This year looks sure to set a record hog slaughter at around 104 million head, but recent reports indicate that record may not last long.

In USDA’s September Hogs and Pigs report the breeding herd was up 1 percent, which is one reason slaughter numbers could be higher in 2005 than they have been this year.Another reason is the pigs per litter number came in at 9.0. This is the first time that number has been 9 or higher. This report shows no increase in litters per sow, but if that number increases hog numbers could increase as well.

Historically, all sow productivity numbers have increased, which was shown by another USDA report. The U.S. breeding herd efficiency continues to increase over time, according to USDAs U.S. Hog Breeding Herd Structure.

The average number of pigs per year per breeding animal, which includes sows, gilts and boars, was 16.9 in 2003, up from 16.2 in the last report in 2001. The steady increase in average pigs per breeding animal was largely due to the increase in the number of litters per sow per year. This increase in productivity continued to be a factor in the breeding herd decline of 3 percent since 2001.

While it looks like there will be record U.S. pork production in back-to-back years, it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite the contrary, with the current incredible demand holding hog prices at unheard of levels for the current supply. Most economists are expecting prices to hold strong, staying in the mid-$40 to low $50 per hundredweight range on a live weight basis.

Demand is really the key, and it’s hard to see changes in demand coming. If the strong demand for pork falters, the high supplies will likely cause prices to dip. But if demand continues as strong as it has been, prices may be well above the $50 range.

While some say demand may be faltering, Ron Plain, University of Missouri agricultural economist, says that in the last four weeks the U.S. has had 15 of the 27 largest slaughters ever and in that time live hog prices have increased about $10 per hundredweight.