Improving genetic selection may hold key to peaceful pig grouping

Genetic selection may be the solution for preventing fighting among pigs in group housing.

Two growing pigs looking at the camera.

In 2009, the Michigan Legislature passed an amendment to the Animal Industry Act introducing a series of new standards that require more living space for gestating sows, laying hens and veal calves. By April 1, 2020, producers will need to house pregnant pigs so they can turn about freely, prompting a move from individual stalls to group pens.

Researchers at Michigan State University and Scotland’s Rural College are looking for ways to manage pigs so they live more harmoniously together. A key factor may be rooted in genetics. Breeding programs have traditionally focused on production traits and other relatively easy-to-measure physical characteristics. Though it’s sometimes difficult to quantify, MSU researcher Janice Siegford said that behavior should also be taken into consideration, since whether pigs fight or coexist peacefully can have large impacts on their health, growth and quality of life.

  • Data collected from more than 1,000 pigs at the MSU Swine Teaching and Research Center by Siegford’s team will be combined with information from 3,000 pigs obtained by collaborators Simon Turner and Rick D’Eath of Scotland’s Rural College. The team is now evaluating the heritability of aggression, the impacts of pigs’ behavior on others in their group and whether breeding for social pigs will affect pork production.

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