Can social pigs provide genetic progress?

Can social pigs provide genetic progress?

DanBred is investigating if ‘social’ traits in pigs could lead to increased genetic progress.

DanBred, a brand concept, managed by The Danish Pig Research Centre, will test to see if it is possible to breed ‘social pigs.’ Not only could social pigs reduce aggression in pen
groups, they could even allow all pen-mates to realise their genetic potential. DanBred says this would mean more productive pigs.

The study will be carried out by Genetic Research and Development at the Danish Pig Research Centre with the objective of optimising genetic progress, including daily weight gain.

It will start the study in 2013 and preparations are already underway. The pigs used will be offspring from specially-selected breeding boars. Selecting for social pigs is unique as it can potentially identify pigs that are so-called ‘team players.’ These pigs are expected to create a good atmosphere through their behaviour. They could allow easy access to feed, enabling fast and increased daily weight gain in all of their pen-mates.

The method has ground-breaking potential because it does not require routine-trait registration. Instead, DanBred will use the growth rates of pigs in each pen, together with the genetic relationships between the animals, to evaluate the effect stable mates have on each other. If an increase in daily weight gain should be observed, this will not only be an expression of a pigs’ genetic potential, but also of the ‘social performance of its pen mates.

Not only could social performance generate higher daily weight gain, it could also have the added benefit of less aggression and fewer tail bites. Several ‘social’ traits have the potential to create improved animal welfare. Interaction of pigs is also reflected in play, in hormonal effects, the spreading of disease, and the establishment of hierarchies.
So far, an association has been found between “social” genetic effect and the ability to establish ranking order within a group. This could lead to less fighting and, therefore, improved animal welfare.

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