Funder and dates: USDA, National Pork Board and Rackham Foundation, 2014-2018
Collaborators/partners: SRUC, project led by Michigan State University
In pigs, social behaviours, such as fighting, can affect performance of all pigs in a group or result in injury or lameness, leading to culling. This project aims to characterise pigs' social behaviours in group-housing environments, relate behavioural responses to health and productivity and identify genetic components associated with key behaviours for application in pig breeding programmes. The overall goal is to ensure global food security by improving use of behaviour in breeding programmes to reduce loss from non-infectious diseases in group-housed pigs. The specific objectives are to 1) Conduct a comprehensive social behavioural assessment of group-housed pigs after mixing into new social cohorts at three different ages, examining immediate responses to mixing and to stable social situations; 2) Estimate genetic parameters and perform genome-wide prediction and association of social behavioural traits expressed by group-housed pigs to determine underlying genomic control of these traits; and 3) Develop, deliver and evaluate educational resources for pork industry advisors, extension educators, producers and employees to use behavioural traits to reduce pig losses. By examining social behaviours of group-housed pigs and understanding genetic control of these traits, we will develop tools allowing producers to better select and manage group-housed pigs, including gestating sows and gilts. Importantly, such information will reduce animal losses occurring from non-infectious diseases such as injury and lameness. To date, genotyping of 1079 pigs has been complete and the aggressive behaviour of approximately half of these has been decoded from video. These data will be analysed in conjunction with a separate population of 1227 genotyped pigs whose aggressive behaviour has been recorded after one mixing episode. A wide range of personality traits is also being recorded from a sample of the first population of 1079 pigs to examine how other aspects of personality predict aggressiveness and to understand how these traits influence social stability. A survey has also been conducted of North American pig produces to determine how they use animal behaviour in their management decisions. The outcome of the survey will inform the development of extension material that aims to improve welfare and productivity in group-housing systems.