Swine Breeding Systems for Alternative Pork Chains: Breeding Programs (E3107)

Swine Breeding Systems for Alternative Pork Chains: Breeding Programs (E3107)

A discussion of swine breeding programs with different swine breeds.

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The pork industry has developed into multiple pork chains with particular specifications for targeted markets. These specifications can include final product attributes, scripted production practices or both. To meet these varying specifications for differing pork chains, pork producers must match their production management and marketing practices to the requirements of their targeted market. This includes developing a breeding program that utilizes breed combinations that best align with the specifications of the pork chain(s) they target. This fact sheet will compare various crossbreeding systems, performance expectations of those systems and methods of operation.


Crossbreeding is an important tool. If used correctly, it offers pork producers an opportunity to genetically improve their production efficiency and, ultimately, lower production costs. The use of crossbreeding is widespread because offspring from matings between individuals from different breeds are typically hardier, grow faster and perform better than purebreds. This improvement in performance of the crossbred individual over the average performance of its purebred parents is called heterosis or hybrid vigor. It is thought that, during breed formation, portions of the gene pairs that control a trait became homozygous (two gene copies that are the same) for undesirable genes, which cause some suppression in performance. Crossing animals from different breeds breaks up these undesirable gene combinations. Differing genes within gene pairs in the crossbred individual lead to improved performance.

Heterosis is expressed in both the growing and the adult pig. Crossbreds typically have a better survival rate throughout their lives than purebreds and typically grow faster. This improved performance in the crossbred individual is often referred to as individual heterosis. Crossbred dams are expected to have larger litters than their purebred counterparts with a higher survival rate through weaning, and wean heavier pigs. Heterosis in dams that results in improved offspring performance is often called maternal heterosis.

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