Building work at the site, based in Beuningen, is not quite finished. The construction is set to be completed in the coming weeks, said Johan Zonderland, pig concept development and research team leader, De Heus.
But the practical research work will only get underway at the new center in early 2020, he said.
“The first groups of the rearing gilts have just been inseminated so we expect the first piglets to arrive in early September. The occupation of the farrowing, the piglet and grower finisher rooms will, of course, take almost the rest of the year,” he told us.
The research center, which has space for 230 sows with accompanying piglets, breeding sows and 900 fatteners, will leverage the latest in animal husbandry, animal nutrition and data technology insights, said the company. The pigs will be fed individually in feeding stations, which makes it possible to examine several feeds concurrently, added De Heus.
Zonderland said it was too early to talk in detail about the feeding concepts the team is hoping to test at the facility: “At this stage, we have to make sure all the equipment, the computer, ventilation and feeding systems are running satisfactorily and are providing data that are accurate, that is the first priority.”
Pig feed is a major focus of De Heus, which operates globally. However, prior to this build, the company did not have any facilities where it could test concepts from sows to young piglets all the way up to slaughter, said Zonderland.
“Now, with this facility, we can monitor the whole progress; that will give us much more data on how feed can perform throughout the whole lifecycle of the pig.”
“We still think there is room for improvement in feed conversion,” added Joost Belt, De Heus group director, marketing and communication.
The company’s goal is to ensure pigs are healthy and performing optimally. “Thus, we are continuously looking at ways to improve our feeds, mindful of challenges faced by the sector such as antibiotic removal, for example. In the Netherlands, manufactured feed is antibiotic free but, in Asian and Latin American countries, the discussion around antibiotic removal in feed continues.”
The company will carry out practical research related to core challenges De Heus observes in the field: “On a global scale, as a company, we talk to thousands of pig farmers every day. So the idea would be the center would look to solve common issues that arise in the stables of our customers,” said the marketing director.
Sustainability of pig production is on the De Heus research radar as well.
“That is certainly a topic we will be looking at over the coming years, everything to do with feed efficiency on the animal side but, also on the raw material side, where we will look for alternatives that have a lower carbon footprint or are in keeping with the circular economy concept,” said Zonderland.
A farm manager and animal caretaker are employed at the facility. The company is looking to recruit another employee this year, who will have more of a research-orientated role. “The global R&D team, based at the De Heus headquarters in Ede-Wageningen, will be directing the trials at Beuningen. We are only 30 minutes away so will be on site quite often,” he added.
De Heus said the center holds Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) status and has strict external and internal biosecurity.