Improving the number of pigs reared a sow a year is still one of the key goals of the UK pig industry, despite a two-pig-a-sow increase in the last two years.

British Pig Executive chief executive Mick Sloyan told visitors to this week’s Pig and Poultry Fair, Stoneleigh that, with the UK still lagging 2-3pigs/sow a year behind much of the EU, there was still plenty of improvement to make.

One of the main pillars of this improvement can come from improved breeding performance and in particular improved AI success rate, he said.

“Many farmers have made a move into AI following the movement restrictions imposed during the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

But some have had insufficient training in AI technique and as such are failing to make best use of the available genetics.”

There is much more to AI than simply inserting a catheter into a sow and hoping for the best, he explained.

“There are other key elements to AI, most important of which is heat detection and AI timing, both of which are critical.”

To counteract this relatively poor performance, BPEX has launched its AI strategy which aims to improve knowledge among producers at the same time as boosting semen quality.

The first strand of this strategy is a series of knowledge transfer posters aimed at helping farmers and stockmen improve technique.

“These are simple to follow reminders which allow inseminators to check their technique and improve where needed,” explained Mr Sloyan.

Next in the strategy is a project which is being run in partnership with Agrosoft to assess AI success on farms across the UK following the roll out of the AI strategy, he said.

“Having selected a group of farms using Agrosoft and AI, we will be analysing their AI performance and assessing whether the AI strategy is achieving its objectives.”

This project will assess AI performance in about 50-60,000 sows across more than 70 farms.

As the third part of the strategy BPEX has invested in the establishment of a reference lab at Leeds Vet School to ensure semen leaving AI studs is of sufficient quality.

“The lab will be using the CASA semen testing computer program from the USA to establish a benchmark level of semen quality for UK studs.

The computer program will make semen testing more objective by removing the human element from the process.”

Once this benchmark level has been established UK AI studs will be able to submit semen samples to the lab for testing.

As a final link in the AI chain BPEX has also launched a national AI Assurance Scheme for AI studs covering all elements of the production, storage, packaging and distribution of semen.

“This will provide independent audited standards for studs to work to and extends the concept of farm assurance back up the chain from farm level to genetics suppliers.”

Studs signing up to the scheme will regularly supply samples to the Leeds lab for assessment and will receive feedback comparing their performance to the national benchmark.

Most of the main semen suppliers have signed up to the scheme, including ACMC, PIC and JSR, he added.

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk