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Fattening pigs in a larger production unit (Dietze; Universität Kassel)

Pigs and Animal Production

With the increase in worldwide demand for meat, fast-growing species with efficient feed conversion rates – such as pigs – are likely to account for a major share in the growth in the livestock subsector. The increase in animal numbers is not spread evenly round the globe: Asia leads the increase, whereas pig numbers in North America and Europe are increasing more slowly or holding steady. In Africa, pig numbers have recently grown more rapidly, reflecting increased adoption of pig husbandry in a continent where “livestock” has traditionally been taken to mean “ruminants”.

Commercial pig production has intensified significantly in recent decades. More pigs of the same few breeds are kept on fewer farms, with increased output of animal products. Large-scale production systems have achieved a high level of uniformity because they are based on the same genetic material and therefore provide similar feed and infrastructure for the animals.

Very few traditional forms of pig husbandry survive in the developed world. Along with new niche markets such as organic pig farming, they demonstrate the feasibility of alternative production systems – usually mixed farming linked to local markets instead of landless production aiming at global trade. 

But in developing countries, half of the current pig population is still kept in traditional small-scale subsistence-driven production systems in which pigs provide much more than meat. Pigs in such low-input systems provide value-added for farmers by consuming feed that would otherwise be lost. Hence pork might contribute to food security and provide protein, but the animals might also constitute a financial safety net, fulfil a role in cultural traditions, or provide additional cash for school fees, medical treatment or small investments.