Ireland: Sectoral Road Map: Pigs

A look ahead for the Irish pig industry to 2020 from Teagasc. How will the industry be then and what challenges does it face along the way?
calendar icon 2 October 2013
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Market and Policy Issues


The supply and prices of feed grains and soybean meal fluctuate widely and exert a very significant impact on the profitability of pig meat production. Demand for pig meat worldwide continues to increase but increases in production have been curtailed by periods of very high feed prices that have lead to reductions in breeding pig numbers.

European Union

Currently, imports of pig meat into the European Union (EU) are quite insignificant in terms of EU pig meat production. Within the EU overall, sow numbers have been in decline. The decline in sow numbers will result in a somewhat smaller reduction in pig supplies due to the higher output per sow of the remaining herds.


Despite significant imports of pig meat annually, Ireland is a net exporter of pig meat and of live pigs.

Shape and Size of the Sector in 2020

There are about 325 commercial pig units in Ireland with a total breeding herd of just under 150,000 sows. The average size of commercial sow herds is 496 sows. Food Harvest 2020 proposes increased production to achieve annual disposals of 4.8 million head by:

  • expanding the national breeding herd to 200,000 sows.
  • increasing sow productivity from 21.8 to 24 pigs produced per sow per year.
Targets proposed for the pig production sector.
FactorSectoral averageTop 10% of producers 2020
CurrentTarget 2020
No. of pigs produced/sow/year 23 25 27
Average slaughter weight kg dead 79 80 80
Feed conversion weaning to sale 2.46 2.35 2.3
Pigmeat/sow/year (tonne) 1.82 2.00 2.16
Total feed/sow/year (tonne) 7.15 7.00 7.42
Herd feed conversion efficiency 3.9 3.5 3.4

Four key performance indicators are identified:

  1. Sow productivity: the increase will have to come from a significant improvement in the number of piglets born alive per litter.
  2. Slaughter weight: the small increase in carcass weight at slaughter to 80kg is based on the continued use of entire males as opposed to castration, either surgical or by vaccination.
  3. Feed conversion: currently, over 30% of the feed used by the pig sector is home milled and mixed, and this is expected to increase. Improvements in feed conversion efficiency (FCE) are required to reduce production costs. Factors that will influence this include diet formulations, sequences of diets, genetics, and alternative ingredients
  4. Two from seven: the Teagasc PigSys Programme will be used to monitor the target for production of two tonnes of pig meat from seven tonnes of feed.

Environmental Implications

The density of pig production in Ireland is not a constraint on the expansion of production within the existing environmental regulations.

The environmental impact of the projected increase can be substantially offset by improvements in feed formulation. The location of the increased production in areas with low density of production and in tillage areas would reduce the cost of transporting pig manure to be used as a valuable grassland and crop fertiliser.

Research and Knowledge Transfer Actions

  1. Conduct relevant pig research in the areas of nutrition, welfare and pig management at Moorepark with the financial support of the sector.
  2. Increase the number of producers that fully participate in the PigSys herd recording system and benchmark herd performance.
  3. Continue availability of farm visits to deal with specific problems/issues on units.
  4. Provide focused workshops for pig producers and staff, both at central locations and on farm for larger herds.
  5. Continue the Fetac pig course commencing every second year.
  6. Increase the use of electronic methods of communication.
  7. Promote a ‘Two from seven’ campaign targeting the production of two tonnes of pig meat from seven tonnes of feed.
  8. Develop pig discussion groups on a regional basis.


There are a number of key issues for pig producers in Ireland at present:

  1. Failure to maintain a reasonable return on investment in recent years.
  2. A high level of indebtedness to the feed sector.
  3. New legislation (SI 311 of 2010) on sow housing came into force on 1 January 2013. As a result the management of sows in group systems requires considerable attention.
  4. The extension of the transitional arrangements in relation to the use of pig manure as a fertiliser is to be phased out by 2017.
  5. Feed represents 70 per cent of the cost of producing pig meat. National and EU policy in relation to the approval of genetically modified varieties of soya bean and also maize impact directly on the cost of ingredients.

October 2013

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