Verispec DNA traceability - PIC UK
Verispec is a technique that can provide highly accurate traceability via DNA marker technology. The Verispec technique can allow a piglet, carcase or a retail pack or pork to be traced to a specific Sire or Dam. This can provide product traceability to genotype, supply system or unit if accurate sampling is provided.
The objective of the AHDB Pork funded Verispec project was to demonstrate the accuracy of the technique and its ability to be utilised at a commercial level. The trial strategy was designed to satisfy the objective via three specific stages.
Stage 1 - Demonstrate on a small, controlled system that the Verispec technique is accurate
Phase 1 was carried out in June 2009, where all boars supplying semen (AI) to a specific unit over a three month period were DNA sampled. Chaser boars used on the unit were not DNA sampled during this phase. The pigs from this unit, along with pigs from a control unit, were DNA sampled post slaughter.
The initial results showed that 100% of the control samples did not match any of the known sires, therefore Verispec could identify pigs that were not from that specific unit. However, only 90% of the test samples matched the known sires recorded. This left 10% of the progeny that were derived from the specific unit but did not match the known sires. The 10% of pigs that did not match the sires supplied via AI could have been sired by the chaser boars on farm. Therefore stage 1 was been duplicated (Stage 1a) and all boars were sampled by taking individual hair samples for each chaser boar along with the recorded tissue sample from the AI sires.
Stage 1a showed again that Verispec could identify pigs that were not from a known sire, with 100% of control samples not matching with the known sires. In Stage 1a, 90% of the test samples matched with a known sire and so were proven to be from the specific unit. The two test samples that did not meet the requirements for a positive result showed very strong links to a chaser boar recorded via a hair sample. The low reading was due to the quality of the DNA found in the hair sample from the chaser boar. The low quality of that sample resulted in a lower number of matches and therefore a positive result was impossible.
Stage 2 - Demonstrate that 1. Verispec can be utilised on a larger scale on a large production system 2. that it has the ability to identify between source units and 3. that it can identify sires within a line
In Stage 2, DNA samples were taken from the designated boar pool of PIC 327 sires, along with hair samples from the 15 individual sows served on each unit. This created a reference group of sires for the supply chain and a reference group of sows for each individual unit. The progeny from these services were tagged at birth to ensure traceability through the finishing system and during slaughter. DNA samples were taken from a random selection of carcases within the supply chain. DNA samples were then taken from control carcases from a different supply chain, but also using standard PIC 327 sires.
Stage 2 showed that Verispec could again identify carcases that were not sired by one of the known sires, therefore not being part of the specific supply chain. Stage 2 also showed that Verispec was able to differentiate between sires of the same line/breed, as the control carcases were also sired by PIC 327 boars. 100% of the carcases from the supply chain were matched to the Verispec boar pool. In addition 100% of the control carcases were not matched to any of the boars with the Verispec boar pool.
Stage 3 - Demonstrate the ability of Verispec to provide traceability throughout the supply chain
In Stage 3, DNA samples were taken from all AI sires and potential chaser boar sires from a specific supply chain. DNA samples were then taken from retail packs off the shelves in the specific retail store exactly 53 weeks post service, to ensure the correct sires were sampled. Control samples were taken from a different product/supply chain from the same retail brand.
Stage 3 showed that Verispec was able to identify pork meat direct from the retail shelves from a specific supply chain. Stage 3 also showed that Verispec was able to validate this by identifying pork meat that was not from the specific supply chain.
This project has shown that the Verispec technique is 100% accurate at identifying carcases and pork meat that is not from a specific group of sires. This project has shown that a highly accurate logistical programme must be in place to utilise the Verispec technique fully and that there are two key areas that must be accurately measured and recorded to facilitate Verispec:
- Ensure that all potential sires, AI, natural service and chaser boars have DNA samples on record as soon as there is a possibility of progeny entering the supply chain
- Ensure that DNA samples are taken via tissue or blood samples, as the quality of DNA and the amount of DNA in each sample is essential in the accuracy of the Verispec technique.
Therefore when managed correctly, Verispec is able to identify carcases and pork meat that is from, or that is not from, a specific supply chain or production unit.
Infrared heating for the future - Radecor
The challenge for the project was to establish and then demonstrate that infrared heating can benefit UK pig producers and, in doing so, become a recognised method of supplying safe and economic heat to pig buildings, particularly in the nursery.
Infrared technology works by heating the pigs, rather than the air. The highly sensitive thermostat is more accurate and therefore more efficient than standard thermostats. The potential benefits for pig producers of using infrared heating are significant savings on energy costs and, because the panels do not cause dust circulation in the air, the risk of pig respiratory problems may be reduced.
A final report is available from AHDB Pork on request.
Batch weighing: an essential management procedure - Alexander & Angell (Farms) Ltd
The basis of this project was demonstrating the value of weighing pigs regularly as they move through the system. The producer involved took inspiration from the poultry industry, where everything that moves is measured and weighed.
The process is simple, with no big capital investment needed; while the pigs are being moved eg between the nursery, growing and finishing stages, the trailer is allowed to rest on a set of mobile weighing pads, the weight is recorded and then the pigs are unloaded; the process adds no more than four minutes per batch.
By weighing the pigs at each stage, it enabled the producer to identify where the pigs were falling behind and take appropriate action. He has since been able to improve growth rates and the pigs are reaching slaughter weight in the required time frame. This project demonstrates the value of regularly weighing pigs in batches.
Piloting a system to identify labour use, cost and productivity - Delta Innovation Ltd.
This project investigated benchmarking the cost of labour for particular tasks in a bid to improve efficiency. The technique was originally developed for use in the dairy industry but has now been applied to pig production. The idea is to illustrate efficient labour use, cutting back on the time taken to do tasks, allowing more time to be spent with the pigs.
The data collected from the pilot farms indicated that there was a significant potential for increases in labour efficiency across pig units; for example during the initial pilot on eight breeding units, the notional labour costs per finished pig ranged from under £2 to more than £11. Scaling up from potential weekly savings to annual savings, differences of at least one full-time equivalent were seen, even across similar units.
While in some cases the causes of this variation were clear, for example in relation to feeding systems, in others it was less so. The next step of this project is to get more producers to record time spent working on specific named tasks on their farms so that there is enough data to set standard benchmarks.
Establishing benchmarks and case studies for labour efficiency - Delta Innovation Ltd.
The first part of the study (outlined above) piloted a system for recording and analysing labour use on pig units. This study was intended to develop that methodology further, and to examine a broader range of units to ascertain benchmark figures for key tasks.
Data collected in this study indicates that the average total cost of labour for pig production is in the region of £8.36 per finished pig (based for ease of calculation on wage costs of £7.50 per hour), with just over half of this attributable to breeding herd tasks and just over half attributable to growing and finishing tasks. However, this average masks a huge variation in the labour efficiency of pig production, with the most efficient breeding herds demonstrating labour costs of £2.99 per piglet weaned compared to the least efficient with costs of £6.06. Similar variation was seen within finishing herds, with labour costs for those units taking pigs from weaning through to slaughter ranging from £2.50 to £5.50 per 100kg liveweight gain.
A full report is available from AHDB Pork.
Water quality improvements - Skimble Crown Ltd
Project duration: 6 months
The objective of this trial was to treat the whole farm through a water treatment system and to see if it would help resolve poor growth in the flat deck area of the pig unit which is linked to a multipathogenic problem.
- The quality of water from the bore hole, tea room and flat decks was tested
- Water was treated with Di-O-Clean, which is a product that removes biofilm, prevents regrowth and removes deposits of iron and manganese from the drinking water system
- Water from each location was re-tested after the treatment
- An improvement in water intake by the piglets in the flat deck was noted by using Barn Report to monitor consumption
- An improvement in feed intake of 30kg per sow per lactation was also evident; although some of this will be attributed to building the sows up sooner
- The contaminated bore hole water was successfully treated.
This project demonstrates the advantages of cleaning water, especially for improving the appetite of lactating sows and increasing water intake for first stage weaners. It also establishes the cost of cleaning water at approximately 12p per finished pig.
Growth maximisation study – D C & R J Allen & Partners
Project duration: 12 months
This project is trialling two specially designed weighing crates linked to a PC, one placed in a weaner pen (8-25kg) and the other one placed in a grower pen (25-55kg) and then subsequently a finisher pen, to monitor the real time daily growth, showing performance fluctuations from ration changes or other pen stresses.
Through monitoring pig growth on a real time basis the trial aims to assess how the changes in ration affect daily growth throughout the three stages of production, enabling rations and feeding strategies to be adapted accordingly.
Overall the trial will evaluate novel weighing technology to see if it offers real benefit to the industry.
Tom Allen is hoping to confirm some of the benefits in the coming months. “We already weigh our growing pigs when they enter and leave each stage but this only gives an average weight for the group. We wanted more accurate monitoring of growth performance to highlight where exactly any issues or fluctuations in performance were happening.”
The pigs go through the scales up to three times a day, of their own accord. Using an automatic spray marker on the scales, Tom has been able to check that it is not just the same few pigs being weighed repeatedly. Around 90% of pigs are using the scales, so while the system will never be 100% accurate, it gives a good representation.
Tom suspected that there was an issue with feed rations in the finisher stage but couldn’t be certain. The data from the scales have shown that pigs were averaging the same daily growth rate throughout the whole finisher period. He said: “We would like to see this going up, not standing still, so we have made adjustments to the finisher rations.
“We have also noticed from the graphs that the weaners do better once they have switched fully from creep onto liquid feed, so we’ve reduced the weight at changeover to 14kg. Another tweak we’ve made is to reduce the starting temperature in the weaner pens from 30°C to 28°C.
“Now we can watch the graphs and monitor whether these changes are actually making a difference. From what I’ve seen, the potential savings could pay back the cost of investment quite quickly. The information we’re getting is helping us make both quick and effective decisions on changes.” Each weighing crate costs between £2000 and £4000, depending on the size and are supplied in the UK by Schippers.
Read more in Farmers Weekly article: Weigh scales help boost pig performance
Computerised ad-lib feeding of indoor lactating sows - Ermine Farms Ltd
Project duration: 12 months
There are two objectives for this project:
a) To demonstrate whether controlled feeding (toward ad-lib feeding post week one) of lactating sows in a conventional farrowing system can increase feed intakes and subsequent piglet weaning weight and sow performance
b) To compare sow feed levels achieved in the conventional farrowing pen on the controlled feeding system to sow feed-levels in 8 'pig-safe' free-farrowing pens and subsequent effect on weaning weight and sow performance
Envisaged value to the industry
The project is focused on the benefits of correct farrowing house feeding and capturing the feed patterns of sows of different parities to demonstrate what total quantities a sow is capable of consuming per lactation. If there is an increased feed intake in lactation, then the aim is to demonstrate whether there are benefits to the litter weight and subsequent sow performance. The project will also hopefully demonstrate whether there is a production value in total litter weaning weight from free farrowing pens.
Supplementary rearing system - Knox and Sons
March 2014 – July 2015
Large litters can cause welfare issues if sows are incapable of nursing their entire litter from birth to weaning. This can be overcome by fostering piglets onto other sows (with either lower litter numbers or better nursing capabilities), or by moving piglets into specialised supplementary rearing systems.
Richard Knox and John Dunning developed a supplementary rearing system referred to as the ‘Knox Box’ with support from AHDB Pork. The aim of developing this box was to ensure that less viable and smaller piglets have unlimited access to milk.
Aims and objectives
To investigate an alternative method of supplementary rearing to ensure less viable/small piglets receive adequate quantities of milk when either there is a significant number of piglets born in a batch, leading to lack of available milk from sows, or sows are unable to cope with ‘normal’ numbers, due to mothering ability or teat quality/conformation.
Piglets exhibit a growth check during the first couple of days after being placed in the supplementary rearing box, however, it appears that they encourage other piglets to eat creep feed post-weaning. Piglets that were fostered into the ‘Knox Box’ outperformed the average pig at the end of the nursery and grower stages.
- The cost of one box is around £1,800
- The boxes are kept within existing farrowing accommodation and provide heat, pelleted milk and water
- One box is used per week of production (ie one box per 13 sows farrowed).
- 0.5 man hours per box
- 20 minutes to wash and disinfect each box
- 10 minutes to check and feed six boxes each day
- £0.88-£1.00/pig (creep feed)
- £1.20/pig (labour)
- £0.40 per pig (250w heat lamp running for eight days).
The full report which outlines two methods of using the boxes, as well as describing the feeding regime, will be available soon.
Evaluation of the cash knocker on outdoor piglets, up to 5kg, bred for food
Aims and objectives
The current method of dispatch for this size of casualty animal is with a priest, full-size captive bolt, or use of a shot gun. Both these methods are difficult for the operator and have health and safety issues. The objectives of this project were therefore:
- To establish a practical, mechanical and repeatable method of humanely dispatching casualty pigs to prevent further avoidable distress to all concerned
- To evaluate the short-bolt captive bolt stunner system for ease of operation, safety and effective humane euthanasia of piglets from 0-5kg.
This particular piece of equipment has proven efficient for euthanising piglets weighing up to 5kg and under 21 days of age. The producers involved in the project have reported that, provided a 1 grain load shot is used, the process is completed safely and in a welfare-friendly manner at all times. Use of a higher rated shot is unnecessary. Provided the producer has already got the cash captive bolt gun, it is easy to swap to the knocker, and the staff involved had no issues with this.
Application to industry
The intention is to extend this trial further, up to a piglet weight of 10kg in the first instance. Currently, euthanising piglets over 5kg involves captive bolts or other methods, which can present a health and safety risk for the stockpeople, given the need to restrain the piglets. Input from Red Tractor (RT) and the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) is currently being sought, as adherence to Casualty Pig regulations, which is required as part of the RT pig standards, does not allow blunt force trauma to be used on pigs weighing more than 5kg
Feeding outdoor sows using electronic sow feeders (ESF) – Anna’s Happy Trotters
Project duration: 12 months
The project was carried out with the intention of demonstrating that the technology of ESFs, long proven for feeding indoor sows, can be successfully adapted and deployed onto outdoor systems.
Aims and objectives
- To demonstrate that ESFs can work outdoors, using solar panels and wireless technology
- To show that sows can be trained to use ESFs in an outdoor paddock
- To show reliability of ESFs in all weathers
- To show reliability of the solar panels and wireless connection.
Why use electronic sow feeders?
- To improve sow condition/output
- To more accurately feed the sow, according to her requirements regarding size, age and stage of gestation This will control body size and reduce sow replacement rate, as productive sows often have to be culled too early due to their size and resultant piglet mortality
- To eliminate waste from feeding in muddy conditions, poor physical quality of the ration and scavenging by birds
- To reduce overall feed usage by feeding individual sows and not a group
- To decrease the time taken to feed dry sows
- To reduce the salmonella challenge to the breeding herd
- To decrease land damage by reducing tractor use, ie filling the hoppers once a week rather than daily
- To feed pellets as opposed to nuts, which equates to a manufacturing saving of £6/t
- Sows will be less stressed at feeding.
- ESF was integrated into the running of a multiparous, within herd multiplication (WHM), herd
- Modifications to the hopper were required to strengthen the neck
- The addition of an exit race would decrease the occupancy time of the sow-operated crate, as timid sows would not exit into a group of sows
- Wireless connectivity issues were eventually rectified, this is probably dependent on region and local connections
- The bird population decreased once the ESFs were installed
- Over £19,000 was saved* over the course of the year due to reduced feed usage and manufacturing costs.
*How the savings were made
|Overall feed usage: 817kg/sow||Sow feed cost: 19p/kg|
|ESF feed usage: 707kg/sow||Saving: £20.90/sow|
|Difference: 110kg/sow||Total saving: £15,863|
|Manufacturing cost saving: £3,413|
|Total feed saving: £19,276|
Optimising sow condition should augment performance by ensuring every sow is in the ideal condition at any given time of the production cycle. Individual sow intake will ensure each sow gets her requirements, irrespective of the range of size and condition of other sows within the group.
A considerable amount of feed is allocated to compensate for losses due to poor ground conditions and poor manufacture of sow rolls (dust and chips can be as high as 10%) and seasonal bird infestation compounds the losses.
Initially, the savings made may not be as high as is theoretically possible; bigger sows will have a high maintenance requirement and, similarly, thinner sows will require more feed to bring them up to the optimum condition score. Once the system is established, it will be possible to make considerable savings over the current feeding regime.
This system will be best introduced with a gilt restock to capture all the above benefits. It may be beneficial to send the sow technician(s) to an indoor unit to understand how the ESF operates and to gather experience.