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AHDB European Market Survey

05 March 2012

AHDB European Market Survey - 2 March 2012AHDB European Market Survey - 2 March 2012

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


Irish livestock numbers increase

Cattle numbers were marginally higher year on year while sheep and pig numbers were noticeably higher.

Within the cattle herd the number of dairy cows continued to increase, 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.

Falling herd numbers in recent years have resulted in the number of cattle aged between one and two years being considerably lower, with male numbers down nine per cent and female numbers down two per cent. However, numbers of younger cattle were higher, helped by lower cereals 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 females in this age range were up six per cent. The total cattle herd numbered 5.93 million head, fractionally higher than a year earlier.

The higher finished prices on offer to sheep producers continued to encourage the rebuilding of the national flock. Overall the sheep flock rose by more than six per cent, to 3.32 million head, although this still represents 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 indicates a large increase in the number of ewe lamb retentions over the past 18 months as producers responded to the increased optimism within the sector.

The number of other sheep, generally lambs, within the population was up 13 per cent at 797,000 head indicating increased availability in the early part of 2012. This is backed up by Bord Bia who indicate that lamb throughputs this year, up to 11 February, 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, largely due to the difficult financial situation in the industry over the last year. At 148,000 head the number of breeding pigs was two per cent lower year on year. All categories were lower with the exception of maiden gilts.

The overall number of pigs did increase, however, being up nearly four per cent at 1.55 million head, as the number of non breeding pigs rose. At 1.41 million head this category increased by more than four per cent, suggesting an improvement in sow productivity.

Small increases in Canadian pig production and exports

Following many years in decline due to poor profitability, the Canadian pig herd has stabilised over the last two years. Latest figures show that in the year to 1 January 2012 the total number of pigs rose by one per cent to just over 12 million. This is two per cent higher than in January 2010 but still 19 per cent below numbers five years earlier. The breeding herd was virtually unchanged at 1.3 million head. This stabilisation has resulted from improved profitability as pig prices reached record highs during 2011, with the Ontario price for Index 100 hogs peaking at C$211 per 100kg dw in August, over 50 dollars higher than a year earlier. Despite falling back slightly, prices ended 2011 a quarter above year earlier levels.

With a stable breeding herd and improved productivity, the pig crop during the last quarter of 2011 was four per cent higher than a year earlier at 7.4 million head. This was the highest quarterly figure since early 2009. This trend was also reflected in slaughterings during the quarter, which were up over two per cent year on year, although for the year as a whole slaughterings were marginally lower than in 2010 at 21.3 million head.

The increased pig crop and good demand led to a one per cent rise in exports of live pigs to the US which totalled 5.8 million head. Over 80 per cent of these were weaners being sent to finishers in the US. This is the first annual increase since the export peak in 2007, when over 10 million live pigs were exported. Numbers fell dramatically following the introduction of new regulations on Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) in the US in late 2008.

Exports of fresh and frozen pork were also slightly higher during 2011 than a year earlier, rising by three per cent to 870,000 tonnes while the average export price was as much as 16 per cent higher in US dollars. The two largest markets, the US and Japan, accounted for around half of the total but both took less Canadian pork than in 2010. However, this was offset by increased shipments to Russia, South Korea and China as well as some smaller markets. Canada was the main beneficiary of the Russian ban on imports of Brazilian pork, with volumes sent to Russia up by more than two-thirds. In common with most other major pork exporters, Canadian exports to China and South Korea also rose very sharply.

US Farms, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations

According to a new USDA report, the number of farms in the US in 2011 was estimated at 2.2 million, down slightly from 2010 but a two per cent increase over the last decade. Total land in farms was 917 million acres, having steadily fallen since 2002, by an average 2.6 million acres a year. Average farm size has remained relatively stable at 420 acres since 2007.

In terms of US livestock, the number of cattle operations in 2011 was 922,000, a slight fall on the year. Beef cow operations, which made up almost 80 per cent of all cattle operations, were also slightly lower year on year at 734,000. More than 90 per cent of these had fewer than 100 cows and these smaller producers accounted for 45 per cent of the US beef herd. There were only 60,000 dairy cow operations but these tended to be larger, with over half the dairy herd in operations with 1,000 or more cows.

The number of pig operations was unchanged from 2010 at 69,100. Pig production was highly concentrated, with the 13 per cent of operations which had more than 2,000 head accounted for 87 per cent of the total US inventory. In fact, based on ownership, just 135 businesses had 50,000 head or more but they accounted for 58 per cent of all US pigs.

At 80,000, there were 1,000 fewer sheep operations in 2011 compared with the year before. Over 90 per cent of farms had fewer than 100 head, accounting for 36 per cent of the total US sheep flock. Only one per cent of operations had more than 500 head, but they accounted for 43 per cent of the total flock.

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