Greater production efficiency and a precision feeding model could emerge from UK pig project

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Greater production efficiency and a precision feeding model could emerge from UK pig project

Related tags: Nutrition, Uk

A tie-up between UK animal health and nutrition firms, academics and tech experts will see a wealth of knowledge in digital technologies, pig nutrition and disease being applied to help producers improve the health of their pig herd and production efficiency, says Zoetis.

That company is leading a $3 million backed project which intends to use 24/7 computer mounted visual imaging to monitor pig behavior in pens.

“We hope to plot animal movements in a group through the use of pixilation, from which we would develop a set of data that will help vets and farmers analyze pig behavior, look for early warning signs of disease or stress, and pave the way for intervention sooner than has previously been possible​,” project leader, Maurice Solomon from Zoetis, told us.   

The 42-month long project is funded by a grant from government agency, Innovate UK, and by matching finance from the industrial partners involved.

The visual imaging system being used is QScan, developed by Scottish company, Innovent Technology. QScan is currently being used globally to monitor weight gain of pigs.

Innovent is closely associated with UK feed manufacturer, Harbro, which is also contributing expertise to the project.

Enhancing animal monitoring

Dr Kevin Stickney, pig product manager at Harbro, told FeedNavigator it is envisaged that the pig monitoring technology will serve as an adjunct to human surveillance of a herd:

“Can we say for definite that pig farm workers continually observe the animal? They are not vets - can they really detect health issues?  

The idea behind this pioneering project is that ongoing computer tracking of the pigs would plug those monitoring gaps, and produce an algorithm from which a flag would be raised when a pig’s behavior is deviating from the norm.”

Precision livestock feeding

He also reckons the insights gained in animal behavior in this way could help pig producers apply precision livestock feeding on their farms.

“We need to make the most of finite resources so the industry has to be proactive and not reactive in how we approach pig performance and feed efficiency in the future.

An unhealthy animal will not grow as the market or producer expects. If we could put an arbitrary scored on the degree to which environmental pressures increase the nutritional requirements per animal, if we could quantify it numerically, then we could adjust the individual pig diet accordingly.

So we could determine more readily if there was a social threat, a temperature threat, a disease threat, or a sore joint threat in an individual pig and modify their feed to compensate.

Unless you have more data about the pig’s surroundings you will never be able to fully determine the animal’s optimum health, welfare and nutritional needs,” ​said Stickney.

Working groups

The project consists of seven working groups all tasked with specific goals. 

And part of Habro’s role, said Stickney, is to explore the availability of robust liquid and dry feed intake metering systems globally.  “We are looking at devices that can be used commercially at a low cost,”​ he added.

A Newcastle University team, with expertise in animal and veterinary science, and digital technologies, is also involved in the initiative.

Ilias Kyriazakis, professor of animal health and nutrition at the university, said the results of the project should serve as a catalyst for innovation in the pig farming industry both in the UK and beyond.

All participants are due to come together again in January to assess project milestones and discuss work in progress.

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