It is hoped that the results of the 14-month project, which got started this week by researchers at the University of Leeds, will yield useful results that can lead to more piglets surviving birth and making it through weaning in the wider industry.
Some 200 Large White Landrace X pigs are involved in the field trial at the university’s farm, home of its Pig Research Unit near the A1 between Leeds and York and a facility which is considered among the North of England’s leading pig research sites.
Half of the pigs are being fed on a diet supplemented with salmon oil as a source of omega 3s and the other half’s diet is complemented with soya oil, which consists of different fatty acids and is typical of a pig’s standard diet.
Just as in humans, omega 3s have been identified as having beneficial effects to the health of pigs; proving good for sows’ fertility, piglets’ brain development and having a stimulating effect on piglets which can improve suckling.
The trial is being run in partnership with BPEX, the pig industry’s levy payers’ group, and the forecasted outcome is an extra pig born per litter and a two per cent increase in piglet survival.
Peter Dunne, field trials co-ordinator for BPEX, said: “The University’s farm operates as close to a commercial farm as possible to give realistic results, allowing us to interpret them in a commercial context.
“By feeding the sows with omega 3 supplements we are targeting all the pinch points in the production process - ovulation and the creation of embryos during pregnancy.
“The biology of a pig means that there will be a transfer of those omega 3s to the sows’ piglets. This should make them more responsive to external stimuli and will encourage them to suckle quicker and get more colostrum - this is essential to improving piglets’ immune systems.
“Overall, hopefully this process will enhance pig health, their immunity to disease and improve the survival rate of piglets who will then go on to produce pork for the food supply chain.
“The over-arching emphasis of this trial as part of our overall plan is to close the gap between the UK pig industry and our European competitors.
“On the continent there is a difference in philosophy and the aim in places like Denmark, which leads the way in terms of volume of production, is to focus on adding more and more units of pigs.”
Professor Helen Miller, managing director of Leeds University’s farms and leaded of the research group, said: “The results of this trial would lead to improved pig production if we can mirror what’s been seen in other experiments.
“It would not be without cost, the omega 3 supplement is more expense but the results should, we hope, more than cover the cost.”
Leeds University Farms has a respected record in pig research.
Forty per cent of piglets in the UK are fed on diets that were originally developed by the University’s team of academics, Prof Miller said.
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034