Building a Better Outcome: The Power of Phenotyping

In the realm of genetics, where advancements have been rapidly unfolding, phenotyping stands out as a fundamental tool for achieving genetic progress. Phenotyping, the measurement of observable traits in animals, is crucial for accurately evaluating genetic potential and driving improvements in livestock breeding programs. It provides valuable insights into the economic implications of various traits and enables swine producers to make informed decisions that enhance profitability. By understanding the significance of phenotypes and leveraging innovative technologies, we can continue to build better outcomes for producers.

Understanding Phenotypes: Unveiling the Economic Advantage

A phenotype refers to any measurable characteristic in an animal, such as backfat thickness, feed intake, or daily movement distance. Each phenotype has a varying degree of importance within a breeding program and its correlation to genetic influence. The key lies in identifying phenotypes with economic implications for swine producers. When a physical feature is quantifiable and described with specific units, such as measuring loin eye area, it becomes a valuable phenotype. The art of breeding programs lies in assigning appropriate importance to phenotypes that directly impact economic outcomes for swine producers.

While phenotyping is crucial across agricultural industries, there are several phenotyping platforms that are particularly relevant to swine.

One unique platform in swine genetics is the use of commercial testing herds (CTH). In many breeding programs, elite genetics are housed in different environments than the commercial animals being sold. This disconnect between the selected phenotypes and those driving profitability poses a challenge. However, specialized herds like our CTH offer a direct measure of phenotypic performance in populations where selection occurs. Carcass phenotypes, sow longevity, and other economically significant traits can be captured and utilized to inform selection decisions for elite genes.

Common Phenotyping Technologies

In today’s swine industry, several common phenotyping technologies have become standard practices.

Real-time ultrasound is a prime example. Used since the 1980s, real-time ultrasound enables the capture of carcass quality phenotypes, such as backfat thickness, loin depth, and loin eye area. Advancements in ultrasound technology now also allow the measurement of intra-muscular fat content in live animals. These phenotypes have a substantial economic impact and are included in the selection indexes of major breeding programs. Moreover, real-time ultrasound has improved the detection of bred sows without the need for continued heat checks, streamlining breeding operations.

Growth rate and feed intake are additional vital phenotypes collected. Monitoring animal growth rates influences system efficiency and can provide economic advantages by reducing in-barn pig days. Measuring feed intake at different phases, including nursery, finisher, and lactation, helps optimize feed utilization and reduce costs.

Developments in Precision Agriculture and AI for Swine

Precision agriculture and AI technology are advancing across various farming sectors, including swine production. While swine farming presents unique challenges due to the indoor nature of pig production, numerous companies and universities are actively working on innovations in precision agriculture for swine.

One significant area of advancement involves computer vision technology. Computer vision processes images or videos similarly to human vision. This technology enables tracking pig movements, counting animals, monitoring heat signatures, and automatically extracting important carcass features from ultrasound images. Such technology allows for early disease detection, tail biting prevention, and other interventions that traditionally rely on human observation. Additionally, camera monitoring could open up new possibilities for genetic phenotyping. Animal activity or dominance, measured affordably through computer vision technologies, could be included in selection programs to produce more docile sows or pigs that exhibit less circling behavior after weaning.

Another promising development in the field of phenotyping is the application of health monitoring technologies, similar to the FarmFit, an STgen based company, system used in dairy calves and cows. These systems involve the use of ingestible devices that collect data on the animal’s health, which is then analyzed and reported back to the farmer. While currently limited to ruminants, there is potential for similar technology to be adapted for swine. For instance, body temperature measurements could be used to predict when a sow is in heat, eliminating the need for manual observation and intervention by technicians.

What Does the Future Hold?

The advancements in phenotyping technologies have far-reaching implications for swine producers. Today, phenotyping allows for more accurate selection decisions, improved management practices, and enhanced genetic progress. However, the potential of these technologies extends beyond the present.

In the next few years, we can expect to see a refinement of existing phenotyping methods, with increased accuracy and a broader range of phenotypes being measured. This will enable swine producers to fine-tune their management practices and produce economically affordable products more effectively. Looking further down the road, we anticipate a revolutionary impact on swine management and genetic improvement through advanced phenotyping. The integration of precision agriculture, AI, and computer vision technologies will enable real-time monitoring and early detection of issues, leading to proactive interventions.

We recognize the pivotal role of precision agriculture and advanced phenotyping in shaping the future of swine production. We are committed to collaborating with universities, colleges, and other companies to further develop and integrate enhanced phenotyping technologies into our systems. By harnessing the power of these technologies, our customers can benefit from increased genetic improvement, enhanced productivity, and precision agriculture-based management practices.

Phenotyping is a vital aspect of swine genetics, allowing us to understand and harness the full potential of the animals we raise. With ongoing advancements in phenotyping technologies, we are poised to revolutionize the way we manage pigs and achieve genetic progress. As we continue to refine and expand our phenotyping capabilities, producers will reap the benefits of improved outcomes, ultimately driving success in the swine industry.

Acuity and Fast genetics work with partners across North America and continue to expand into global systems. For more information on all the ways they build better outcomes, visit