PIC can help producers reduce piglet mortality while increasing productivity

7/13/2016

In April 2016, a Dutch NGO raised the issue of rising piglet mortality. Their study showed that piglet mortality in the Netherlands increased from an average of 12.9% in 2010 to 13.8% in 2015. The NGO attributed rising mortality primarily to increasing litter sizes and corresponding lower birth weight. Following the publications, the Minister for Agriculture sent a letter to parliament indicating his desire to limit increases in litter size across the Dutch sow herd.

PIC's breeding program offers solutions to reverse the trend in mortality. PIC shows it is possible to combine a low mortality with increasing productivity and quality of piglets. This is the result of deliberate choices in the breeding program, which focuses on total economics.

PIC's breeding program's main goal is, and has always been, to maximize the total value for the producer. Therefore, PIC selects on a combination of more than twenty traits along the entire life cycle of a pig. These traits include: number of born alive piglets per sow, piglet mortality, birth weight, feed efficiency and several more. With these advanced selection techniques, PIC has been able to increase total born while at the same time reducing piglet mortality (see figure 1). Recent results show an improvement in piglet mortality by more than two percentage points; while the number of piglets per sow per year has risen by more than one pig. Additionally, birth weight and meat quality have significantly improved.

There are two main drivers underlying these results. In 2012, as the first global pig breeding company, PIC, introduced Relationship-Based Genomic Selection (RBGS) into its breeding program. RBGS analyzes large data sets comprised of multiple genomic and pedigree relationships across the entire population. Using RBGS has allowed PIC to be even more targeted in its genetic improvement. Second, increased emphasis on individual piglet birth weight has helped to accelerate the improvement in survivability.

Paul van der Meijden, director of PIC NL: "Many pig breeding companies are focused on maximizing the total amount of piglets per sow. Unfortunately, when focusing on this trait only, piglet mortality typically increases. However, the results from PIC’s balanced breeding program show that piglet mortality can go down while total born increases. These developments have a positive impact on the bottom line for our customers and are also good from an animal welfare perspective."

Figure 1: PIC genetic trend

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