Modeling the effects of stressors on the performance of populations of pigs

I. J. Wellock*, G. C. Emmans, I. Kyriazakis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


A simulation model that predicts the effect of the social, physical, and nutritional environments on pig food intake and performance was extended to deal with individual variation. The aim was to investigate the effect of between-animal variation on the performance of a population of growing pigs. Variation was generated in initial state, growth potential, and ability to cope when exposed to social "stressors" (EX). Variation in initial state is described by initial body weight (BW0), from which the chemical composition of the pig is calculated. Variation in growth potential is described by creating variation in the genetic growth descriptors. Variation in EX exists between genotypes, where it has been suggested that leaner, more modern genotype pigs tend to be less able to cope. It is expected that within a population or group that the social environment (i.e., position within the social hierarchy) also affects an individual's ability to cope. In the model, it is assumed that the larger, more dominant individuals are better able to cope when exposed to social stressors. Consequently, within a population, EX is correlated with body weight around the genotype mean. Model predictions showed that increasing the variation in BW0 and EX increased the variation in pig performance. This is an important practical consideration in commercial pig production, where the heterogeneity of the population at slaughter may affect the profitability of an enterprise. The way a stressor constrains performance determines whether the mean population response to a given stressor is the same as the average individual response. If all pigs in a group are affected at the same stressor intensity (e.g., all are either mixed or not), then the predicted average individual and mean population responses will be the same. If, however, the intensity of stressor at which performance becomes limiting differs between individuals (such as space allowance or temperature), differences between the individual and mean population responses will be predicted. Variation in the growth response of a population was determined to a greater extent by variation in EX and BW0 than by variation in growth potential, when pigs were housed in simulated conditions likely to be encountered in commercial environments. Consequently, decreasing the variation in initial body weight and improving ability of pigs to cope may be a better way of improving pig performance than selecting only for increased growth potential.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2442-2450
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Aug 2004


  • Genetic Variation
  • Growth
  • Pig
  • Simulation Models
  • Stress


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