Social genetic effects influence reproductive performance of group-housed sows1
- K. L. Bunter 2*,
- C. R. G. Lewis† and
- S. Newman‡
Group housing of gestating sows has implications for reproductive performance due to detrimental interactions between sows within groups. Reproductive records (n = 10,748) were obtained for 8,444 pedigreed nucleus sows housed in a single facility, formed into 1,827 static groups during gestation. Only data from complete groups were used to estimate genetic parameters for total born (TB), number born alive (NBA), and gestation length (GL) and to compare models extended to account for group effects. Censored data for sows which did not farrow (0.8% of records) were augmented with biologically meaningful values. Group sizes ranged from 2 to 10, in pens designed to hold 4, 8, or 10 sows per pen. Sows were grouped by parity, line, and mating date after d 35 of pregnancy. Heritability estimates were generally constant across all model alternatives at 0.11 ± 0.02 for TB and NBA and 0.32 ± 0.03 for GL. However, models for all traits were significantly (P < 0.05) improved through inclusion of terms for nongenetic group and social genetic effects (SGE). Group effects were no longer significant in models containing both terms. The proportional contributions of SGE (s2) to phenotypic variances were very low (≤0.002 across traits), but their contributions to calculated total genetic variance (T2) were significant. The differences between h2 and T2 ranged between 3 and 5% under simple models, increasing to 8 to 14% in models accounting for both covariances between additive direct (A) and SGE and the effects of varying group size on the magnitude of estimates for SGE. Estimates of covariance between A and SGE were sensitive to the modeling of dilution factors for group size. The models of best fit for litter size traits used a customized dilution based on sows/pen relative to the maximum sows/pen. The best model supported a reduction in SGE with increased space per sow, independent of maximum group size, and no significant correlation between A and SGE. The latter is expected if A and SGE reflect different trait complexes. It is suggested that the SGE estimated for reproductive traits represented the expression of an unobserved phenotype, such as sow aggression, of an individual on its pen mates. Further investigation into the use of competitive effects models for genetic evaluation of reproductive traits for group-housed sows could be considered a strategy to improve welfare and performance of group-housed sows.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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