In livestock species, breeding goals are aimed primarily at improvement of production traits. However, there are a number of examples where selection for high production efficiency has resulted in reduced welfare through unfavorable outcomes in health, welfare and fitness characteristics. There is a growing interest in the potential of genetic selection for behavior in addition to that for production traits. Since play is a pleasurable emotion that only occurs when animals are in a relaxed (positive welfare) state it might be used as an indicator of animal welfare. In addition, play positively influences several developmental aspects such as cognitive and social ability that may improve flexibility and adaptability to challenging environments. To date, very little information is available on play behavior in animal production systems. The long-term goal of the proposed study is a multi-disciplinary investigation into the phenotypic expression and the genetic background of play behavior in piglets, to investigate the possibility to include a measure of play behavior in the breeding goal, and to investigate the phenotypic and genetic relationship between play behavior, and animal production traits and welfare. The supporting objectives of this goal are to investigate the behavioral elements involved in play behavior in piglets, calculate the heritability of different measures of play behavior and to investigate the possibility to include a play marker or play markers in the breeding objective, and to investigate the phenotypic and genetic correlation between play behavior and animal production as exemplified by growth traits and food efficiency, immunology, learning ability and adaptability, and stress response. The proposed multidisciplinary project integrates animal behavior and welfare with genetics, nutrition, immunology, reproduction and physiology.
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