Variance components of aggressive behavior in genetically highly connected Pietrain populations kept under two different housing conditions
König von Borstel, U
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Mixing of unfamiliar pigs is a standard management procedure in commercial pig production and is often associated with a period of intense and physically damaging aggression. Aggression is considered a problem for animal welfare and production. The objective of the present paper was to investigate the genetic background of aggressive behavior traits at mixing of unfamiliar gilts under 2 different housing conditions. Therefore, a total of 543 purebred Pietrain gilts, from 2 nucleus farms (farm A: n = 302; farm B: n = 241) of 1 breeding company, were tested at an average age of 214 d (SD 12.2 d) for aggressive behavior by 1 observer. Observations included the frequencies of aggressive attack and reciprocal fighting during mixing with unfamiliar gilts. On farm A 41% of the gilts were purebred Pietrains, whereas 59% were purebred Landrace or Duroc gilts. On the farm B 42% of the gilts were purebred Pietrains, and 58% purebred Large White gilts. The average size of the newly mixed groups of gilts was 28 animals on farm A and 18 animals on farm B. The Pietrain gilts from the 2 herds were genetically closely linked. They were the offspring of 96 sires, with 64% of these sires having tested progeny in both farms. There were clear differences in the housing of the animals between the 2 farms. The test pen on farm A had a solid concrete floor littered with wooden shavings and was equipped with a dry feeder. On farm B there was a partly slatted floor, and the gilts were fed by an electronic sow feeder. Mean space allowance was 2.6 m(2)/gilt on farm A and 3.9 m(2)/gilt on farm B. Although large interindividual differences existed, gilts from farm B performed numerically more aggressive attack (mean 1.12, SD 1.42 vs. mean 0.71, SD 1.20) and reciprocal fighting (mean 0.78, SD 0.98 vs. mean 0.44, SD 0.82) when compared with gilts from farm A. The heritabilities and additive genetic variances for behavioral traits were estimated with a linear animal model and were on a low level in farm A (h(2) = 0.11, SE = 0.07, and σ(2)a = 0.12 for aggressive attack and h(2) = 0.04, SE = 0.07, and σ(2)a = 0.02 for reciprocal fighting) and on a moderate level in farm B (h(2) = 0.29, SE = 0.13, and σ(2)a = 0.44 for aggressive attack and h(2) = 0.33, SE = 0.12, and σ(2)a = 0.27 for reciprocal fighting). For both aggressive attack and reciprocal fighting, genetic correlation of the same trait between farm A and farm B was 1.0. Therefore, aggressive behavior does not seem to be influenced by genotype × environment interactions. Under these circumstances aggressions in group housing can be reduced by genetic selection against aggressive behavior. Therewith, the welfare and health of sows will ultimately increase.