Breeding Programme to Use Pen Mate Genomics to Improve Pig Behaviour

DENMARK - A new research project will harness information technology to breed pigs that are less inclined to bite tails and that utilise the feed more efficiently, in a collaboration between Aarhus University and the Danish Pig Research Centre.
calendar icon 9 April 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

Information about pigs' pen mates, advanced statistical models and genomic methods are some of the tools that researchers will use in the project, which aims to improve pig welfare and reduce environmental impact.

Results from the project will not only improve pig welfare as a result of less tail-biting, but will also be beneficial for the environment. A more efficient use of feed will result in reduced emissions of nutrients and carbon dioxide (CO2) to the environment.

By combining new methods for processing group information with genomic information, the scientists expect to be able to increase genetic progress for these traits.

The group information will be used in two ways that are complementary. Firstly, data on feed consumption at group level will be used, which is a cost-effective way of improving the certainty in the breeding value assessments.

Secondly, they will use the observations on pen mates to assess the pigs' social breeding values, as pigs kept in pens will be influenced by the other pigs.

The breeding project expects to see a reduction in emissions of 335 tonnes of nitrogen, 56 tonnes of phosphorus and 14.5 tonnes of CO2 based on a production of 19.0 million finishers in 2013, if the efficiency increases are achieved.

The farmer's economy is also expected to benefit from the project results. Pigs with a better feed use efficiency cost less to rear for slaughter and will therefore increase the farmer’s profits.

If pigs are less prone to bite tails, this reduces the need to cut their tails. This will mean less work for the farmer and less pain for the pigs.

Senior Researcher Ole Fredslund Christensen from Aarhus University, said: "We expect with the advances in breeding to increase feed use efficiency by 0.01 feed units for every 1kg weight gained and to increase the growth rate by 1g per pig per day.

"We also expect to reduce tail biting by 0.25 percentage points per year."

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