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Dramatic rebound in pigs saved per litter

The United States inventory of all hogs and pigs on March 1, 2024, was 74.6 million head, a 1% increase from last year, but a 2% drop from last quarter.

A highlight of the latest Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report published Thursday by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service was average pigs saved per litter. NASS reported a record high of 11.53 for the December-February period, up 4.6%.

“We went three years without growing this, and I think it was because we were dealing with heightened disease incidents, mainly PRRS, and some labor problems on our farms. But boy, in the last year, we've really caught up,” said Steve Meyer, senior economist with Ever.Ag. “Now as we go through the rest of this year, the year-over-year changes are not going to be nearly as dramatic. They're not going to be a +4 or something like that, be more like +1, but I think we're still going to grow this thing and push it up toward 12 here over the next couple of years.”

Market hog inventory totaled 68.6 million head, rising 1% from the year prior and decreasing 2% from last quarter. Breeding inventory, up slightly from the previous quarter at 6.02 million head, was down 2.1 % from March 2023. Analysts had expected that figure to be down 3%.

“The breeding herd inventory is not going to shrink much more. I had -6 for December of this coming year, and at one time I thought we might have to take it down 10. I'm going to be surprised if we're down much at all year-over-year when we come to December 2024,” Meyer said. “Productivity gains are going to keep our numbers and pork supplies near or above the last years. And I don't think we're going to see pork supplies decline much until 2025, and given the profitability changes we've seen, maybe not then.”

For the under-50-pounds weight category, there were 20.749 million head, up 1% from the year prior. In the 50-to-119 pounds group, there were 19.333 million head, a 1% increase from 2023.

In the 120-to-179-pounds group, there were 15.804 million head, a slight increase from last year at this time. Finally, for the 180-and-over group there were 12.670 million head, down 1% from 2023.

"I think we're going to have plenty of hogs in the fourth quarter," Meyer said. "Right now, I'm pretty concerned about slaughter capacity, especially with the loss of the Perry, Iowa plant."

Between December 2023 and February 2024, 33.1 million pigs were weaned on U.S. farms, up 2% from the same time period one year earlier. Sows farrowing during this period totaled 2.88 million head, down 3% from the previous year. The sows farrowed during this quarter represented 48% of the breeding herd.

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