Getting UK Pig Producers Through Tough Times

UK - The pig industry is one that mirrors classic economic theory. When supplies are scarce, prices are high and this leads to increased production and surpluses, resulting in a fall in price followed by reduced production - the classic pig cycle. The UK was doing quite well until the Russian embargo on pigmeat imports meant a surplus of pork in Europe and finding alternative markets has not been easy, writes Stuart Lumb for ThePigSite.
calendar icon 1 April 2016
clock icon 6 minute read

UK producers have seen prices drop from around 160p/ kg in 2013/14 to 110p /kg currently.

Soya and cereal prices have also dropped over this period but even so producers have suffered badly.

Richard Bull, Taurus Concepts Ltd, has worked in the UK industry for many years and he recently spoke at the South of The Humber Pig Discussion Group about how producers might weather the current downturn in the industry’s fortunes.

Richard told the audience that he had nothing earth shattering to say, but that he would remind everyone about the basics of pig production and revisit what might be thought of as obvious operational aspects that are taken for granted but which shouldn’t be.

The business should be looked at in terms of optimising output through numbers sold and the weight at slaughter.

Costs must be scrutinised carefully to see what savings can be made ,but false economies can occur if you are not careful. Labour is often reduced in tough times but this may be unwise. Cutting staff can mean routines get missed and output suffers, so in fact shedding staff is a false economy.

Conversely, given the large litters that current genotypes produce it can be cost effective to spend more time in the farrowing house to ensure that the maximum number of piglets are born alive and are also helped to survive. Feed accounts for 60-70% of production costs and so this is a soft target.

There can be a big temptation to cut the cost – and quality - of for example, finisher rations. This may backfire as growth rate, FCR and lean meat percentage may suffer as a consequence.

Cheap feed can be expensive! Feed lines need to be checked for leakages of feed, which ends up just feeding vermin, which in themselves take time and cost (bait) to eradicate. Feed hoppers need to be correctly adjusted to prevent waste plus slats near the feeders need to have covers over them to stop feed going down the slats into the slurry pit.

Veterinary costs must be scrutinised. It might be tempting to stop using a certain vaccine but the long term effects in reduced performance will far outweigh the costs of the vaccinations.

Long term, new buildings will pay for themselves in terms of better performance. Changing breeding stock may well be cost effective, carried out in conjunction with a total depopulation & re- stock of the unit. Plus the performance of pigs in a clean unit after a restock is always better than before.


  • Recording – vital and must be accurate.
  • Records will highlight weak areas.
  • Evaluate performance against benchmarking
  • Targets need to be realistic and attainable
  • Set targets


  • Service targets
  • Reducing empty days
  • Culling policy


  • Minimise mortality
  • Maximise weaning weights


  • Pig flow
  • Maximise DLWG
  • Improve FCR
  • Correct stocking density


  • Ensure good slaughter selection


Looking at UK national data it would appear that the farrowing indices quoted are below what should be possible. The herd culling policy of course affects the number of empty days and when it’s costing £2.50 per non – productive day in feed alone, sows and gilts not in pig or lactating are an expensive liability.

In discussion it turned out that producers all have different policies, regarding culling. This should be done soon after weaning or after the sow returns for a second time . Some producers wait until they have a reasonable batch for the pig wagon, but the cost of feeding these animals may outweigh the cost of taking those sows to market or the slaughter house, using a pickup and trailer.

In the aftermath of PMWS in the UK many units switched from weekly farrowing to batch farrowing, to give bigger time gaps beween groups of weaners. With batch farrowing, returns can be more of a problem, which also increases the number of empty days.


It’s vital that the producer has a contract that suits his or her pigs , to maximise returns. Genotypes vary so it generally makes sense for producers with very lean pigs to opt for contracts with a low P2 fat depth. A wide weight spread can be handy for clearing pens rather than having to mix groups to make up decent pen numbers.

Whatever the contract , it’s imperative that pigs fit the weight range specified as overweights get severely penalised, financially. One contract will take pigs up to 100kg deadweight, but only pays up to 95kg, so the producer is feeding for an extra 5kg , for nothing. Hence a little more time spent on selecting pigs for slaughter so that pigs are not going into the overweight category is time well spent. Many producers ”eyeball” their finishing pigs to estimate the weight and it’s a good idea to first put a few pigs through the weigh crate,in order ”to get your eye in”.


Richard has developed a very ingenious computer model which includes a ”What if” facility. This shows dramatically how small changes in performance can drastically improve – or reduce – profitability.

”However, the tool is only as good as the data that’s inputted - rubbish in = rubbish out! Putting in the wrong data is pointless – who are we kidding? When using my model I was getting strange data thrown up and it often turned out that the pig numbers used bore no resemblence to the actual number of live pigs on the farm,” commented Richard.

”This highlights the great importance of counting pigs regularly. It’s a time consuming tedious task and hence often gets put off, plus other jobs may be deemed, mistakenly, more important, but it must be done on a regular basis. Furthermore, to get an accurate herd FCR, feedstocks must be recorded regularly – and accurately - as well.”

Richard recently gave three talks in one week to producer groups. He is certainly in demand and his presentations have been well received, which is gratifying to him. ”If I can help keep producers in business then I’m well satisfied. Producers should be heartened to know that just small changes can make big differences.”

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