Leeds academics recruited to find pigs breakthrough

A FIELD trial which is intended to lead to improved productivity in the British pig industry is being led by a group of academics in West Yorkshire.

It is hoped that the results of the 14-month project, which got started this week by researchers at the University of Leeds, will yield useful results that can lead to more piglets surviving birth and making it through weaning in the wider industry.

Some 200 Large White Landrace X pigs are involved in the field trial at the university’s farm, home of its Pig Research Unit near the A1 between Leeds and York and a facility which is considered among the North of England’s leading pig research sites.

Half of the pigs are being fed on a diet supplemented with salmon oil as a source of omega 3s and the other half’s diet is complemented with soya oil, which consists of different fatty acids and is typical of a pig’s standard diet.

Just as in humans, omega 3s have been identified as having beneficial effects to the health of pigs; proving good for sows’ fertility, piglets’ brain development and having a stimulating effect on piglets which can improve suckling.

The trial is being run in partnership with BPEX, the pig industry’s levy payers’ group, and the forecasted outcome is an extra pig born per litter and a two per cent increase in piglet survival.

Peter Dunne, field trials co-ordinator for BPEX, said: “The University’s farm operates as close to a commercial farm as possible to give realistic results, allowing us to interpret them in a commercial context.

“By feeding the sows with omega 3 supplements we are targeting all the pinch points in the production process - ovulation and the creation of embryos during pregnancy.

“The biology of a pig means that there will be a transfer of those omega 3s to the sows’ piglets. This should make them more responsive to external stimuli and will encourage them to suckle quicker and get more colostrum - this is essential to improving piglets’ immune systems.

“Overall, hopefully this process will enhance pig health, their immunity to disease and improve the survival rate of piglets who will then go on to produce pork for the food supply chain.

“The over-arching emphasis of this trial as part of our overall plan is to close the gap between the UK pig industry and our European competitors.

“On the continent there is a difference in philosophy and the aim in places like Denmark, which leads the way in terms of volume of production, is to focus on adding more and more units of pigs.”

Professor Helen Miller, managing director of Leeds University’s farms and leaded of the research group, said: “The results of this trial would lead to improved pig production if we can mirror what’s been seen in other experiments.

“It would not be without cost, the omega 3 supplement is more expense but the results should, we hope, more than cover the cost.”

Leeds University Farms has a respected record in pig research.

Forty per cent of piglets in the UK are fed on diets that were originally developed by the University’s team of academics, Prof Miller said.