Estimation of genetic parameters and breeding values across challenged environments to select for robust pigs

J.M. Herrero-Medrano, P.K. Mathur, Ten J. Napel, H. Rashidi, P. Alexandri, E.F. Knol, H.A. Mulder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Robustness is an important issue in the pig production industry. Since pigs from international breeding organizations have to withstand a variety of environmental challenges, selection of pigs with the inherent ability to sustain their productivity in diverse environments may be an economically feasible approach in the livestock industry. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters and breeding values across different levels of environmental challenge load. The challenge load (CL) was estimated as the reduction in reproductive performance during different weeks of a year using 925,711 farrowing records from farms distributed worldwide. A wide range of levels of challenge, from favorable to unfavorable environments, was observed among farms with high CL values being associated with confirmed situations of unfavorable environment. Genetic parameters and breeding values were estimated in high- and low-challenge environments using a bivariate analysis, as well as across increasing levels of challenge with a random regression model using Legendre polynomials. Although heritability estimates of number of pigs born alive were slightly higher in environments with extreme CL than in those with intermediate levels of CL, the heritabilities of number of piglet losses increased progressively as CL increased. Genetic correlations among environments with different levels of CL suggest that selection in environments with extremes of low or high CL would result in low response to selection. Therefore, selection programs of breeding organizations that are commonly conducted under favorable environments could have low response to selection in commercial farms that have unfavorable environmental conditions. Sows that had experienced high levels of challenge at least once during their productive life were ranked according to their EBV. The selection of pigs using EBV ignoring environmental challenges or on the basis of records from only favorable environments resulted in a sharp decline in productivity as the level of challenge increased. In contrast, selection using the random regression approach resulted in limited change in productivity with increasing levels of challenge. Hence, we demonstrate that the use of a quantitative measure of environmental CL and a random regression approach can be comprehensively combined for genetic selection of pigs with enhanced ability to maintain high productivity in harsh environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1494-1502
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


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