The number of piglets weaned per sow is an economically important trait for pig producers. Most breeding programs include number of piglets born, or number born alive, to improve litter size at weaning. There are, however, unfavourable relationships between litter size at birth and survival during the pre-weaning period. To avoid an increasing problem with high pre-weaning mortality, we need to balance the selection for litter size at birth by also selecting for a trait that describes the sow’s ability to take care of her litter. Piglet survival rate in itself has a low heritability. Genetic studies on survival from birth to weaning show estimated heritabilities averaging 0.05 (Rothschild and Bidanel, 1998). It is desirable to find a trait that is related to piglet survival, but less influenced by environmental variation. The most common causes of post-natal death in piglets are crushing by the sow and starvation. Both these causes of death are highly related to the behaviour of the sow. Earlier reports indicate that sows showing a strong response to the sound of a piglet distress call display less risky behaviour around their piglets early postpartum (Wechsler and Hegglin, 1997; Thodberg et al., 2002), and have fewer crushed piglets (Wechsler and Hegglin, 1997)
Proceedings of the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, Volume 2002. Session 14, , 14.11, 2002
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