Bayesian analysis of genetic associations of skin lesions and behavioural traits to identify genetic components of individual aggressiveness in pigs

SP Turner, R Roehe, W Mekkawy, MJ Farnworth, PW Knap

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58 Citations (Scopus)


There is increasing interest in genetic selection against behavioural traits that impact negatively on welfare and productivity in commercial livestock production. Post-mixing aggressiveness in pigs shows wide phenotypic variation, affects health, welfare and growth performance and is a routine feature of production. A Bayesian approach was used to estimate the heritability of three traits associated with aggressiveness in pigs during the 24 h post-mixing; duration in reciprocal aggression, and in receipt of, or delivery of non-reciprocal aggression (NRA). For the purposes of genetic selection, recording aggressive behaviour is excessively labour intensive. The genetic correlations were quantified between the behavioural traits and an easily measurable indicator trait; the number of skin lesions following mixing (lesion score, LS). The heritabilities for the three behavioural traits ranged from 0.17 to 0.46 (receipt of NRA and reciprocal aggression respectively). The duration in reciprocal aggression and in delivery of NRA showed a strong genetic correlation (r g = 0.79 with 95% Bayesian credibility interval of 0.62–0.94). The genetic correlation between LS and these two behaviours indicated that selection on breeding values of LS could be used to reduce aggressiveness. The duration in receipt of NRA appeared to be regulated by different genes or genomic effects compared with the other behavioural traits and LS. Although duration in receipt of NRA was not genetically associated with LS, it was lowly but significantly environmentally associated with the residuals of central and caudal LS (r e = 0.28–0.32), indicating that pigs that received NRA also received bites on the central and caudal third of the body. The pen that the animals were mixed into was found to be a very important factor for the analysed traits, in particular those representing behavioural characteristics. Based on the estimated genetic parameters, it is concluded that selection on breeding values for reduced LS (especially central LS) is expected to reduce reciprocal aggression and the delivery of NRA but will not change the receipt of NRA directly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67 - 75
Number of pages9
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number1
Publication statusFirst published - 2008

Bibliographical note



  • Aggression
  • Behaviour
  • Genetic correlation
  • Lesion score
  • Pig


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