A project to establish a semen-testing scheme which will establish quality standards across all the major breeding companies is the latest in a drive by BPEX to improve UK herd reproductive performance.

BPEX has invested £30,000 in a CASA computerised semen-testing system and is in the process of identifying a benchmark level of semen quality for UK studs.

It has also committed a further £20,000 a year for the next two years to fund the cost of sample testing, which will be carried out at Leeds Vet Lab.

Individual producers can also have boar semen tested at a cost of £6-£25.

European producers are using AI to improve their herds on a wider scale than their UK counterparts, although the culling of boars during foot-and-mouth has increased the use of bought-in semen in this country, says BPEX chairman, Stewart Houston.

The assurance scheme should eliminate producer doubts over semen quality, allowing problem-solving to be focused on-farm.

Mr Houston believes the project will raise standards and points out that the UK is close to the bottom of the sow performance league when compared with other European countries.

According to the most recent data, the average UK sow produced 18 pigs a sow a year, while Danish producers achieved 23 pigs.

“Some producers experiencing variable results with AI techniques are blaming semen quality,” he says.

“Setting a standard where all results are tested using the same computer programme will cut out human error and help to resolve this difficulty.”

The major breeding companies have responded positively to the introduction of a nationwide semen quality standard, he adds.

“Several different quality tests already exist for boar semen, but this will put a more sophisticated, universal system in place.

We are not anticipating any problems with semen being offered by the studs, but companies sending in samples which fail to meet standards will be given a chance to improve their performance.

For more information, contact BPEX on 01908 844 368 or visit the website, www.bpex.org