Scientists Harnessing Genetics to Select Healthier Gilts

31 October 2012, at 11:52am

CANADA - Researchers with PigGen Canada are hoping they can improve the reproductive performance of the sow herd by using genetics to identify gilts that will be better equipped to withstand health challenges, writes Bruce Cochrane.

PigGen Canada Gilt Acclimation, Sow Health and Other Pig Genomic Projects was discussed earlier this month during the 2012 Canadian Swine Health Forum in Winnipeg.

PigGen Canada director Dr Bob Kemp explains under the Gilt Acclimation Project high health gilts are placed in lower health commercial environments and their responsiveness to health challenges and productivity are tracked.

PigGen Canada-Dr Bob Kemp:

We do have some evidence from prior research that there are differences to health challenges by breed or by genetic type so it's then logical to think that overall health of that gilt and overall health of her when she's in a sow herd which usually has a lower level of health but it's not necessarily infected or in an outbreak status with a specific disease so they have all kinds of different challenges from a health perspective going on that they have to survive and produce in.

That's what we call sow robustness, how robust is that sow to that environment?

Our hope is that we'll be able to do scans of these gilts genomes and see how they've not only grown during the acclimation phase and if there's been any impact on that gilt from a growth perspective but then how she's gone on and produced from a reproductive point of view and a litter size point of view as a sow in that challenged environment.

Dr Kemp says, if we can find markers that identify the sow's ability to produce in a challenged environment, we can use them in selection programs and improve the overall gilt and sow health in that environment as well as productivity.

He expects preliminary results from this work early next year.