent respectively. Northern Ireland recorded the largest reduction in heifer throughputs; 15 per cent lower year on year.

There was also a significant decline in the number of adult cattle slaughtered; adult bull throughputs were down 44 per cent while cull cow numbers fell 12 per cent. As with prime cattle, these year on year declines should be viewed against considerable year on year increases recorded in January 2011.

Carcase weights in the month were higher year on year as good feed availability and mild weather over the winter has allowed producers to add weight. Adult bull carcases were over seven per cent heavier while young bull and cow carcases were one per cent heavier. Overall beef and veal production declined 11 per cent to 83,700 tonnes as these heavier weights offset the lower numbers to some degree.

Sheep market trends


In week ended 25 February, despite the liveweight trade easing, the deadweight SQQ was at a similar level to the week earlier at 441.3p per kg. Demand for lighter sheep was still evident with the price of those animals in the standard weight band increasing a penny while those in the medium band fell by over a penny.

Following the decline in the previous week the liveweight lamb trade in week ended 29 February strengthened marginally. The SQQ was up slightly at 201.8p per kg.

Some of this increase was likely to be the result of tightening supplies with throughputs down four per cent in the week. The SQQ was higher on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but failed to claw back the losses incurred in the previous week. Reports indicate that there remains too many heavier and over-spec animals in the system which is limiting the trade.

Regional slaughterings

In January 2012 clean sheep slaughterings at UK abattoirs, totaled 978,000 head, four per cent lower year on year. However, this is on the back of a seven per cent year on year increase in January 2011. Supplies were at their tightest in Scotland where throughputs were down 13 per cent while in England and Wales they were down almost four per cent. In contrast, Northern Ireland throughputs increased by a quarter, although only accounted for two per cent of UK throughputs.

In January the adult sheep kill in the UK totalled 171,000 head, a fall of 13 per cent on the year, but following a 31 per cent increase in January 2011. Numbers in Scotland were down six per cent, in England and Wales down 13 per cent and in Northern Ireland fell 11 per cent. Nearly 97 per cent of all adult sheep were processed in either England or Wales, the same proportion as year earlier levels.

The situation in Northern Ireland continued to be prone to the most fluctuation. Lamb throughputs were up 25 per cent year on year while live exports of sheep direct to slaughter into the Republic were down five per cent at 43,700 head. As a result the total availability of all sheep for slaughter from Northern Ireland in January was only three per cent higher at 71,600 head.

The mild winter and ample feed supply has contributed to heavier weights. In January, lamb carcases were over one per cent heavier at 19.6kg and adult sheep carcases almost two per cent higher at 25.5kg. These heavier weights offset the lower kill to some degree with mutton and lamb production in the UK less than five per cent lower than in January 2011 at 23,500 tonnes.

Pig market trends


In week ended 25 February the recent seasonal price decrease slowed, with the DAPP back marginally at 139.36p per kg. Lower price levels in recent weeks have generally been influenced by subdued consumer demand combined with ready supplies. Nevertheless, prices are still five pence per kg higher than a year ago. There was a marginal change in the quality of pigs at slaughter with the average weight increasing marginally to 79.98kg and the average probe measurement declining to 10.9mm. There was three per cent increase in the proportion of pigs falling into 80kg- 89.9kg weight bands.

In week ending 3 March the average weaner price improved marginally on the week at £44.67 per head. However, finishers are reportedly reluctant to take on higher numbers given the current level of the DAPP.

Cull sow prices have continued their upward trend in recent weeks as export demand remained firm. The average deadweight price in week ended 18 February was 114.5p per kg, up four pence on the week before and 27 pence higher than the level a year earlier.

Regional slaughterings

UK clean pig slaughterings in January 2012 totalled 943,000 head, five per cent higher than in January 2011. As has been the case in most recent months, Scotland recorded the strongest growth, with slaughterings up by nearly a quarter to 64,000 head. In contrast, throughputs in Northern Ireland were one per cent lower than in January 2011 at 155,000 head.

In January Defra resumed the publication of figures for slaughterings of cull sows and boars, given the increase in the number of plants killing them. The number slaughtered during the month was 25,600 head, which is estimated to be 11 per cent higher on the year.

Clean pig carcase weights are normally high during January due to the marketing of some pigs which were held back over the holiday period. This year was no exception, with the average carcase weight fractionally over 79kg, its highest level since February 2011 but marginally lower than a year earlier. The average carcase weight for cull sows and boars was 149kg, slightly lower than the average during 2011. Total pig meat production in January was 78,000 tonnes, up five per cent compared with the same month last year.

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