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Improving AI to Improve Commercial Pig Herd

27 January 2012, at 3:03pm

UK - Fresh work on the study of porcine semen production could go a long way to improving the commercial pig herd in the UK, writes ThePigSite editor in chief, Chris Harris.

Over the last 20 years, the research into boar semen production has been limited and the research that has been carried out in continental Europe often has not been wholly applicable to the industry in the UK.

The continental research has naturally been tailored to the specific needs of that industry – often catering for large indoor operations.

In the UK, 40 per cent of the sows are served outdoors under a wide range of environmental conditions.

In Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, many of the studs are close to the major pig production centres.

However, in the UK, according to Sue Corning, the general manager of PIC UK, the focus on a high level of health and biosecurity means that the majority of the studs are based remotely from the pig population concentrations. This, in turn, means that when breeding operations are being served through artificial insemination, there are increased travelling times for the semen batches.

The research and development that is being carried out by pig breeding company, PIC, at its Genetic Transfer Centre in Bedfordshire in the UK aims to ease the use of artificial insemination in the commercial environment.

The use of AI on the farm has several key areas where it can also improve the commercial practices and the commercial viability of the pig farm through:

  • Improved accuracy of the genetic improvement programme
  • Faster genetic dissemination
  • Access to top indexed boars at commercial level
  • Known semen quality
  • Improved health control supporting Closed Herd Semen only programmes
  • Supporting Batch Farrowing Programmes
  • Flexibility to meet varying market requirements.

Sue Corning, general manager of PIC UK.

Ms Corning said that AI helps to speed up the commercial use of genetics by ensuring a swift transfer of the boar genetic nucleus down to the commercial level and while improvements in traits such as robustness are being developed in the genetic nucleus they can also be transferred straight to the farm.

There is also an opportunity to use a wider range of products through AI bringing clear benefits.

In pig production across Europe, the use of AI is commonplace with 95 per cent of production in the Netherlands being through AI and 97 per cent in Denmark.

The Dutch industry has around 920,000 with farm sizes on average 400 sows per farm and 4.5 million AI doses issued per year.

However, in the UK, the uptake is just 75 per cent and over the last few years, the UK has been fairly static in its use of AI.

According to Ms Corning, the average farrowing rate in the UK is 75.79 per cent while the top farrowing rate is around 95 per cent. If this gap between the average and the top can be closed, it could be worth up to £100 per sow to the farmer and a total of £40 million to the industry as a whole.

The new PIC R&D centre in the UK acts as a staging post between the studs and the farms. It acts to work to improve on-farm reproductive performance to retain and improve the competitiveness of UK pig producers.

The centre with its state of the art technology is continually receiving samples from its boar stud units around the UK. In all, 650 boars are tested every four weeks and PIC has set a target that if there are more than 30 per cent abnormalities in each ejaculate then the boar is withdrawn from commercial sales. The boar is then tested on a weekly basis and if the abnormalities do not improve, the boar is taken out of the system completely.

The Hamilton Thorn – IVOS equipment

The latest equipment with a Hamilton Thorn – IVOS – an integrated visual optics system for sperm analysis using strobed illumination to visualise sperm motion showing results for sperm which are motile, progressively motile and static, a fluorescence microscope that allows a sample to be illuminated with a light of a specific wavelength, which fluorophores (stains previously attached to the sperm) will absorb, then emit light at a longer wavelength (fluorescence allowing the determination of live and dead sperm cells, the morphology of live sperm and capacitation status and a NucleoCounter SP-100, which measures sperm cell concentration and viability in raw and diluted semen samples, allows the research team to find and select the strongest and best boars from the stud).

Fluorescence microscope

While at the moment, the research is looking at the motility and health of the stud samples, work at the laboratory will focus on projects directly relevant to the UK pig industry with the overall objective of improving reproductive performance on farm.

Work areas, over time, are likely to include: the effect of temperature on semen production and viability including the effect of temperature in boar accommodation, in drop-off boxes and semen storage units; the effect of UV exposure on semen quality; improved monitoring of morphology; more detailed review of factors which affect morphology, and comparisons of extenders used as part of the semen production process.

The centre is also a training centre for people on the studs and also for farms where the flat­pack semen batches are dispatched.

It also acts as the hub for dispensing the flat­pack AI packs to about 130 farms a week from the Channel Islands to the Orkney Islands.

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