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UK’s University of Leeds opens National Pig Centre

The University of Leeds in the United Kingdom recently opened the National Pig Centre, which comes with specialty features like precision nutrition and 24-hour monitoring.

The new centre is supported by more than £11 million (€ 13 million) of investment. A news article on the website of the University of Leeds, explained that the centre will be “a leading research facility for pig nutrition, behaviour, health and production system research – all themes identified by the livestock industry as central to improving quality, productivity and future competitiveness.”

Aerial view of the National Pig Centre. Photo: University of Leeds
Aerial view of the National Pig Centre. Photo: University of Leeds

Nutrition, health, behaviour and fertility

The new centre is said to benefit from academic expertise drawn from across a range of disciplines including nutrition, health, behaviour and fertility, as well as computer vision, engineering, soil and water sciences, data analytics, and atmospheric and climate science.

The investment includes a 3-fold increase in the previous capacity of the farm, from 200 to 660 sows, ensuring research carried out at the centre better represents commercial pig farming. Of these, 220 will live outdoors.

Outdoor sow unit and indoor system

The combination of an outdoor sow unit with an indoor system is uncommon in Europe, enabling direct comparison of the different rearing systems. Scientists will work to identify the key factors contributing to pig farming’s environmental footprint, and attempt to find alternatives that could drive down the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The centre’s indoor facility includes the ability to perform in-depth, automated nutrition trials to understand how best to feed and manage pigs at all stages of production. By harnessing precision nutrition, based on individual requirements, the aim is to reduce the cost of production, improve feed efficiency and reduce the environment impact of pig farming.

Feed recommendations and genetic improvements

Researchers will also be able to make feed recommendations which keep pace with ongoing genetic improvements to pigs.

The indoor facility is equipped with CCTV throughout, permitting round-the-clock observations of individual pig behaviour at all stages of production. Researchers will use computer vision to automate data collection from the video footage, so behaviour and nutrition can be monitored at the individual pig level.

Students from across the University will have the opportunity to study at the National Pig Centre as part of their degrees, and some will have chance to contribute to research projects taking place at the farm.

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In 2018, authors of the University of Leeds contributed to an interesting article on the future of Foot-and-Mouth Disease}

Professor Lisa Collins, academic lead for the PigSustain project and Head of the University of Leeds’ School of Biology, commented in the news article: “This new centre allows us to expand our work to improve the welfare of pigs, and the sustainability of the British pig industry. Our aim is to lower the environmental footprint of pig farming whilst ensuring that high welfare standards are maintained.”

Tackling challenges in food security

Projects at the National Pig Centre will help tackle some of the current challenges in pig production including:

Nutrition: developing precision feeding for livestock to improve sustainability and productivity and study the effects of nutrition on welfare and behaviour;

Anti-microbial resistance: developing healthier pigs with more robust gut health and improved resistance to disease, thereby reducing antibiotic use;

Production systems: improving efficiency of production and identifying better ways to feed and manage pigs;

• Monitoring pig behaviour and developing algorithms to allow early detection of health conditions.

The centre has been launched in partnership with the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock (CIEL).