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Leeds invests in swine research facilities

University of Leeds in U.K. set to research outdoor swine nutrition and upgrade indoor pig facilities.

The University of Leeds in the U.K. 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 center. The combined investment across the facilities is worth in excess of £7 million.

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."

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

"Animal feed is the largest variable cost which the industry bears," said Miller, who is based in the university's Faculty of Biological Sciences. "One of the areas we will study in this new facility is how to improve outdoor sow nutrition to maximize the well-being 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," Miller added.

The investment includes a three-fold 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 enabling them to make informed choices that could help increase profitability and sustainability.

Installing new outdoor facilities alongside the indoor facilities will create a unique capability, Miller said.

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 closed-circuit television network to monitor the pig herd 24/7;

* Equipment to automatically feed and monitor what each pig consumes;

* Devices that will let pigs choose what they want to eat, and monitor their choices;

* Technical facilities to identify each pig genetically through its DNA;

* Teaching centers and on-site laboratories to complement high-spec campus laboratories, and

* New animal accommodations 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 the faculty in January from the University of Lincoln. Collins is an epidemiologist and has developed computer models to predict animal behavior.

Miller said the new facilities and staff, plus existing expertise, would put the University of Leeds in a unique position in the U.K., and enable it to 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 & Excellence in Livestock (CIEL), a U.K.-wide program to link leading livestock research bodies with industry partners, to improve livestock quality and husbandry across the board.

Each of the 12 research organizations within CIEL takes the lead on one aspect of livestock or related food research — Leeds is the lead organization for pig research, while others such as the University of Nottingham lead on dairy.

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, CIEL director of innovation, 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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