Genetic screening of hogs saves producers even more than previously estimated

New research suggests significant savings to pork producers from screening boars for a genetic abnormality that causes prenatal piglet death and smaller litters.

When the test for chromosome translocation in Canada was developed five years ago at the University of Guelph by professor Allan King and his team, the savings were estimated at about 3:1 — that is, a $3 savings for every dollar invested in screening for the condition.

But new research, in a report by Claudia Schmidt and Al Mussell at Guelph’s Agri-Food Economic Systems, estimates that the benefit cost ratio is actually over 5:1 – for every dollar invested revenue increases by $5.30.

They say that translates to nearly $7,500 in a 500-sow herd.

The savings estimate is based on totally screening out boars with the chromosome translocation, and on reducing prenatal piglet loss in affected animals, which in a 500-sow herd, can cause about 100 more piglet deaths per year.

Related: Blood test can identify litter-limiting genetic problem in pigs 

The researchers say the actual benefit per farm will depend on a variety of production factors. The higher the gross margin per hog, the higher the return on investment for testing the boar.

But overall, the savings are eye opening.

“Decreased fertility, through chromosomal abnormalities, can significantly reduce revenues and profitability of hog production,” they say.

The abnormality happens naturally, when cells divide and genes line up improperly. It can be passed on to subsequent generations and result in three to four fewer piglets per litter than average. It’s easy to miss because boars affected by the abnormality show no outward signs of problems. That’s where screening comes in.

With support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Canada Research Chairs’ program and Guelph’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, King and his team have worked with pig producers for five years to assess the accuracy of their test.

Most recently, this research sparked a spin-off company by King and research associate Kevin Kuschke, called Karyotekk Inc., created with help from the university’s Research Innovation Office.

Testing for the disorder, which costs $175, is carried out at the Ontario Veterinary College, in conjunction with Guelph’s Animal Health Laboratory. It’s one of a half-dozen labs worldwide testing for chromosome translocation.

King says the savings to producers are timely, as domestic consumption wanes and margins tighten even more.

“This testing procedure gives producers greater control over reproduction in their herds,” he says.

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