Pig finishing places are in short supply in Northern Ireland at present, according to attendees at the 2009 Northern Ireland Pig Event held near Belfast.
Old and empty barns are being re-fitted and restored at farms across the province, but especially in the counties of Tyrone and Armagh where most pigs are produced. There are even some farm owners contemplating whether to build an entirely new finishing house.
The main driver of this development is the change to contract production province-wide that has seen sow enterprises compete for finishing places at contracting units.
Visitors to the Pig Event heard that about two-thirds of all sows in Northern Ireland are now owned by just 25 businesses. Among them, they are calculated to account for almost 23,000 sows out of a provincial total of 36,500 sows.
Another illustration was provided to the meeting of the changes that can occur quite quickly within a pig industry. In 2008, it was told, nearly 1.29 million pigs were slaughtered at factories in the province and around 35% of these animals were imported from the Irish Republic. Data for 2004 had shown a very similar situation, with slaughterings of almost 1.31 million pigs including approximately 33% of Irish imports. But the four slaughterhouses then in operation were those of Grampian Country Pork, William Grant, Ballygawley Pork and Stevenson & Co. Takeovers and mergers have since altered this list so that only the William Grant name remains; the other three operators now are Vion Pork, Dunbia (Ballymena) and Foyle Meats.