University opens National Pig Centre in Yorkshire

Aerial view of the National Pig Centre

Precision nutrition and 24-hour monitoring will enable scientists to provide new insights for the pig industry, as the University of Leeds opens the National Pig Centre.

Scientists from a range of disciplines at the University will use new state-of-the-art facilities to help improve the sustainability and efficiency of pig production.

Supported by more than £11 million of investment, the facilities make Yorkshire one of the best places in Europe for pig research.

The National Pig 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.

Professor Lisa Collins, academic lead for the PigSustain project and Head of the University of Leeds’ School of Biology, said: “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.”

The new centre will 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.

It has been launched in partnership with CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock). CIEL has invested £4.5 million with funding from Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation Agency.

The investment includes a three-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.

The combination of an outdoor sow unit with an indoor system is unique in Europe, enabling direct comparison of the different rearing systems.

Academics 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.

Their findings will help the UK achieve the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) target of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.

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.

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’s 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.

The facility has also been supported by a generous donation from University of Leeds alumnus Nigel Bertram.

Named in his honour, the Nigel Bertram Visitor Centre features conference and meeting facilities, offices and the live CCTV feed from the indoor pig unit.

Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, said: “Leeds is proud to be working in a number of ways at home and internationally to improve food security and the sustainability of the agricultural sector.

“The National Pig Centre will provide a key national resource for industry to work in partnership with the University to develop innovative and practical solutions that make a positive contribution to the economy, environment and society.

“We are hugely grateful for the strong support we have received from CIEL and Nigel Bertram, and the leading edge work of Helen Miller, our Professor of Animal Bioscience, in developing this facility.”

Collaborating with industry

Centrally located in the UK, the National Pig Centre will promote engagement, discussion and collaboration between researchers and industry. The University and CIEL will work together to drive this process.

A membership organisation, CIEL works with businesses across the livestock supply chain to identify & develop their research needs and build relevant collaborations to deliver new technologies and processes that address key challenges facing the sector.

“We’re very proud to work with Leeds and develop this first for the pig and pork industry,” said Lyndsay Chapman, CIEL’s Chief Executive. “It provides unique research capability on a commercially relevant scale and complements the investments we’ve made across the CIEL network. Through our nationwide collaborative alliance, we’re working to ensure industry has access to the very best expertise in this field of research.”

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 National Pig Centre is one of the University facilities that will help deliver the goals of the Global Food and Environment Institute (GFEI), which aims to address the challenge of feeding the world whilst protecting natural resources.

This work aligns closely to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly to end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture.

As well as the pig farm, GFEI is also carrying out research projects in arable farming, urban food consumption and health, food security in the Global South, and international food supply chains.