K E Wurtz, J P Steibel, C W Ernst, R O Bates, J M Siegford
Pigs housed in groups are remixed with unfamiliar individuals, which can trigger aggressive interactions, potentially compromising animal welfare. Skin lesions are a reliable indicator trait of aggression and are moderately heritable, suggesting that aggression may be reduced through selection. This study estimated genetic parameters of skin lesions of pigs at multiple life stages, explored genetic correlations of skin lesions between age groups and body location, and studied the relationship between skin lesions and production traits of commercial importance. A population of 1,079 Yorkshire pigs was strategically remixed into new groups of familiar and unfamiliar animals at 3 life stages (weaning, grow-finish, and mature gilts). Skin lesions (fresh, bright red cuts) were counted immediately prior to mixing and 24 h and 3 wk after mixing across 3 body regions: anterior, central, and caudal. Weights were recorded prior to each mixing event. Prior to slaughter, backfat thickness and loin muscle area were determined using ultrasound. Univariate analyses were performed to obtain heritability estimates of lesion scores. Bivariate analyses were performed with response variables being skin lesions, weight gain per life stage, backfat thickness, or loin muscle area, depending on the relationship of interest, to obtain correlations. Lesion score heritabilities ranged from 0.10 to 0.40 and were significant ( < 0.05). Heritability was highest for lesions on the anterior region of the body for 24 h and 3 wk after mixing. Lesions to the central and caudal areas showed the highest genetic correlation at each stage of production, whereas those to the anterior and caudal regions had the lowest correlation. The highest genetic correlation was found between the mature gilt and grow-finish stages, whereas the weaning and mature gilt stages had the lowest correlations. Genetic correlations between lesions and production traits were not significantly different from 0 for weight gain and backfat thickness, but loin muscle area was negatively correlated with lesions ( = 1.17 × 10, = 2.30 × 10, and = 6.08 × 10 for anterior, central, and caudal lesions, respectively). These results are promising for the industry because they suggest that pigs selected for reduced lesions will show increased loin muscle area without negative effects on growth. Alternatively, selection for these production traits would not increase lesions.