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Multi-million pound investment in pig research

Yorkshire will soon become one of the best places in Europe for pig research, thanks to significant investment from the University of Leeds and the Government.


University of Leeds pig farm

Yorkshire will soon become one of the best places in Europe for pig research, thanks to significant investment from the University of Leeds and the Government.

The University is about to launch new facilities at its farm to carry out research into outdoor-reared pigs, and is set to significantly upgrade its indoor-reared pig research centre. The combined investment across the in- and outdoor facilities is worth in excess of £7m.

Professor Helen Miller, Director of the University Farm said: “We are making the investment to create new knowledge which will benefit both British pigs and the pig industry.”

Leeds’ pig research focuses on themes identified by the livestock industry as central to improving quality and productivity: animal nutrition, production systems and reproduction, behaviour and environment.

“Animal feed is the largest variable cost which the industry bears,” Professor Miller added. “One of the areas we will study in this new facility is how to improve outdoor sow nutrition to maximise the wellbeing and productivity of individual animals. This should also result in improved profitability, providing significant support for individual farmers and for larger businesses across the rural economy.”

The investment includes a threefold increase in the number of sows from 200 to 600. Of these, 200 will live outdoors. This will put the facility on a par with commercially run pig farms and will create a step change in the type of research the University’s academics can carry out.

Larger sample sizes will increase the scope of research that can be conducted and will provide information to commercial farmers and the livestock support industries to enable them to make informed choices that could help them to be more profitable and sustainable.

Installing new outdoor facilities alongside the indoor facilities already available to researchers at the University’s research farm will create a unique capability, according to Professor Miller. Among the most prominent outcomes of the new investment will be a greater ability for researchers to make feed recommendations for pigs to keep pace with ongoing genetic improvements.

New equipment and facilities will include:

  • A CCTV network to monitor the pig herd 24/7.
  • Equipment to automatically feed and monitor what each pig consumes.
  • Devices which will let pigs choose what they want to eat, and monitor their choices.
  • Technical facilities to identify each pig genetically through its DNA.
  • Teaching centres and on-site laboratories to complement high-spec campus labs.
  • New animal accommodation including flexible penning and birthing arrangements.

In addition, the University is recruiting a number of key staff to open up new areas of expertise. The most high profile recruit is Professor Lisa Collins, who is set to join in January from the University of Lincoln. Professor Collins is an epidemiologist, and has developed computer models to predict animal behaviour.

Professor Miller said the new facilities and staff, plus existing expertise would put the University in a unique position in the UK, and would rival European leaders in this field.

The investment in the farm’s facilities is majority funded by the University, with support from the government-funded Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL). This is a UK wide programme to link leading livestock research bodies with industry partners, to improve livestock quality and husbandry across the board.

Each of the 12 research organisations takes the lead on one aspect of livestock or related food research – Leeds is the lead organisation for pig research, while others such as the University of Nottingham lead on dairy, and the SRUC leads on poultry.

There are currently 20 business and industrial partners, including AB Agri, Tesco, For Farmers ltd, The Co-Operative Group, and Devenish Nutrition.

Dr Mark Young, Head of Innovation at the centre said: “CIEL is investing in world class facilities to empower our world class scientists with the aim of driving innovation to enhance livestock food production across the supply chain. Our focus on innovation and our industry membership mean this will deliver real value to all parts of the supply chain. The University of Leeds outdoor pig unit is a key facility in our work to deliver user focused innovation to the pork industry.”

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