WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. "Boss hawg" isn't just a term, but an actuality in the nation's hog lots. In each group of hogs, there will be one or two who will bite and push and make sure they get the most food.
Purdue University researchers believe that by locating the genes for aggressive behavior in hogs, they can make the boss hog into a more sensitive soul, and less ... well, piggy.
This isn't research aimed at creating hog harmony, but increasing production. William Muir, professor of animal science and director of Purdue's genome sequencing facility, says keeping hogs happy could increase their lean growth by as much as 25 percent.
Allan Schinckel, professor of animal science and hog genetics, says scientists are well aware of the negative effects that aggressive behavior can have on hog production.
"The more pigs you have in a pen, the slower their growth rate due to stress and aggression," he says. "Even having them together for 48 hours slows the growth rate of the pigs for two weeks."
Muir and Schinckel say increasing pork production by just 20 percent in the United States would mean an additional $2 billion annually for the nation's pork producers. Using conservative numbers, that could mean an additional $200 million for Hoosier hog farmers each year.
Increasing lean growth 25 percent without increasing feed sounds like hogwash in this day and age of tightly controlled breeding programs. But by using genomics to identify genes that influence behavior, Muir says such a gain is within reach.
The prediction is based on Muirs research into aggressive behavior in chickens. In that research, he detected that competition for food had a significant effect on animal survival and production. Through that work, he discovered major genes for behavior in vertebrates.
"These genes arent used in hog breeding programs," Muir says. "They are concerned about behavior in breeding programs, but breeders dont have a way of precisely
Contact: Steve Tally