Snow shoes and sandals? : genetic aspects of heat stress sensitivity and sow reproduction

S. Bloemhof

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Globally the average size of pig herds are increasing and amount of labour spent per sow / finisher pig is decreasing. These changes require sows which need less management interventions. In addition to easier manageable sows modern genotypes will also need to be more adaptable considering that global temperatures are expected to increase and pork production is partially moving to warmer climates. The end result is that commercial pigs nowadays will potentially face more heat stress challenges during their productive lives.

In this thesis, a model was developed which was used to estimate upper critical temperatures for sows’ reproductive performance. Additionally the possibility to breed for reduced heat tolerance of sows was investigated. Therefore heritability for the random regression slope of farrowing rate against increasing temperature at day of insemination (= heat tolerance) and the genetic correlation between farrowing rate and heat tolerance was estimated.Commercial production pigs are crossbreds farmed all over the world. In contrast, selection is practiced mainly in temperate climates, in nucleus herds using purebred pigs. The success of genetic selection depends on how much genetic progress is realized in crossbred pigs. Within this thesis these genetic correlations for farrowing rate between purebreds and crossbreds were estimated.

Sow productivity depends on a number of related traits, such as ovulation rate, the number of litters per sow per year, the number of weaned piglets per sow per year, and the length of productive live. Traditionally pig breeding programs have improved sow productivity by increasing number weaned piglets per sow per year. To improve herd-level litters per sow per year a new trait was proposed called problem free sow production by parity, which incorporates the traits interval weaning first insemination, non-return rate, farrowing rate, and selection for next parity. Heritability of problem free sow production and genetic correlations with other sow production traits were estimated.

The main conclusion of this thesis was that it is possible to select for improved heat resistance in addition to improved commercial production levels in commercial pigs. However, genetic correlation between production in temperate and hot climates is high. This high correlation implies that, within-line, pigs with the best performance in a hot climate will be the best in temperate climate too. Most important for the success of a pig breeding program is to define appropriate breeding goals which are based on the environment(s) that market pigs are expected to perform in. The overall data collection for the genetic evaluation needs to be done in those specific environments and this will favour pigs which are able to produce over more than one specific environment.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Arendonk, Johan, Promotor
  • Misztal, I., Promotor, External person
  • Knol, E.F., Co-promotor, External person
  • van der Waaij, Liesbeth, Co-promotor
Award date10 Sep 2013
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789461735881
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • sows
  • heat stress
  • animal genetics
  • sensitivity
  • sexual reproduction
  • reproductive performance
  • critical temperature
  • heat tolerance
  • selective breeding
  • genetic correlation
  • breeding programmes
  • pig breeding


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  • Breeding for robustness in pigs

    Bloemhof, S., van Arendonk, J. & van der Waaij, L.


    Project: PhD

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