DES MOINES, Iowa — The numbers told the story about the
state of the U.S. hog herd and its recovery — or not — from a deadly virus that
has decimated the baby pig population.
“I think all that indicates no expansion,” said Chris Hurt,
livestock economist from Purdue University.
Hurt gave commentary on the U.S. Department of Agriculture
second-quarter hogs and pigs report during a Pork Checkoff-sponsored media call.
“All that” was the numbers from all sections of the
second-quarter report, that reports the U.S. pig population as of June 1.
All hogs and pigs were at 62.489 million, down 4.1 percent
from a year ago and even lower than the pre-report estimate that had that number
down 3 percent.
The breeding herd was at 5.851 million head, 0.6 percent
lower than a year ago. Pre-report analysts expected it to be up 1.6 percent.
The market herd was at 56.638 million head, down 2.7 million
hogs or 4.5 percent from a year ago. The trade expected that number to be down
3.4 percent, said Steve Meyer of Paragon Economics, who read the report numbers.
The under-50 pound category was at 17.999 million head, 5.9
percent lower than a year ago, and the trade expected that to be down only 1.9
percent, making a sizeable 4 percentage point difference between actual and
The 50-119 pound category was at 16.071 million head, down
5.9 percent from a year ago, and the trade expected that number to be down only
The 120-179 pound category was at 11.931 million head, down
3.9 percent from a year ago and close to the trade’s estimate of down 4.7
The 180-pound and over category was at 10.271 million head,
down 3.8 percent from a year ago and, again, close to trade expectations of down
The farrowing numbers created a major question mark for the
The March-May pig crop, which Meyer noted was “being watched
very carefully by market observers,” was at 27.361 million head, down 5.4
percent from a year ago, and the trade expected that number to be down only 2.3
Meyer called the difference between actual and expected
The March-May pigs saved per litter, one indicator of how
porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has ravaged the baby pig population, was at 9.78
pigs, down 5.1 percent from a year ago, and the trade expected it to be down 4.8
The June-August farrowing intentions were at 2.893 million
litters, up 0.1 percent from a year ago, the trade expected that number to be up
“I thought we would really begin to see some of the
expansion showing up in the number of breeding herd animals, and what this
report says is that is not the case. We do not have an expansion of the breeding
herd yet. I think the other surprise is the March-May farrowings, where we’d
expected the intentions to be up a couple percent, and so we see those actual
farrowing numbers were down fractionally,” Hurt said.
He said the numbers also showed that hopes that PEDV would
abate as warmer weather arrived may be in vain.
“My anticipation is that as we got into some warmer weather,
we would see the death loss from PEDV moderate somewhat. Maybe there is some
moderation, but I don’t think it is as much as I thought,” he said.
Hurt noted that in tracking the monthly pigs saved per
litter from the fall of 2013, the death losses increased over the winter and
have not dropped off much in the spring and early summer.
“What that shows is we started to pick up about 2 percent
death loss or lower pigs per litter last October. That continued to expand into
colder weather. By October, we were up to 6 percent. January, February, March,
up around 8 percent. But even around April and May, we were still at about 7
percent in April and 5 percent in May,” he said.
Kevin Bost, president of procurement strategies in Des
Plaines, Ill., questioned the numbers from USDA.
“I have the utmost respect for their comprehensive analysis
of these numbers, and yet, for one of the first times in my career, I can say
there’s something here that really doesn’t make sense. That is the decline in
farrowings from winter to spring. That’s the one number that stands out to me as
most questionable,” he said.
Bost agreed with Hurt that a trend toward profitability in
the industry, which started last fall, combined with the losses from PEDV and
lower feed prices, would indicate a move toward more farrowings, not fewer.
“It’s been good. It’s been quite good for almost a year now.
I would say exceptional for quite some time now,” he said, noting the March-May
farrowings were down about 2.4 percent from the December-February farrowings.
“Why would that happen when we have extremely good
profitability?” Bost said.
“I don’t think we can blame it on PED because that would
seem to affect the pigs per litter more, and the pigs per litter in the spring
made sense to me. They were up quite a bit from a year ago, down quite a bit
from the winter. That all made sense. But why would farrowings, the number of
sows farrowed, have declined so much from winter to spring? I don’t understand
that, and frankly I don’t believe it,” he said.
Bost said that the opposite should have been the case.
“The profitability is there, and if anything, there might be
an incentive to overbreed to compensate for the PED losses,” he said.
Even though the farrowing numbers might be questionable,
Victor Aideyan, senior analyst at Hisgraiincommodities.com, based in Ontario,
Canada, said the weight category numbers, especially in the higher weight
categories, suggest a steady supply of pigs for processors and pork for
“It implies that supply numbers are going to climb,” he