Unique approach to updating breeding programme

The key to a global pig breeding programme lies in the combination of global pork market trends, customer demands, and international genetic expertise. That is the mindset behind Danish Genetics’ approach to designing their revised breeding programme.

In cooperation with the biotechnology company Roslin Technologies Ltd., the science and technology company AbacusBio, genetic evaluation business EGENES, and academics of The Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, Danish Genetics utilises market trends, targeted economic analysis, cutting edge genetics and genomics, and breeding schemes optimisation simulation software to drive genetic progress in the traits of economic importance in the breeding programme.

“The team established to update the breeding programme is truly world-class and is set to bring the breeding programme to a new level that meets the demands of the market” Dr Mahmoud Shirali, Senior Geneticist in Danish Pig Genetics explains.

An optimised breeding programme will result in strong, efficient, robust and long-lifespan sows. - Photo: Simon Meyer
An optimised breeding programme will result in strong, efficient, robust and long-lifespan sows. - Photo: Simon Meyer

Knowing the market

In the process of updating the breeding programme, Danish Genetics considers the gaps and needs of the market in order to build a breeding programme that meets the varying demands of the market. “We constantly perform market analyses via a direct approach to the market. Factual data analyses across the industry ensure a broad picture of all aspects of the market. This clear understanding of the demands and trends allows us to produce animals of the future,” Lars Dall, CEO of Danish Genetics explains.

“Roslin Technologies supports Danish Genetics with the aim of being at the very centre of new developments in pig breeding, demonstrated by bringing together in a single index the ideal combination of economically important traits to help provide optimum returns for the pork producers,” explains Glen Illing, CEO of Roslin Technologies.

Tool translates market trends into breeding decisions

Danish Genetics and AbacusBio have developed a unique bioeconomic model that incorporates genetic principles, economic modelling, and market trends to ensure that the right amount of emphasis goes on the traits within the breeding programme.

“This tool produces accurate economic weights for the traits of interest in the breeding programme, informed by the outcomes of consultation and underpinned by robust economic analysis” Dr Tim Byrne Managing Director of AbacusBio’s UK business unit explains.

Cutting edge genetic and genomic tools for increased accuracy

In collaboration with Danish Genetics, geneticists in EGENES have developed novel statistical algorithms for translating the large-scale data collected on nucleus and multiplication units in Danish Genetics into estimated breeding values for the traits of interest. “Integrating large amounts of DNA information with the on-farm data collected through Danish Genetics’ breeding activities requires a smart genomic tool. EGENES has developed a new system that allows Danish Genetics data to be automatically retrieved, quality assured, pre-processed and turned into genomic breeding values seamlessly”, Prof Mike Coffey Director of EGENES explains. “This provides superior genomic breeding values rapidly and regularly for Danish Genetics’ customers to benefit from the extensive recording in Danish Genetics’ breeding programme.”

Optimised breeding programme for faster genetic progress

Danish Genetics’ breeding scheme and population has been optimised through a new breeding programme optimisation software tool developed by Roslin Technologies Ltd in collaboration with The Roslin Institute.

“The simulation software tool assists decision making for selection, breeding and genetic improvement activities. Among other things the model can predict more precisely how much genetic progress will be made in the Danish Genetics pig population in next 2, 5 or 10 years, considering the merit of different traits in the population under selection as well as acceptable level of inbreeding,” explains Roslin Technologies Senior Geneticist Dr Alfredo Lepori.

“A breeding objective framework, which allows for monitoring and modelling of the implication of changes in market revenue and cost streams provides us with the ability to update the economic weights and genetic trend forecasts. Optimised statistical genetic algorithms for higher accuracy breeding values makes the selection of elite animals more precise. Along with a decision support tool for optimisation of the population and breeding programme, we ensure the delivery of superior genetics to not only address the market demand but also drive the pork industry to new levels.” Dr Mahmoud Shirali explains.

Figure 1 – Optimised breeding objectives.

Unique approach to updating breeding programme

A diverse set of traits results in the highest profit

“The breeding objectives focus on breeding for robustness, reproduction, mothering ability, efficiency, growth, and carcass quality (Figure 1). Through this focus we aspire to develop excellent genetics of highest value for each actor along the pork value chain,” explains Lars Dall.

“No trait category can be seen in isolation due to the biological complexity of the traits. Therefore, balancing trait improvement emphasis and a wider range of breeding goal traits continue to produce all-round genetic materials with superior productivity and robustness for pork producers globally. To achieve that, total farm efficiency (more output for less input) is essential,” Dr Mahmoud Shirali explains.

The breeding company explains that the optimised breeding programme will result in strong, efficient, robust and long-lifespan sows for sow producers, delivering more weaned piglets and therefore more produced meat per sow space for less production cost. The breeding company brands this ‘total life cycle efficiency’ and places it as one of the main focuses of the revised breeding programme.

The trait improvement package also aims to maximise profit for slaughter pig producers through efficiency, growth, and carcass quality; yielding more lean meat per carcass in a shorter period, for less feed.

Selection for mothering ability leads to sows that yield heavier piglets at weaning that require fewer growing days to finish. This maternal genetic effect of the sow on the daily body weight gain of the piglet from birth to growing period means the Danish Genetics sows produce more meat per space per year.

”Danish Genetics is committed to providing superior genetic material to the global pig market with exceptional performance and resilience in a range of environments. This is achieved through our extensive breeding programme that balances the trait emphasis and diversifies the breeding goal traits,” Lars Dall explains.