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Selection against aggressiveness in pigs at re-grouping: practical application and implications for long-term behavioural patterns

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The routine mixing of pigs causes aggression that cannot be greatly reduced by low-cost environmental changes. The variability and heritability of aggressiveness are discussed and both appear adequate to make selection against aggressiveness worthwhile in grower-stage pigs. Selection would require rapid phenotyping of many animals for which a validated indicator genetically correlated to aggressive behaviour is required. Three potential indicators are discussed (attack latency, number of skin lesions and relationship to non-social behavioural traits). Attack latency correlates with post-mixing aggressiveness under research conditions but attacks are delayed under commercial conditions reducing the practicability of the trait for selection. Correlations between aggressiveness and responses to non-social challenges, such as the back-test, are not always consistent. Lastly, the counting of skin lesions is rapid, and the number of lesions has a moderate heritability and is genetically correlated with involvement in aggressive behaviour. The wider effects of selection against post-mixing aggressiveness are discussed. Examining the behavioural strategies of unaggressive pigs, especially their response to defeat, would reveal how selection may alter aggressive tactics. Selection against lesions from mixing is also expected to reduce their number in more stable social conditions, but the implications for aggression between sows and that of sows towards their piglets and humans needs to be investigated. Aggressiveness is genetically correlated with response to handling involving components of social isolation, human presence and novelty. Identifying how unaggressive pigs respond to other challenging situations differing in these components may be worthwhile. Selection against aggression using skin lesions appears to be achievable although the full value of this would benefit from estimations of the genetic correlations with the traits outlined above.
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Keywords: AGGRESSION; ANIMAL WELFARE; GENETIC CORRELATION; HERITABILITY; PIGS; SELECTIVE BREEDING

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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