BY Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Research has begun at the new Elora Swine Research Facility with a study on improving mammary development in gilts in late gestation with the ultimate goal of increasing milk production in subsequent lactations.
Taking advantage of the new barn, new equipment and that the barn was recently stocked with all gilts, research is focusing on the nutrition of those “girls”, says researcher Lee-Anne Huber who is a professor at the University of Guelph (U of G) in the department of animal bioscience.
“I am doing quite a bit of research at the new barn. In fact, I am the primary user so it is my own little playground right which is cool,” says Huber, who grew up in Wellington North and still helps on the family farm, a mix of pigs, farrow-to-finish, cow/calf herd and finishing cattle, along with 400 acres of crops and their own feedmill. She and her husband raise their own lambs for meat.
The new, $20 million, Ontario Swine Research Centre officially opened in August with a ribbon cutting and open house. It is the latest addition to a provincial network of research centres owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario (ARIO). It is managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.
“The Ontario Swine Research Centre will allow U of G experts to advance research and knowledge, bring new livestock innovations to the farm and train the next generation of talent, in support of a thriving pork sector in Ontario and beyond,” states Dr. Charlotte Yates, U of G president at the opening.
Huber is living that vision as a professor, with a team of students, embarking on the very first research projects at the facility, building on decades of research that was being done at the Arkell Research Station outside of Guelph. She says the new centre is “amazing…that’s the best word I can use to describe it. “The design committee was deter-mined to create a barn and research centre that was relevant as long as possible. “Every single room and feeding system can be adapted to whatever study we need to do at the time.”
As a nutritionist, Huber was particularly pleased with the installation of state-of-the art, precision feeding technology that can track feed usage by individual animals on diets that can be altered daily. “With that flexibility, our options are endless and as a nutritionist, I get giddy about that capacity,” she says.
The large facility has room for over 300 sows, 700-900 piglets in the nursery and 400 finishing pigs, all under one roof.
One of the major changes is that the Elora Centre is an open facility, versus the closed, “specific-pathogen-free” approach at Arkell. “It was stocked with all caesarian born piglets so they did not bring in disease from the mother. We could not bring any live animals into the building.”
It was the way things were done at the time, but the result was that genetics were falling behind in terms of productivity. Neither was it possible to compare different genetics to one another.
The new facility is an open herd but also has an isolation facility so researchers can bring in any animals they want, quarantine them in the isolation facility, then bring them into the main barn.
Despite being an “open” barn it is highly biosecure. Huber explained there is a 48-hour down time before entering the facility if you’ve been in another barn. It is a “full shower in/shower out” facility. Plus anything someone brings to the barn, such as a lunch bag, has to go through ultraviolet sterilization. Moreover, any scientific materials, buckets or bags go through aerosolization disinfecting.
Within these parameters, four studies have recently been launched in the barn with the first being the mammary development study. Huber explains that mammary development in female pigs happens in three phases: between day 90 of age to puberty; in the last third of gestation and during lactation
“Being that gilts are pregnant for the first time and developing mammary tissue for the first time, targeting late gestation as a time to improve mammary growth is very promising,” believes Huber. She and her students will be feeding lysine to these gilts as a former study indicated lysine can improve mammary development by 40 per cent. “We got very excited by those results but we did not follow those gilts into lactation so we do not know if it carried into milk production.”
This study will feed different levels of lysine using soybeans meal as the supplier of lysine in the diet. “We have seven different levels we are testing and then we will take those females, let them farrow, and track how much milk they produce during the lactation period.” This will reveal which treatment produces the most milk production so Huber can teach pork producers how much lysine producers should feed their gilts in late lactation.
“Lysine is the part of the protein component of the pig’s diet, which is the second most expensive component,” says Huber. “That’s why this matters. Without knowing how much, producers could over feed and waste money.”
With pig prices fluctuating, anything researchers can do to reduce feed costs is important.
Huber says she is often the voice to the media but she says her students need so much credit for going to the barn at all hours, collecting samples and analyzing data. The research centre is, as Yates said, a training ground for students.
The other three studies currently being conducted at the new swine research center are:
1. Precise feeding in lactation: Researching the right combination of nutrients and energy on each day of lactation to maximize milk production
2. Novel feed ingredients: “New feed ingredients come up all the time and producers come to see and want to know if the ingredient will give them a competitive advantage,” says Huber. This study is looking at on-farm processed soybeans which can be frustrating for nutritionists as there are so many quality differences between farms in terms of how the beans are roasted.
3. Exploring the amino acid methionine: This amino acid is used for protein synthesis as are most amino acids, teaches Huber. “But this one does a whole bunch of other stuff in the body and we are exploring these other roles for feeding methionine in the diet.”
Being close to both the dairy and beef research barns in Elora, Huber says having a swine barn makes Elora a research hub for U of G students. Right now students drive from the university to Elora but she hopes a bus will soon be available to transport students because the hardest part of a student’s day is often “getting out of the city.”
As for herself, Huber says “pigs are pretty cool” and she is thrilled to be working in the new centre to help meet the needs of the pork industry with research in terms of nutrition, economics and disease. ◊