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Sow Temperament Shows Potential as Selection Tool for Breeding Sows

By Bruce Cochrane

Research conducted by the Prairie Swine Centre suggests the temperament of the sow can be used to identify those sows best suited to particular housing systems.

The Saskatoon based Prairie Swine Centre has completed a study to determine whether the sow's behavior can be used to predict her response to stress and hence be used to select sows best suited for a particular housing or management system.

Dr. Jennifer Brown, a research scientist ethology, says temperament is in its early stages as a selection tool but the hope is that traits related to reduced aggression can be identified and, with group sow housing, animals can be selected that will perform better in groups.

Dr. Jennifer Brown-Prairie Swine Centre:
There's a large variation among individual pigs in their individual temperament.

There's a number of dimensions to temperament.
It's not just a single measure and traits that we've focused on are related specifically to the stress response.

One is what we call the confidence fearful dimension.
Some animals are naturally more fearful than others.
Others are more confident.

Another dimension is what we call an active passive dimension.

People often think of an extravert versus an introverted personality and we find both of these traits are quite related to the stress response of an individual.

There is certainly a genetic component of these temperament traits but there is also a strong interaction with the environment and that is going to be one of our challenges.
We've looked at pigs in our research barn but in other barns you're going to see different management and different handling and so that is also going to impact their responses to these tests.

Dr. Brown notes naturally fearful animals will have a higher stress response so we want animals that show this calmer trait.

She says, in terms of the active passive dimension, an active animal is going to be more dominant in a very competitive environment where as in a less competitive environment a passive animal might get along better in a group, show less aggression and provide better production.

Source: Farmscape