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Hermitage Reports Outstanding Genetic Progress

by 5m Editor
11 February 2010, at 9:19am

IRELAND - Pig breeding and genetics company Hermitage reports that genetic progress is outstanding. For the dams of the Large White boars standing at stud, the average number of pigs born alive per litter has increased from 13.7 in 2001 to 16.05 in 2008.

As well as exporting live pigs and semen, Hermitage are now rapidly increasing service exports in the form of technology.

Performance data from units across the world is returned to Hermitage Kilkenny electronically and breeding values are calculated, according to Irish Farmers Journal.

Taking complete control of breeding programmes for international customers is a growing part of the business.

The level of sophistication is quite remarkable. For example, a pig herd in Ireland that weans sows on Thursday will send performance data such as numbers born, numbers weaned and insemination records to Hermitage. The Hermitage computer programme calculates a breeding rating for the sow and determines the most suitable sire for mating to her.

Semen is dispatched to the farm by 10am the following day by one of 12 couriers.

Ned Nolan completed the Teagasc pig management course in Athenry in 1983. A turning point in his career was a 1988 visit to the USA, where he and his wife Anne studied the latest breeding technology, including spending three months at Dekalb Swine, the largest pig breeding company in the USA.

He was aware of the demand in Ireland for high health status breeding stock, and established a purebred farm where gilts come into the world in a totally disease-free environment.

This practice involves piglets being born into a sterile bubble by caesarean section, thereby avoiding contact with any bugs on the sow. New high health status genetics are routinely brought into the world in this way every two weeks at Hermitage.

In poultry breeding, four companies now control all the main breeding lines. Ned Nolan said that a similar trend is evident in pig breeding. "Hermitage has a great history and business model. We have the products to be in the top three globally in the genetic supply sector," he said.

In terms of his own business philosophy, he said, "I am an optimist by nature. I am always looking for solutions. If there is a problem, I want to fix it."

Irish Farmers Journal reports that Hermitage is also working with a laboratory in Germany using genetic markers to identify breeding lines with higher numbers of piglets born alive.

Hermitage's first embryo transfer (ET) was performed in 2004. Ned Nolan said that ET will be a key tool for genetic progress in the future.

"We plan to build a new centre to facilitate embryo transfer from the top 1 per cent of females," he told those at the official opening.

In some herds that are re-stocked, the customer takes 90 per cent first cross (F1) breeding females and 10 per cent purebreds. The purebreds remain part of the Hermitage pool of genetics, maximising the number of animals to select from.

Ned Nolan said that some of these closed herds are now achieving 30 weaned pigs per sow per year.

Our island status is a key advantage for health status, but the fact that Ireland is not Aujesky's free remains an issue.

The aim is that Ireland will be free this year, after a 10-year programme of vaccination and re-stocking.

An EU approved test of all herds will be required to finally secure disease free status, but Ned Nolan is confident of a successful outcome. Until Aujesky-free status is secured, Irish animals are required to go through a quarantine process (35 days for most EU countries).