The project – led by Dr. Michael Dyck (University of Alberta), Dr. John Harding (University of Saskatchewan) and Dr. Bob Kemp (PigGen Canada Inc.) - is using genomics to enhance disease resilience in pigs and, in the process, aid sustainability of the Canadian pork industry.
A key component of the project is Activity 1.2: the Grow-Finish Challenge Model.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is understand predictors of animal high health environments such as nucleus units and how their progeny would perform in a normal production unit with a variety of management styles, environments and health statuses,” said Dr. Kemp.
To accomplish that, Kemp and his team are moving high health animals from a multiplier to a lower health test environment. In the process, they perform a variety of standard measurements such as feed intake and also do blood testing to monitor the animals’ immune system responses and the genetics underlying those systems.
“We will generate a genotype profile on all the pigs in the study and ask the following: Can we find a relationship between pig markers or genes and their ability to withstand a disease challenge, respond to it quickly and resume normal production as soon as possible?” said Kemp.
Health breeds wealth
Of course, with so many disease threats out there and different strains of the same disease, targeting them is like selecting a favorite photo of your grandchild; how do you pick just one?
The answer for these researchers is simple: you don’t.
“Our idea is that if we can select more for general resilience, it will have greater advantages for the industry by reducing disease treatment costs and lowering the incidence of reduced performance,” said Kemp.
They also hope that better resilience equals a decline in mortality. By accomplishing all of these goals, the team can offer producers the maximum economic benefit. Not only will more pigs get to market, they will get there as close to their highest value as possible.
From rivals to allies
Due in part to the scope of this project, with input from across Canada and beyond our borders, Dr. Kemp sees great potential to provide insights that individual groups would be hard pressed to generate on their own.
“That’s why the genetic community came together to do this. From a research and development standpoint, we can accomplish more working together than separately.”
They may compete every day in selling breeding stock, but by teaming up they can develop tools that each can incorporate the way they want in their selection program.
So far, they’ve tested nine batches of animals and are working on their tenth. They still have three years left on the project, and they’ll need all three as they intend to test over 3000 pigs by the time they’re done.
“If all goes as planned, we’ll have a ton of genetic information and will better understand the genetics that produce a more resilient pig. And if, in doing so, we can effect even small improvements in those pigs with greater resilience, we can offer a huge economic return to the industry.”
There’s a long way to go, but if Kemp and his team have the desired effect on pig health and resilience, the results will be nothing to sneeze at.