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.
Livestock populations are generally kept in groups, in which other individuals are an important component of the environment that individuals experience. Thus, in group-kept animals, behavioural interactions have an impact on trait values of individuals. Typical examples are cannibalism in laying hens, and tail biting in pigs. The social environment that individuals experience is partly heritable, and can therefore be improved by means of selection. Recent genetic research has demonstrated heritable social effects for mortality due to cannibalism and growth rate in pigs, and has delivered methodology to estimate such effects in small groups, and to improve socially affected traits based on data from small groups.