21 May 1999

IN BRIEF

&#8226 SIGNET has acquired a 50% shareholding in AgroSoft, the company that supplies Windows-based pig herd recording and management software to producers.

The move, announced at the Pig and Poultry Fair, ties in with the launch of Signets new PigPlan recording software. The software will allow producers to plan, direct and control their businesses, and compare their own performance with results from similar units on a regular basis, it says.

&#8226 INCLUDING trace elements in laying hen diets could allow producers develop a niche market for healthier eggs.

Feeding organic selenium as part of rations could produce eggs with a higher selenium content, says Alltech. This could help alleviate concerns over selenium deficiency in human diets, and its effect on cancer, heart disease and other conditions, says the company.

&#8226 THE MLC is to fund six post-graduate scholarships exclusively in the pig sector. The scholarships join the two a year the MLC already funds. The six awards will be phased in over the next three years. &#42

Less frequent insemination will reduce AI costs

By Sue Rider

INSEMINATING sows less frequently when on heat will have the biggest impact on reducing the cost of pig AI.

Speaking at the Pig and Poultry Fair, pig vet Christianne Glossop said 25-30% of services were by AI, but there was scope for the technique to be used more widely. Reducing its cost would help increase AI uptake.

"The single thing that would make the biggest difference to reducing the cost of a dose of semen would be if we could inseminate sows less when they are on heat," said Dr Glossop.

"We could reduce by one-third or halve the cost of semen used each time we inseminate a sow."

The best time to inseminate was 12 hours before ovulation, and there was now a much better understanding of when sows ovulate after coming on heat.

"The most common time is 36-48 hours after she starts to stand," she said.

Further work using ultrasound would help to better determine when sows ovulate, therefore allowing single, fixed time AI in future. But when sows were only to be inseminated once, appropriate stimulation was essential.

"Some producers achieve good results using saddles to stimulate sows."

Longer shelf-life semen, reducing sperm/dose and increasing production of sperm/boar would also help cut AI costs.

"Reducing the number of sperm in each dose could be possible provided that we can manipulate AI technology so semen can be deposited further up the reproductive tract."

Research was also underway to identify genes in boars linked to fertility and sperm production. "We can then start to breed from boars which will make good AI candidates." &#42

Video imaging can assess liveweight

VIDEO imaging could help weigh pigs without the stress and hassle of putting them through a weighing machine.

Work at Silsoe Research Institute, Beds, has developed a system relying on video camera images to measure liveweight, rather than a weighing machine.

Demonstrating the system at the Pig and Poultry Fair, Silsoe researcher Keith Cooper said that when pigs entered feeding stalls, a video camera mounted above the stall captured the image of the pigs back. "A computer works out how heavy the pig is from the video image."

Trials showed the system was accurate to within 3% of other systems, he said. "The benefits are that you know exactly how much pigs weigh each day. The system will discard images which are incorrect, giving an accurate weight reading. This means pigs which are not performing well can be spotted quickly and investigated."

Pigs were also likely to be less stressed than when put through a traditional weighing system.

Silsoes Paddy Schofield, who was involved in developing the system, said it had other benefits – more information on pig performance, individual pig monitoring, production of more consistent slaughter pigs and reduced costs. &#42

Perchery system to

improve welfare

IMPROVED poultry welfare and bird management is promised with a new type of perchery system developed by Harper Adams College, Shropshire.

The colleges Graham Scott said that many alternatives to battery housing damaged bird welfare and were difficult for stockmen to use, especially those with high perches.

Folding frame

"We have built a type of perchery system which improves bird welfare and because it has a folding perch frame, makes birds easier to catch, and increases work space for handlers," said Dr Scott.

"The perches are also no more than 1m apart, and have slopes less than 45 degrees, making it safer for birds."

He said that hens in perchery systems tended to suffer more broken bones than those in battery housing.

By controlling access to the litter areas – they are closed during peak lay in the morning – there are no litter eggs and few floor eggs. &#42

Bid to characterise breeds

By James Garner

FREE-RANGE and organic poultrymeat systems need birds that grow more slowly, often resulting in poor breast meat production and a breast shape which is unattractive to consumers.

A MAFF-funded LINK project on breed suitability, system design and performance in traditional free- range and organic poultrymeat has begun at ADAS Gleadthorpe, Notts.

The project hopes to characterise breeds in terms of performance, mortality, meat quality and behaviour, said ADASs Sue Gordon.

"The first experiment is in place now and includes breeds from Ross, Hubbard Isa, and rare breeds such as Ixworth, White Dorking, Light Sussex and White Sussex.

"The rare breeds are probably more suitable for niche organic markets, while the Ross breed is acting as a control."

Under legislation, free-range table birds have to grow for a minimum of 56 days and organic birds for 81 days. "Because they are slower growing, they lose out on breast meat which makes them more difficult to market," Mrs Gordon said.

The project will also look at the whole management system, including ranging environments and activity.

"We will look at aspects of range design and management such as open pasture systems and bad weather shelter design. Also how stocking densities affect performance and profitability."

Nitrogen waste and environmental management are also part of the study. "Nitrogen levels will be higher because birds grow slowly and feed conversion is lower." &#42

Switch to genotype selection

POULTRY breeding in the 21st century will move from selection on type characteristics to genotype.

Despite massive gains being made in meat yield and egg production through traditional selection techniques, developments in gene technology mean that selection can be improved.

A MAFF-funded link project at the Roslin Institute has mapped the chicken genetic code. The Institutes Paul Hocking says this could have a big impact on selection for traits which have previously been difficult to measure.

"For example it could affect selection for disease resistance, meat quality in terms of taste and texture, and maybe things like behaviour, such as cannibalism and feather pecking," he said.

Genome mapping is now possible because research using a technique called quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis locates genetic markers. These are unique stretches of DNA sequence that occur once in an animals genetic make-up.

Identifying individual genes would be a massive task, but using QTL analysis means it is possible to determine which are the most influential genes. "We are looking at inheritance of particular traits.

"We have the tools. Now it is a question of applying this in commercial flocks and evaluating it in that context," he says. &#42

Broad spectrum antibiotic in use

PIG producers can now use broad spectrum antibiotic Synulox Ready-To-Use Injection. Containing amox-ycillin and clavulanic acid, it can be used to treat respiratory bacterial infections, colibacillosis and periparturient infections in sows such as mastitis, metritis and agalactia, says manufacturer, Pfizer. It is administered at 1ml/20kg bodyweight, and has a meat withdrawal period of 14 days. &#42