© Ian Yates

Work is being done to create a zero energy, high welfare, intensive pig system to improve self-sufficiency in UK pig meat and help the sector compete globally by managing costs.

Raft Solutions has been working with Midland Pig Producers and other industry partners to develop a prototype for sustainable, high welfare, intensive pig production integrated with renewable energy.

See also: Poor pig prices force closure of farms 

The idea is that the building will look after pigs better, reduce antibiotic use, grow pigs faster at a welfare premium and that requires zero energy.

Why develop a system?

The system is being created to help improve self-sufficiency in UK pig meat, which stood at 52% in 2013, explained Sophie Throup of Raft Solutions at the British Society of Animal Science Conference in Chester.

“60% of UK pigs slaughtered originate from straw-based or part-slatted buildings, where food conversion efficiency is 10% worse (£7/pig extra cost) than from fully slatted units,” she said.

“While these may achieve premiums, the higher costs of production means UK producers still cannot compete on price as well as welfare,” Ms Throup added.

Trial work at one of Midland Pig Producers’ sites has been looking at pig behaviour – where they lie, feed, dung, rest and play, and how temperature and ventilation affects this.

They have also been assessing different manipulable materials for enrichment. All of this data will feed into the design of the prototype.

Ideas for the prototype include housing weaners and finishers in the same building to use the energy produced by the finisher pigs to heat the weaner rooms.

They have also looked at lowering the ceilings to reduce airspace, and use air extractors and air scrubbers to clean the air before it is emitted into the environment. Fresh air will then be drawn in over the dunging area, to encourage pigs to dung in the same area.

The plan is to also flush the slurry out every 24 hours into a waste disposal, which is then used in the AD plant to generate energy.

“This would not only make the pigs environment more pleasant and reduce odour, but also cleaner air will be going into the environment,” said Ms Throup.

Trials are still ongoing and the system needs to be costed. However, it is hoped Raft Solutions will have a prototype design available later this year.