6 August 1999

Stotfold backs research for a competitive future

Big investment at the MLCs

Stotfold pig unit promises to

make it a force to be

reckoned with, providing

research to keep a beleagured

industry competitive.

Marianne Curtis reports

A COMPREHENSIVE research programme looking at topics including gilt immunity, alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters, gilt rearing and liquid feeding is underway at the Stotfold pig development unit.

Speaking at an open day at the unit, MLC pig technical manager, Pinder Gill, said that the main drivers behind its research were minimising production costs and maximising reproductive potential and growth performance.

"In collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College, we are conducting a trial looking at the immune status of gilts through to third parity.

"By taking blood samples, we are hoping to establish whether gilts introduced to the herd at 30kg have a higher immunity to existing diseases on the unit than those introduced at 90kg. We will then look at whether gilts with a higher immunity have improved breeding performance," he said.

Gilt reproductive performance will also come under scrutiny in a trial looking at body composition of more than 400 gilts from five major commercial genotypes.

With an average of 50% of sows culled for reproductive failure, Dr Gill expects to improve feed management advice when the trial concludes at the end of next year.

"Measuring body fat and lean ratio at 30kg, 90kg, service, farrowing and weaning has shown that the ratio of fat to lean can be influenced by energy and protein intake. We are researching whether keeping a higher level of fat on gilts to the end of first parity improves lifetime reproductive performance," he said.

Plans are also afoot to develop a research programme to evaluate antibiotic alternatives, including organic acids, enzymes, probiotics and nutraceuticals.

Another route out of using antibiotic growth promoters could be liquid feeding, believes Dr Gill. Liquid feeding, using controlled fermentation technology will be a major area of research at the unit. "During the fermentation process bacteria produce chemicals known as bacteriocins, which can kill other, potentially harmful bacteria in a similar way to antibiotics."

Liquid feeds undergo wild fermentation which can go wrong leading to a dominance of undesirable bacteria. This can reduce feed intake, growth and health, according to Dr Gill.

"In the study we will look at different innoculants, temperatures and pH levels to optimise liquid feed fermentation. This will have benefits for growth and gut health," he concluded.

High welfare standards

AFTER a general refurbishment in 1996, £730,000 is being invested in the MLCs Stotfold pig development unit demonstrating its commitment to applied research and new technology, according to the organisation.

New dry sow accommodation is now complete and work is underway on the second phase of the project. This involves extending finishing accommodation so all the units pigs can be finished.

Designed with high welfare standards in mind, the accommodation has 240 dry sow places. "Sows enter the accommodation seven days after service and stay there until seven days before farrowing," said unit manager Lisa Taylor. "The unit has straw based, insulated kennels, each containing groups of six sows. Feeding is done manually because we must individually feed sows for trial work, which cant be done on an automated system."

Other facilities being developed on the site include special accommodation for trials on the effects of dust and ammonia on pig performance.

MLC technical director, Mike Attenborough, believed improved facilities at the unit would enable the organisation to increase income opportunities, by attracting contract research, reducing reliance on its producer levy.

Pollution answers

AERIAL pollutants in pig accommodation could be costing producers up to £7 a pig.

But a £491,000 two-and-a-half-year project, starting at Stotfold pig development unit in August promises to provide some answers.

"Ammonia and dust can adversely affect respiratory health in pigs, leading to reduced growth," said the MLCs Pinder Gill.

"In the project we will monitor the effects of four different levels of ammonia and four different levels of dust on respiratory health, growth, performance and efficiency.

"The levels of dust and ammonia used in the project will reflect those found in commercial units." &#42