The aim of this study was to investigate whether there is heritable social variation in ADG from birth until weaning in piglets. Nursing and the establishment of teat order are sources of social interaction among suckling piglets nursed by the same sow. If a heritable social effect is present, but ignored, the selected animals might be the most competitive ones with negative effects on growth of their group mates, resulting in less response to selection than expected. The social interaction model was extended with a maternal component to estimate genetic maternal and social effects. Four different animal models were compared: a basic model with a direct heritable effect only; a social model accounting for direct and social heritable effects; a maternal model with a heritable maternal effect in addition to the basic model; and a social-maternal model accounting for direct, social, and maternal heritable effects. Estimates of direct, maternal, and social heritability were 0.07, 0.06, and around 0.0007 (not significantly different from zero, SE = 0.0005), respectively. Total heritable variance, including direct, social, and maternal heritable variance and their covariances ranged from 0.07 to 0.15 of the phenotypic variation. Both maternal models were significantly better than equivalent nonmaternal models (P = 0.005). The social model was not significantly better than the basic model (P = 0.102), and the social-maternal model was also not significantly better than the maternal model (P = 0.486). There was no evidence for heritable social effects among piglets in a group. The generally used maternal model fit the data as well as the social-maternal model. Sufficient cross-fostering is needed to partition social and maternal variation.
- multilevel selection