AI innovation could aid performance in outdoor herds

With the industry aiming to lift sow productivity and encourage every herd to ‘breed +3 more pigs per sow per year, significant focus has been placed on improving outdoor herd performance.

Around 40% of the UK breeding herd is on outdoor units and for most productivity is far lower than that achieved by indoor herds. Productivity outside can be influenced so much by seasonal changes, affecting both the pigs and also the stockman managing them. Consistent attention to detail is vitally important because of the weather, pressures of batching, the need to move sites and other tasks such as straw carting and that can prove challenging for staff.

One of the priorities for outdoor staff is maximising breeding performance and numbers weaned per sow. The outdoor service and AI system is influential in helping them improve herd productivity and so achieve the goal of an extra 3 more piglets reared per sow per year.

Newly developed service pod for outdoor herds.

Newly developed service pod for outdoor herds.

Rattlerow experience, both on its own units and from other farms, shows that AI procedures and the standards operated by many outdoor herds could be better. In an attempt to address this issue, a tri-party working group was set up, comprising Angela Cliff of BPEX, Paul Dack from production company Easey Pigs and Ian Gillies of Rattlerow Farms. The specific brief was to design a service system that could improve breeding efficiency on an outdoor unit.
Engineer Dan Smith, who runs Rattlerows fabrications facility, played a key role working through designs and new concepts. Steered by the team, he developed the Service Pod, a robust, modular unit that is easy to assemble and packs down onto a single trailer for transportation.

Cutting shortfalls
The new Service Pod aims to cut out some of the shortfalls experienced in many herds – elements that often go unnoticed during busy mating routines.

Ian Gillies, Rattlerow’s nucleus program manager, says that AI management procedures can vary significantly from one farm to another and there are many shortfalls in the way it is performed on outdoor units. This, coupled with a challenging environment, does have a dramatic effect on overall herd productivity and many outdoor herds are not realising the genetic potential of their dam lines.

“We know from experience with our own herds that conception and farrowing rates can be nearly as good outside as they are on indoor herds, so long as breeding sows are well managed and service management is consistent and precise. Attention to detail at every stage in the mating process is vitally important, yet achieving this in an outdoor situation can be difficult if resources and facilities are limited,” he adds.

Inside the pod

Inside the pod

BPEX AI specialist and KT manager Angela Cliff has worked closely with both Rattlerow and the Easey team on this project. Together they have now developed an outdoor AI system that can help stockmen fulfil the potential of the insemination process in an outdoor situation. The layout and function of the Service Pod has been specifically designed to encourage those that manage service procedures to adopt best practice and promote good techniques throughout all phases of the AI process.

Working well
“What we have developed is a system that could help to standardise the outdoor service system. A prototype is currently being put through its paces on an 800-sow unit in Suffolk and it’s working very well, and required few modifications,” Ian explains.

Initial feedback shows that both the pigs and the people working with the Pod like it. It is effective, simple to manage and Rattlerow is quietly confident that subsequent herd performance will see positive improvements to sow productivity.

This independent project has taken more than a year to complete, with much of the design/engineering provided by Rattlerow Farms. Most of the funding has come through BPEX, under its field trial benefit scheme, and performance data from this new outdoor service system will be available shortly.


Using the pod could help producers lift productivity.

“It’s taken hard work and a great deal of commitment from all parties involved, in particular the staff and managers of the breeding herds involved. We are confident this this service system can make a real difference to outdoor herd productivity and significantly improve AI management on these units. It will help stockmen improve AI and service techniques and so reduce the lost potential we frequently see occurring outdoors,” says Ian.

This Service Pod is an innovative system that offers outdoor herds the potential to raise productivity, which could help them, achieve BPEX’s breed +3 target.