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Research Examines Sow Behaviour as a Predictor of Stress

25 January 2013
Manitoba Pork Council

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CANADA - Researchers with the Prairie Swine Centre are hoping the temperament of the sow can be used to predict how she will respond to stress, allowing the selection of those sows best suited to particular housing systems, writes Bruce Cochrane.

Scientists with the Saskatoon based Prairie Swine Centre have completed a two year study aimed at determining whether the behavior of sows can be used as a predictor of their response to stress and thereby be used to select for such characteristics as reduced stress response, reduced aggression or better productivity traits.

Dr Jennifer Brown, a research scientist ethology with the Prairie Swine Centre, says scientists looked at two generations, an initial generation of gilts and their progeny, to look at the heritability of temperament traits.

Dr Jennifer Brown-Prairie Swine Centre

We were using sows in our research barn at Prairie Swine Centre.

We had approximately 280 gilts that we followed through in the first generation.

We performed four behavior tests on them, when they were 12 weeks old and again when they were 18 weeks old to see if performing the same test twice, if you were going to get a consistent response.

So, are these tests reliable within that individual and showing us something about their individual personality?

Then we followed again three female progeny from those sows to see if these traits carried over into the next generation.

We haven't analyzed all the data but our initial results do show that there is a strong correlation between repeating the same test in the same individual, both in the first generation and in the second generation.

We're now looking at the heritability of those traits.

It's a more complicated statistical analysis but we have seen a correlation in some of the behaviors across the generations and the relationship with these stress responses.

Dr Brown acknowledges temperament is in its early stages as a tool for selecting breeding animals.

She says the hope is that traits related to reduced aggression can be identified and, with group housing of sows, animals can be selected that are going to perform better in group situations than in individual situations which requires a slightly different temperament trait.

ThePigSite News Desk

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