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.
Helen Miller, Innovate UK (Apr 2018), £999,960
Elisabetta Groppelli, David Rowlands & Stanley Lemon (University of North Carolina), Medical Research Foundation Fellowship (Apr 2018), £293,494
Nikesh Patel, Medical Research Foundation fellowship (Apr 2018), £290,976
Jessica Kwok & Ralf Richter, Leverhulme Trust (Apr 2018), £298,273
Julie Aspden, Royal Society (Apr 2018), £20,000
Liz Duncan, Royal Society (Mar 2018), £14,602
Alex O'Neill & Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £45,489
Jim Deuchars, Royal Society (Feb 2018), £16,300
Stefan Kepinski & Netta Cohen, Leverhulme Trust (Feb 2018), £320,387
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £49,950
Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Alison Baker, BBSRC (Feb 2018), £30,000
Scott Bowen, Leducq Foundation Grant (Feb 2018), £28,470
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Alex O'Neill, Oxford Drug Design (Jan 2018), £86,098
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
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