The nation's year-over-year swine breeding herd inventory is continuing to shrink, dropping another 2% in a recent USDA report.

The U.S. Quarterly Hogs and Pigs Report, published by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, reported a population of 72.9 million hogs on March 1, which was consistent with the reading from the same time in 2022 but about 1.7 million fewer head than the report's Dec. 1, 2022 figure.

Breeding inventory is estimated to be 6.13 million head. U.S. hog producers intend to have 2.93 million sows farrow during the second quarter from March through May 2023, down 1% from actual farrowings last year and 3% from two years ago.

Implied gilt retention for the quarter increased by 2.2%, showing that producers are operating in a maintenance phase.

“The thing I always keep an eye on is how do those farrowings match up with where the breeding herd is currently estimated,” said Altin Kalo, chief economist at Steiner Consulting Group. “For that March-May farrowings relative to what the breeding herd was on March 1, the numbers are a little bit lower than where you would expect.” 

Just under half — 47% — of the breeding herd in the U.S. farrowed from December 2022 through February 2023. Average pigs saved per litter rose to 11.02 from the 10.95 reading a year earlier.

Market hog inventory has decreased 2% from the previous quarter to 66.7 million head, but remains slightly above last year's 66.6 million.

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Kalo notes that farmer sentiment in the hog industry has shifted, but “whether that will be reflected in the actual numbers that are going to come to market, that remains to be seen.”

A growing number of the nation's pigs are also coming from bigger farms; contract hogs on operations with more than 5,000 head on site accounted for 51% of the country’s hog inventory, an increase of 2% from the same time last year.

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