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Covid 19: Challenges to the Pig Sector

7 December 2020

An almost perfect storm of challenges, mostly related to COVID-19 is now impacting on the pig sector, with reduced slaughter capacity following outbreaks and restrictions at several pork processing sites having numerous effects throughout the supply chain including: 

  • Finished pigs are having to stay on farm longer, evidenced by average slaughter weights reaching 88.24kgs (AHDB)  
  • More over-weights leading to lower prices  
  • Concerns for welfare as pigs build up on farm. 
  • Reduced markets for weaners as specialist finishers struggle for space as pigs remain on farm. 
  • Finished pigs having to travel further as alternatives are sought when usual outlets have reduced intakes. 

Pig prices across Europe have also started fall significantly in recent weeks with continued uncertainty over lockdown periods in the run up to and including the Christmas period weighing heavily as supply continues to exceed processing capacity.  

With a backlog of pigs on farm, reduced slaughter and processing capacity and downward pressure on prices, this will only be compounded further over the next few weeks as plants close for Christmas, further reducing throughput.  

What steps can producers take? 

There are reports of producers tweaking diets to slow growth rates however producers should put in place a contingency plan, with additional accommodation being identified ait may take several months for normal movements to prevail. This can include: 

  • Re-commissioning mothballed or redundant pig buildings on the site 
  • Converting other buildings on the farm 
  • Looking for off-farm accommodation 

This will be more straight forward on some farms than others however in all cases producers should ensure the temporary accommodation is fit for purpose. Some of the main considerations are: 

  • Buildings and equipment must be well maintained, floors smooth but not slippery and free from sharp protrusions. 
  • Buildings must be large enough to allow pigs to exhibit their natural behaviours, be comfortabland allow effective ventilation both in terms of temperature and also air quality.    
  • Sheds must be well lit and pigs must have permanent access to sufficient clean and fresh drinking water.  
  • Design and layout are also important. Management and husbandry tanks should be undertaken as effectively as possible and more importantly without causing undue stress to the pigs. 

Producers should make sure adequate supplies of straw, gates, feeders and clean water are available for these buildings and it may well be that different feed type is required e.g. where the main unit is liquid fed so adequate storage will be required.  

While it is impossible to “turn off the tap” of pigs coming through this can help mitigate concerns relating to stocking densities and also may provide the opportunity for the normal flow of the unit to be maintained, albeit with the additional accommodation acting as a buffer.  

In addition, the interrupted flow of pig sales may result in irregular cashflows which means bank balances may need closer monitoring than normal to ensure regular payments are met e.g. direct debits for machinery or equipment.  

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