Farm Facilities

Livestock facilities

Farm facilities

In our current indoor facility, we have eight fully slatted rooms to accommodate our weaned pigs (up to 35 kg). Each room is split into 16 pens, with five pigs per pen but removable partitions allow flexibility in group size and pen number to meet specific research requirements. We have two finisher buildings with a total of eight fully slatted rooms. Each room can be split into either 24 or 12 pens (for five or ten pigs per pen respectively). One of our finisher rooms is equipped with an electronic pig feeding system (installed autumn 2018). With this technology, we are able to monitor the individual feed and water intake of each pig, in addition to obtaining an accurate recording of the animal’s weight upon each entry to the feeding system. With this technology, we are able to offer different experimental diets whilst our finisher pigs are maintained in a large group (60 pigs). We are also able to perform water preference trials.

We are able to individually feed both our indoor and outdoor sows throughout gestation and farrowing. Whilst housed in a dynamic group, our indoor sows are fed using electronic sow feeders. Sows can be fed individually in terms of both amount and diet type throughout gestation. Using electronic ear tags, we can detect heat occurrence in our sows through their interaction with our boars. Outdoors, our group housed gestating sows can be individually fed using feeding stalls.

Indoors, there are six slatted farrowing rooms with creep area which can house between six to ten sows (25 -30 per batch). We are able to monitor farrowing through the use of CCTV. On our new outdoor unit, each farrowing pen is equipped with a deep straw bedded arc. We are able to accommodate 60 sows in our farrowing paddock (average of 26 sows per batch) and each arc can be monitored using CCTV.

We also have a small poultry facility comprising 60 colony style cages, each accommodating 4 hens and a small floor rearing broiler facility. These are used for nutritional trials.


Terrestrial Observatory for Agriculture

The University of Leeds Farm Terrestrial Observatory is a £3M suite of instrumentation and research tools based with the arable Farm operation and linked to a global observatory network. It is a large scale outdoor laboratory that forms part of the University’s Global Food and Environment Institute and supports the Smart Agri-Systems research programme.

The aim is to study, in an agricultural setting, how humans interact with Earth’s ‘critical zone’: the thin surface layer of the planet that is critical for sustaining life and extends from the bedrock and groundwater to the top of vegetation and lower atmospheric layer.

The facility will enable us to test new crops, agricultural practices and innovative farming systems. Alongside fundamental research, we can also test how these new techniques and technologies can be used to help produce food and create value for farm businesses. The Observatory will also enable us to study the impact agriculture might have on environmental change such as green-house gas emissions, climate change, land degradation, soil improvement and water quality.

Instrumentation for technological advances in agriculture include robotics, digital technologies and Earth observation systems for measuring farming practices and land use at the farm. The capability captures high density and high frequency measurements of agricultural and environmental variables that are central to the research and innovation design of the facility.

The suite of instruments and new technologies listed below are currently being installed. These will track the arable farming system not only at the land surface but also from the groundwater under the site, through the soil layer and vegetation and into the lower atmosphere.

  • Flux Towers – These measure greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) across different land uses throughout the growing season.
  • Soil moisture and water sensors – These are distributed across the fields to measure water within the soil and moisture take up by plants.
  • Advanced Lysimeter Facility – A series of 24 buried soil cores enable detailed study of plant-soil-water processes.
  • Mesocosm pilot facilities – For controlled experimentation of plant-soil-water systems
  • Boreholes for groundwater pollution and water-supply monitoring – These 30m-deep holes enable us to investigate how farming practices such as fertiliser application affects water as it enters the groundwater supply and transports nutrients and pollution through into rivers.
  • Rhizotron – This underground ‘laboratory’ enables researchers to study soil and root systems while the plants are growing at the surface under farm conditions.
  • Vegetation and biodiversity observation – We are using a range of instrumentation and data analysis techniques to study crop phenotyping and crop development, including pollination, yield and disease. Technologies include both handheld instruments and drones.
  • Agricultural robotics – We are investing in a number of technologies to investigate how robotics can be used in food production, including crop management, harvesting, sorting and packaging.
  • Atmospheric observatory – A critical mass of atmospheric and climate science expertise at the University of Leeds has enabled us to build an advanced atmospheric observatory including a drone-launching site and 12m walk-up sampling tower. Instrumentation will include a Raman Lidar, which uses laser pulses to take sophisticated water-vapour measurements in the atmosphere.
  • Digital technologies for data capture, transmission and computational processing of the diverse streams of information coming from the instrumentation and farming activities.


The facility also includes two externally managed facilities:

  • A weather station, managed by the Met Office – This accurately measures rainfall, and also contains instruments to measure pollution and temperature.
  • An atmospheric monitoring station, called COSMOS – This is run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a BBSRC funded research centre.