Estimation of indirect social genetic effects for skin lesion count in group-housed pigs by quantifying behavioral interactions

Belcy Karine Angarita Barajas, Rodolfo Juan Carlos Cantet, Kaitlin Wurtz, Carly O'Malley, Janice Siegford, Catherine Ernst, SP Turner, Juan Pedro Steibel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
47 Downloads (Pure)


Mixing of pigs into new social groups commonly induces aggressive interactions that result in skin lesions on the body of the animals. The relationship between skin lesions and aggressive behavioral interactions in group-housed pigs can be analyzed within the framework of social genetic effects (SGE). This study incorporates the quantification of aggressive interactions between pairs of animals in the modeling of SGE for skin lesions in different regions of the body in growing pigs. The dataset included 792 pigs housed in 59 pens. Skin lesions in the anterior, central and caudal regions of the body were counted 24 h after pig mixing. Animals were video-recorded for 9 h post mixing and trained observers recorded the type and duration of aggressive interactions between pairs of animals. The number of seconds that pairs of pigs spent engaged in reciprocal fights and unilateral attack behaviors were used to parametrize the intensity of social interactions (ISI). Three types of models were fitted: direct genetic additive model (DGE), traditional social genetic effect model (TSGE) assuming uniform interactions between dyads, and an intensity-based social genetic effect model (ISGE) that used ISI to parameterize SGE. All models included fixed effects of sex, replicate, lesion scorer, weight at mixing, pre-mixing lesion count and the total time that the animal spent engaged in aggressive interactions (reciprocal fights and unilateral attack behaviors) as a covariate; a random effect of pen; and a random direct genetic effect. The ISGE models recovered more direct genetic variance than DGE and TSGE, and the estimated heritabilities (h ̂_D^2) were highest for all traits (P < 0.01) for the ISGE with ISI parametrized with unilateral attack behavior. The TSGE produced estimates that did not differ significantly from DGE (P > 0.5). Incorporating the ISI into ISGE, even in a small dataset, allowed separate estimation of the genetic parameters for direct and SGE, as well as the genetic correlation between direct and SGE (r ̂_ds), which was positive for all lesion traits. The estimates from ISGE suggest that if behavioral observations are available, selection incorporating SGE may reduce the consequences of aggressive behaviors after mixing pigs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3658-3668
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number9
Early online date2 Aug 2019
Publication statusPrint publication - 3 Sept 2019


  • behavior
  • damaging aggression
  • pigs
  • skin lesions
  • social genetic effects


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