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Research article2009Peer reviewedOpen access

Genetic validation of postmixing skin injuries in pigs as an indicator of aggressiveness and the relationship with injuries under more stable social conditions

Turner, S. P.; Roehe, R.; D'Eath, R. B.; Ison, S. H.; Farish, M.; Jack, M. C.; Lundeheim, N.; Rydhmer, L.; Lawrence, A. B.


The objective of the study was to estimate genetic correlations between skin lesions and aggressive behavior postmixing and under more stable social conditions as a potential means of selecting against pig aggressiveness. Postmixing aggression in commercial pig production is common, compromises welfare and profitability, and cannot be significantly reduced by low-cost changes to the environment. A genetic component to individual aggressiveness has been described in pigs and other species. Selective breeding against aggressiveness ought to be possible if an easily measured indicator trait can be shown to be genetically associated with aggressive behavior. Aggressive behavior was recorded continuously for 24 h after mixing, and a count of skin lesions (lesion count, LC) was recorded at 24 h and 3 wk postmixing on 1,663 pigs. Two behavioral traits were found to have a moderate to high heritability similar to that of growth traits; duration of involvement in reciprocal fighting (0.43 +/- 0.04) and delivery of nonreciprocal aggression (NRA; 0.31 +/- 0.04), whereas receipt of NRA had a lower heritability (0.08 +/- 0.03). Genetic correlations (r(g)) suggested that lesions to the anterior region of the body 24 h after mixing were associated with reciprocal fighting (r(g) = 0.67 +/- 0.04), receipt of NRA (r(g) = 0.70 +/- 0.11), and to a lesser extent, delivery of NRA (r(g) = 0.31 +/- 0.06). Lesions to the center and rear were primarily genetically associated with receipt of NRA (r(g) = 0.80 +/- 0.05, 0.79 +/- 0.05). Genetic correlations indicated that pigs that engaged in reciprocal fighting delivered NRA to other animals (r(g) = 0.84 +/- 0.04) but were less likely to receive NRA themselves (r(g) = -0.41 +/- 0.14). A genetic merit index using lesions to the anterior region as one trait and those to the center or rear or both as a second trait should allow selection against animals involved in reciprocal fighting and the delivery of NRA. Positive correlations between LC 24 h and 3 wk after mixing were found, especially for lesions to the center and rear of the body, indicating that postmixing lesions are predictive of those received under more stable group conditions. As well as reducing immediate aggression at mixing, selection on postmixing LC is expected to have a long-term impact on injuries from aggression, even after dominance relationships are established.


aggression; fighting; genetic correlations; lesion; pig

Published in

Journal of Animal Science
2009, Volume: 87, number: 10, pages: 3076-3082