A new "service pod," specially designed for outdoor pig units, is being trialed in East Anglia. It has been developed jointly by BPEX, Easey Pigs and Rattlerow Farms as part of a BPEX field trial. 

The aim is to provide the right environment for the sow during heat detection and insemination, as well as improving labor efficiency.

Many outdoor producers believe a well-designed service area will help improve litter size and farrowing rate in outdoor systems, where breeding herd performance continues to progress at a slower pace than in indoor herds. 

Aaron Prime, who manages Andy Cowper's Easey Pigs unit, where the pod is being trialed, says: "We wouldn't want to go back to the old way of serving now we've tried the new service pod. We are now able to spend all our time working with the sows, doing heat detection and monitoring them, because the way the tent is set up means there is a continuous flow of gilts or sows. We are never standing around waiting so the time goes really quickly. It's a much easier way of working."

BPEX knowledge transfer manager, Richard Bows, adds: "The service pod has 14 individual artificial insemination stalls for sows and gilts, seven on either side of the boar pens, housed inside a tent as normal.

"So far, it is helping sows stay calmer and it is much easier to differentiate whether sows are showing standing heat or are not in heat, so it should mean that timing of service is more accurate. It needs three people to operate the service period at maximum efficiency, although two can cope when there is no alternative. We're discussing with Aaron's team how the new system can be developed further, as we are planning to put a second pod on one of Rattlerow Farms' units early next year." 

BPEX will know more about the pod's effects on numbers born soon. It is hoped it can help more producers achieve the Breed+3 target to wean more pigs per sow per year.