The University of Leeds has invested £7 million ($8.7 million; €8.2 million) in partnership with the UK government to expand pig research at its university farm.
The research is focused on areas the livestock industry sees as crucial to improving productivity and quality for pig products: animal nutrition, production systems and reproduction, behaviour and environment studies. The investment will go towards new facilities for research into outdoor-reared pigs, and upgrades to the indoor-reared pig research centre.
Professor Helen Miller, director of the University Farm, called animal feed “the largest variable cost which the industry bears” and said the investment will help researchers to make feed recommendations for pigs to keep pace with ongoing genetic improvements.
“One of the areas we will study in this new facility is how to improve outdoor sow nutrition to maximise the well-being and productivity of individual animals,” she said. “This should also result in improved profitability, providing significant support for individual farmers and for larger businesses across the rural economy.”
The upgrades will include a threefold increase in the number of sows to 600, of which 200 will live outdoors, putting the facility on a par with commercially run pig farms, the university noted. New equipment and facilities will include a new CCTV network to monitor the pig herd 24/7; equipment to automatically feed and monitor each pig’s consumption; devices allowing pigs to choose what they eat and monitor the choices; facilities to identify each pig’s DNA; teaching centres and on-site laboratories; and new animal accommodations.
New staff associated with the expanded research includes Professor Lisa Collins, an epidemiologist who has developed computer models to predict animal behaviour, set to join in January.
The investment is majority funded by the university, with support from the government-funded Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Livestock (CIEL) through a UK wide programme linking 12 leading livestock research bodies with business and industry partners including AB Agri, Tesco, For Farmers ltd, The Co-Operative Group, and Devenish Nutrition.
Leeds is the lead organisation for pig research. Others include the University of Nottingham, the lead on dairy, and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) heading poultry.