Close to 5,000 pigs a week are backing up on units in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) as farmers face major problems getting animals killed at the Karro processing plant in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

A shortage of labour at the Northern Ireland slaughter plant has seriously curtailed throughput at the facility, with southern pig farmers struggling to get animals killed as a consequence.

Karro appears to be prioritising Northern Irish pig supplies since these qualify as Red Tractor product for the lucrative UK supermarket business.

Around 8,000 pigs from ROI farms are slaughtered each week in Northern Ireland slaughter plants, with the majority of these processed by Karro.

However, the number going north has fallen to around 3,000 pigs per week over the last month, due primarily to the difficulties at Karro.

Limited pig slaughter capacity in the south has exacerbated the problem; with processors unable to kill sufficient numbers of the pigs that traditionally go north to alleviate the worsening situation at farm level.

The IFA said that ROI pig farmers are facing losses of around €500,000 per week as a result of the current difficulties.

Roy Gallie, IFA pigs chair, said thousands of pigs had gone overweight because farmers have been unable to get them killed.

As these pigs move above 130kg deadweight, they go from a fat pig price of €1.54/kg to a sow price of €0.65/kg.

“Farmers are now getting at least 90c/kg less for their animals. When you factor in feed costs, farmers are losing at least €100 per pig,” Gallie said. “This level of loss is not sustainable for any business.”

The IFA met with Karro on Tuesday and is hoping to resolve the issues.

It is understood that the problems at Karro centre on a shortage of butchers to process the pig carcases following slaughter.

The Irish Farmers Journal contacted Karro on the matter, but the company indicated that it was not in a position to make a statement.