Despite concerns about labour shortages in meat factories, analysis of slaughter data shows that kills of both pigs and beef cattle in 2021 are actually ahead of previous years.

For the year to the week ending 18 September, 1.375m clean pigs have been slaughtered in NI, compared to 1.297m and 1.245m over the same period in 2020 and 2019 respectively.

The weekly pig kill over the last 8 weeks has averaged 36,472, which is up on the equivalent figures of 34,487 and 35,782 for 2020 and 2019 respectively.

However, the NI pig herd has been increasing in recent years, and total numbers in 2020 were up 13% on 2016.

With farmers working on a finely balanced production system, any disruption in processing can have a significant impact.

Reports indicate that pig factories are working with up to 20% staff vacancies.

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) raised the issue with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots at last weeks’ Balmoral Show, and in a recent meeting with British Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“A backlog of pigs is occurring on farms across NI. At the present time our members are doing all they can to utilise sheds for cattle and sheep, but winter is fast approaching, and these sheds will be needed for other livestock. If things are not resolved quickly, it will cause chaos for our farmers,” said UFU Deputy President William Irvine.

The need to change immigration rules was also raised by food industry representatives with Defra Secretary of State George Eustice when he visited NI last week. On Sunday the UK government announced 5,500 temporary workers from outside the UK would be allowed in to help fill vacancies in poultry processing.


In local beef factories, the current vacancy rate is around 15%. While that is having some intermittent impact on the ability to slaughter cattle, the main effect is being seen at the processing end, with factories prioritising higher value cuts over some fifth quarter products.

Slaughter statistics show that kills remain strong for the time of year. Over the 8 weeks to the middle of September the total weekly cattle kill averaged 9,123, compared to 8,597 and 8,292 over the same period in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Last weeks’ cattle kill totalled 9,532, the second highest for the year to date.

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