Effect of Sow History on the Performance of Growing-Finishing Pigs

17 November 2011, at 12:00am

Some aspects of a sow's early life affect the performance of her litter during the growing and finishing phases, according to researchers based in the Netherlands, but the effects are small.

The sow provides a specific environment for her offspring during gestation and lactation, according to Ewa Sell-Kubiak of Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and co-authors there and at the Institute for Pig Genetics in Beuningen in their paper published in Journal of Animal Science recently.

They explain that certain features in the sows' early life (sow history features) may affect her ability to deliver and feed a healthy litter. In genetics of growing-finishing traits, these effects are estimated as a common litter or permanent sow effect.

The objective of their research was to identify sow history features that affect the growth rate (GR) and feed intake (FI) of a sow's offspring during the growing-finishing stage. Data from 17,743 grow-finish pigs, coming from 604 sires and 681 crossbred sows, were recorded between May 2001 and February 2010 at the experimental farm of the Institute for Pig Genetics at Beilen in the Netherlands. The grower-finisher stage was divided into two phases (phase one: 26 to 75kg and phase two: 75 to 115kg).

The sow history features were: birth litter size, birth year and season, birth farm, weaning age, age being transferred to experimental farm, and age at first insemination. The sow features were added to the basic model one at a time to study their effect on grow-finish pigs' traits. Subsequently, significant sow features (P<0.1) were fitted simultaneously in an animal model.

With every extra piglet in the sow's birth litter, GR of her offspring decreased by 1g per day and FI decreased by 4g per day. Every extra day to the first insemination increased GR of grow-finish pigs by 0.1g per day.

The heritability estimates for GR and FI (only in the phase two of grow-finish stage) decreased after adding the sow features to the model.

The researchers found no differences in estimates of the common litter effects between the basic model and the model with all significant sow features. The estimates of the permanent sow effect changed for FI from 0.03 (basic model) to 0.00 (model with sow features) and for FI in phase one the permanent sow effect decreased from 0.03 (basic model) to 0.01 (model with sow features).

Sell-Kuiak and co-authors concluded that selected sow features do affect the traits of growing-finishing pigs but their estimates are small and explain only a small proportion of the differences in GR and FI of growing-finishing pigs. The sow features partially explained the permanent sow effect of FI-related traits but did not explain the common litter effect.

Although the sow early life features can affect piglets traits, they do not predict which sows produce better performing offspring in growing-finishing phase, added the researchers.


Sell-Kubiak E., E.F. Knol and P. Bijma. 2011. Effect of sow history features on growth and feed intake in grow-finish pigs. Published online before print in J. Animal Science. doi: 10.2527/jas.2011-4265

Further Reading

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November 2011