Date : 22 December 2011

- Production of pigs in the UK
- Performance
- Self-sufficiency
- Welfare
- Environmental impact

Production of pigs in the UK

Decline in UK pig production

There was a significant long term fall in UK pig numbers between 1990 and 2010. In 2010, there were an estimated 4.4 million pigs in the UK, which represented a decline of almost 10% compared with 2006.

The total number of pigs in England was 3.6 million in 2011. England accounts for 82% of the UK’s breeding pigs, Scotland 9.4% and Wales less than 1%.

Trends in pig farming

About 1,300 UK pig farms have more 1,000 pigs in their herds. Between them these farms represent 82% of total UK pig population. At the other end of the spectrum there are more than 7,000 farms each with less than 50 pigs. The higher number of smaller herds reflects an increase in what are increasingly ‘lifestyle farms’, as opposed to commercial holdings.

There is a long-term trend towards increasing the scale of pig farms. In 2011, a proposal was put forward by Midland Pig Producers for a pig farm at Foston that would house 2,500 sows and offspring.

The table below shows the distribution of pigs in England by region in 2009. It shows that the Yorkshire and Humber and Eastern regions together accounted for 60% of the pigs in England.

North East 97559
North West and Merseyside 153798
Yorkshire and The Humber 1255563
East Midlands 377889
West Midlands 212949
Eastern 1088340
South East 234648
South West 451667
England 3872413

Source: Farm Business Survey, Pig Production in England 2009/2010


According to the British Pig Executve (BPEX), the UK's domestic pig industry has faced severe and sustained challenges to its competitiveness and viability, arising from the following key factors:

  • Necessary and substantial investment by farmers in high animal welfare production systems to meet unilateral UK welfare legislation that increases costs and reduces productivity compared with the rest of the EU
  • Outbreaks of diseases such as classical swine fever and foot and mouth disease, which affect national herd health status, disrupt marketing, damage exports and stimulate imports
  • Endemic diseases and chronic on-farm conditions, such as postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome, which reduce animal performance on individual farms
  • Increased imports, mostly produced to lower welfare standards than pig meat in the UK 

In 2009/2010, the UK's pig meat industry recorded a return to profitability following a period of prolonged difficulty. Since then the price of feed, which accounts for more than 60% of farmers' total costs, has risen significantly. This means pig farmers are under renewed pressure and, as a result, the industry is loss-making once again.

BPEX aims to support the industry and has a number of established pig producer groups around the country. These groups are run by its Knowledge Transfer Team and provide a forum for sharing ideas, learning and networking.

In May 2010, BPEX launched its Two-Tonne Sow campaign, with the objective of lifting average sow productivity in England to 2,000kg of pig meat per sow per year. Closing the performance gap with European competitors in this way is crucial to ensure the long term competitiveness of the UK's pig sector. BPEX's campaign focuses on six pillars of activity: breeding, finishing, buildings, health, staff training and nutrition.


According to BPEX, pig meat production across the rest of the EU has been increasing. The cost of producing pig meat in the UK is higher than in many other EU countries, except Italy, largely due to the UK's lower rates of productivity, lower carcase weights and relatively high fuel and energy costs. As a result, the UK’s self-sufficiency for pork production fell from 78% in 2000 to 53% in 2009.


On 1 January 2013, new EU pig welfare legislation is due to come into force. The most significant element of this will be a ban on the use of individual stalls for pregnant sows and gilts during the period four weeks after service until one week before farrowing.

The use of sow stalls has been prohibited in the UK since 1999 and is also already banned in Sweden.

It is anticipated by BPEX that the European sow herd will shrink by as much as 30% as a result of the costs of complying with the new regulations. Most EU member states have already recorded falling sow herds.

Environmental impact

Life cycle analysis of pig meat production has identified that 72% of the environmental impact from pork arises from the pig production stage. The second largest impact, 20%, was attributable to storage in the home and consumption. Pig transport, processing, distribution, retail, consumer transport and waste management accounted for the remaining 8%.

BPEX has produced a ‘Road Map’ for the English pig industry that identifies three key areas of activity:

  • using feed, including the selection and choice of ingredients, more efficiently and responsibly
  • achieving a higher number of pigs per litter, combined with the Two Tonne Sow programme
  • managing slurry/waste in ways that reduce its environmental impact

Large scale pig farms are regulated by the Environment Agency under the Pollution Prevention Control regulations.