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Breeding the perfect teammates

June 22, 2016

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Topigs Norsvin is continuously adapting breeding goals to support the needs of producers and society. There is a worldwide demand for better feed efficiency due to the competition for land between food and feed production. However, there is also greater attention for some of the undesirable correlated behavioural responses such as aggression and tail biting.

A very promising selection method with the potential to improve both animal welfare and economic output is the use of social genetic effects (SGEs) in breeding programs. A social genetic effect is a heritable effect of one individual on the trait value of another individual. The breeding approach using SGEs incorporates both the direct genetic effect due to an individual and the genetic effect an animal has on its pen mates into the trait value of the individual. While traditional methods focused on individual performance only, this strategy could improve growth as well as the behaviour of pigs housed in groups.

A single generation selection experiment where pigs were grouped based on a high or low SGE for growth was conducted to investigate underlying behavioural differences.

Aggression measured by skin lesions and fighting during regrouping did not differ between high and low SGE pigs. However, pigs with a high SGE showed less aggression after reunion with familiar pigs. During the finishing phase, high SGE pigs had a better tail score (less damage) compared to low SGE pigs. Further research on tail biting has been set up to investigate the potential to select against tail biting.

Social genetic effects offer the opportunity to breed for improved behaviour while maintaining performance. Since group housing is standard practice in finishing pigs, the pen is the production unit and vitally important for pig production, welfare and health.

In 2016, Topigs Norsvin will implement social genetic effects in the selection of some of our lines.