The production systems of farm animals are under scrutiny. Systems have to change under pressure from citizen groups and NGO’s towards providing a living environment for animals in which they thrive without the need to apply treatments such as tail-docking, beak-trimming, de-spurring and teeth-clipping. At the same time the environmental constraints increase. Both developments are likely to increase the cost of production, but the revenue is likely to decrease under influence of globalised market conditions. Only acceptable, competitive and cost-effective animal production chains have a future.
The objective of this programme is to provide tools and to identify traits to increase sustainability of production chain in different livestock species through genomics and genetics.
Better understanding of the genetics of animal behaviour benefits production results and improves interaction between animals. Uniformity in a large number of traits makes production more efficient, increases homogeneity of end products and can improve animal welfare due to more homogenous litters. Selection for improved feet and legs will benefit longevity and wellbeing of animals as well as reduce the cost of replacement.
Improving longevity is an important aim of the Dutch dairy and pig sector. However, interpreting the ‘level of longevity in the population’ is not straightforward, since there are several practical factors and economic reasons that affect culling in the population, and therefore actual longevity level. Current breeding values of dairy bulls fluctuate more than can be expected from theory. Also longevity is internationally the most difficult trait for genomic predictions, and current methodology does not allow estimation of genomic breeding values for longevity. In pigs feet and legs are one of the two most important culling reasons. From horse and pig experiments Osteochondrosis came up as an important explaining factor. Field data combined with genomic analysis should help to decrease unvoluntary culling and increase longevity.