Do we need to rethink genetic selection?

Hans Olijslagers CTO Topigs Norsvin

Recently, Pig Progress magazine published an interesting article by Marcello Marchesi. In this article he asked the world: Should we fundamentally rethink our genetic selection in pigs?

In short, Topigs Norsvin’s answer to Marcello’s question is: No.
We already anticipated all of the problems he mentions almost two decades ago by introducing balanced breeding. That means we do not always choose the economic optimum, but find the right balance between economics, animal welfare, ease of management, and societal concerns.

Blog by Hans Olijslagers, CTO Topigs Norsvin

I will briefly respond to the four trends Marcello describes in the Pig Progress article:

Pre-weaning mortality
In 2001, Topigs Norsvin introduced a vitality, teat counting, and piglet weighing protocol. Breeding values for the mothering abilities of sows and piglet vitality were developed. The basis for our sow breeding goals is that every extra piglet born should be weaned at a sow. An increase in stillborn piglets is not acceptable for us. Thanks to this approach, piglet survival has increased.

Backfat and pork flavor
Topigs Norsvin’s balanced breeding concept includes desired gains for meat quality traits. A phenotyping program has been developed for quality traits to avoid leanness-related problems like drip loss, low intramuscular fat, and color issues.
In 2006, NIRS-phenotyping for meat quality was introduced and in 2008, Topigs Norsvin became the first genetic company to use CT-scanning for carcass quality. Large-scale sib-testing is also done including carcass dissection to estimate more than a dozen meat quality traits.
Topigs Norsvin was the first to implement selection against boar taint in all its lines. Boar taint levels decreased by more than 50%, resulting in far fewer tainted carcasses in the packing plants.

The cost of lameness
Topigs Norsvin has been farmer-owned for more than a century. Our farmers require a good conformation and need to work with robust animals that require little care and are easy to manage. This is reflected in our breeding goals. Intensive leg quality and locomotion scoring in nucleus farms combined with CT-scanning for osteochondrosis and shoulder issues delivers dozens of robustness traits. Result: longevity of sows is increasing.

Hernias and other genetic defects
At Topigs Norsvin, genetic defects are defined as traits in the selection index. Improved genomic relationship matrixes have driven the genetic response to genetic defects faster in the desired direction so that full litters do not have to be discarded like in the past.
Full sequence genotyping is improving our knowledge about heritable deletions in DNA and providing us with extra selection tools to avoid genetic defects. We will soon enter an era of predicting phenotypes based on genotypes in our database.

Our customers can clearly see the outcomes of the Topigs Norsvin approach. For example, more piglets weaned, high sow longevity, robuster pigs, lower mortality, and increased efficiency.

To learn more about Topigs Norsvin’s balanced breeding program please download our Corporate Sustainability Report Responsible.

Hans Olijslagers
CTO Topigs Norsvin

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