Yorkshire will be one of the leading places in Europe for pig research, thanks to more than £11 million of investment in the recently opened National Pig Centre, based at the University of Leeds’s farm, Tadcaster.
Researchers and technicians will work with industry and academic partners to develop and conduct quality research projects in pig science.
Speaking at the opening, Professor Lisa Collins, academic lead for the PigSustain project and head of the university’s school of biology, said: “This allows us to expand our work to improve the welfare of pigs and sustainability of the British pig industry.
“Our aim is to lower the environmental footprint of pig farming, while ensuring high welfare standards.”
The centre has been launched in partnership with the Centre for Innovation in Livestock (CIEL), which has invested £4.5m with funding from Innovate UK.
Lyndsay Chapman, CIEL’s chief executive, said: “We are very proud to work with Leeds and develop this first for the pig and pork industry.
“It provides unique research capability on a commercially relevant scale and complements the investments we have made across the CIEL network.
“Through our nationwide collaborative alliance, we are working to ensure industry has access to the best expertise in this field of research.”
The investment has seen the capacity of the farm increase from 200 to 660 sows to ensure research better represents commercial pig farming.
This includes an outdoor unit for 220 Large White cross Landrace sows which operates on a three-week batch farrowing system in sync with the indoor herd.
The combination of an outdoor unit and indoor system is unique in Europe and allows direct comparison of the different rearing systems.
The indoor unit can accommodate 440 sows, producing 12,000 piglets a year.
It has CCTV throughout, allowing behaviour and observations to be made at all stages of production. Researchers will utilise computer vision to automate data collection from the video footage to monitor pigs at an individual level.
The sows are housed in groups on a straw-based system with an automatic heat detector in the pen.
All pigs are EID tagged and sows are fed individually by an automatic air feed system which has the capability to feed six different diets or blends of various diets.
Sows are sorted automatically when almost ready for farrowing.
Six farrowing rooms each contain 20 farrowing pens of Danish design. These can confine the sow, but also open up to allow a wide range of movements for the sow and have a safe area for the piglets.
The nursery building has nine fully slatted rooms housing 240 trial pigs from weaning to 35kg, and four finisher buildings house pigs from 35kg to market weight. In each, pens can be configured to hold pens of five, 10 or 20 pigs.
Pigs can be monitored individually for feed intake, time spent at feeder, water intake and body weight. There are two separate water lines to all pens allowing waterbased treatment trials, or to treat individual pens.
Pigs will also be followed through to slaughter for carcase evaluation and meat quality analysis.
Students from the university will be able to study at the centre and some will contribute to research projects on-farm.
The centre benefited from a donation from University of Leeds alumnus Nigel Bertram and is home to a visitor centre named in his honour.
It has conference and meeting facilities, offices and a live CCTV feed to the indoor unit to allow visitors to observe inside the unit without breaching biosecurity protocols.