Iowa State University announced in early December that Jason Ross, the Lloyd L. Anderson professor in animal science and director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center at ISU, will lead a new project that includes scientists from ISU, Kansas State University and Purdue University.
The National Pork Board and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are providing nearly $2 million for the five-year study.
“This is a great example of industry leadership coming together to address emerging issues through university and industry research partnerships,” Ross says. Across the pork industry, an estimated 30% of pigs born die before reaching the market, creating significant economic losses for farmers. Research indicates mortality rates across all phases of production have been increasing, presenting a major challenge to animal well-being and sustainability.
Pig health, welfare and productivity
“Members of the animal science and welfare committees of the National Pork Board recognize that improving pig health, welfare and productivity are keys in extending pig survivability,” says Chris Hostetler, director of animal science for NPB. “While this project is to last five years, it’s the vision of the committees that this effort will shape the way pigs are raised to provide safe, wholesome pork far into the future.”
A team of nutritionists, physiologists, veterinarians and behavior experts, geneticists, toxicologists, Extension specialists, and economists will examine the causes of mortality occurring on commercial swine farms. “We know that improving survivability will increase the efficiency and environmental sustainability of the whole industry,” says Tim Kurt, FFAR’s scientific program director, “but solutions need to be economically feasible.”
Increasing survivability not easy
Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director, says, “Increasing sow and piglet survivability is one of the most difficult issues facing the pork industry. While this is a clear animal welfare problem, it’s also one of the most important productivity and economic issues for producers. FFAR is pleased to be part of this important research that unquestionably will have a multitude of positive impacts.”
The project seeks a full understanding of the biological mechanisms that limit pig and sow survivability, how they interact and how they can be effectively improved. The project’s overarching goal through effective research and Extension activities is to improve swine survivability by 1% or more each year. Increasing the wean-to-finish survival of animals by 1% would represent an estimated gain in productivity of 1.2 million pigs a year for the nation’s swine industry.
Research team’s objectives include:
• evaluate producers’ management attitudes and economics associated with improving survivability in U.S. swine production
• identify the causes of mortality on U.S. sow farms to support development and implementation of targeted strategies to maximize survivability
• define factors that influence wean-to-finish survivability and implement management strategies based on production-based research
• develop national Extension, outreach and education resources and strategies to encourage adoption and implementation of management practices to improve survivability in pork production
Another aspect of the project is a significant effort placed on training future industry leaders. This includes graduate students and staff. The project is also expected to employ many undergrad and veterinary students through internship programs.
Additional information on the project team, specific efforts and progress can be followed on the website piglivability.org.
Source: Iowa State University