The Castúa Sow, a genetic project in Iberian Pig

15 June 2016

Proyecto Genético Ibérico Castúa

An applied research work co-financed by CDTI and Inga Food, and developed with the participation of IRTA, in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza and University of Extremadura. The research, of a vast magnitude, is intended to provide the Iberian pig sector with a highly productive, high-quality and homogeneous animal, selected with objective criteria through modern genetics tools.

No doubt, it is a major bid to the Iberian Pig from Inga Food, a Company with a broad experience in the swine sector, and now allocating a significant amount of resources to this new project. 

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Cerda Ibérica Castúa

Inga Food, based on its experience, set a roadmap for its Iberian Pig production program, placing a big bet from the beginning for a clear and homogenous definition of the product, necessarily supported by a solid genetic base, uniform and with maximum productive efficiency. 

After proving that in the different Iberian populations with which the project was initiated, there was an important scattering in the characters, it was decided to develop a genetic program, which would contribute with solutions to the sector. This is how the Iberian Sow “Castúa” was born. An Iberian sow of high productive efficiency, which brings a maximum homogeneity to the whole program both at a productive level as well as in terms of the quality of the product, and that at all moments is developed within a program of continuous improvement. 


Project Objectives 

The main objective of this ambitious work is to obtain a pure Iberian line more efficient, able to deliver productive results as well as results in terms of quality of the product, homogenous, lasting and more profitable. To achieve this, different populations of pure Iberian sows are crossed, selecting the lines offering the best results and which are more suitable to combine among them. All lines are selected for reproductive, productive and product quality characteristics. In the whole process of selection and multiplication, the purity of the Iberian breed is preserved. 

So far it had never been carried out a project of this magnitude in the Iberian Pig sector. Although it is true that there were studies on the results of pure Iberian breed crosses, as well as on the improvement of the genetic lines potential, they were never applied to the production. This way, the Castua Project intends to increase the low reproductive efficiency of the Iberian lines, being this the greatest handicap in the production of the Iberian Pig. At the same time, the project forces to keep or even increase the quality and homogeneity of the product. For all the previous said, not only Inga Food will benefit from this project, but all the producers working in the Iberian sector. 

With more or less reason, it has always been stated that the Iberian sector is very secretive and with little information; therefore an important objective of this project is to have statistically significant information on all the phases of the production, slaughter, and processing of meat products. 

For the achievement of these objectives, the project is split in two stages. The first one consists on the completion of a selection program of the pure Iberian sow with the highest reproductive efficiency, and with the best productive results in the farm: the Iberian sow Castúa. 

In the second stage, we seek to obtain a well-defined quality product at a slaughterhouse level. The idea is to find the more suitable Duroc line (the most demanded breed in the Iberian industry) to be used in the Castua project for obtaining a meat product of excellence and with optimum performance. 


Genetic selection Program

Inga Food has carried out a study of the different Iberian strains available in the Market. Work started by finding the more efficient strains that meet a number of requirements: all sows should be pure Iberian breed, should have a high health status, and should be compatible with the highest standards of quality of the final meat product.  

In order to ensure the best specimens, a large number of breeding sows coming from different pig farms were analyzed and tested. Thanks to this initial hard work, Inga Food was able to focus its efforts on three classic Iberian strains: retinta, entrepelada and torbiscal, which were integrated on the genetic program. Once the three Iberian breeds which met the harsh requirements were identify, we began to work on obtaining a pure Iberian genetic line, the Iberian sow Castúa. 

Needless to say that the crosses are always made in purity, both in the strain used as mother line, and in the strain used as father line. To verify this fact, a study on the genome of all breeding sows populations integrated in the project has been carried out, in order to ensure no crosses outside the Iberian breed may occur in their bloodline, such as Large Black breed or Duroc breed.  It’s worth noting that all sows integrated in the selection program are registered in the Genealogic Book of the Iberian Breed.

The genetic program is based on the combination of different genetic populations, seeking the heterosis and the complementarity of the characters, as basis of the genetic improvement. As it has been widely proved in the pig production, the combination of two genetic lines creates a new genetic population with better reproductive traits in comparison with the two original lines. This fact is the positive consequence of the heterosis effect which, in the case of the Castúa sow project, is expected to bring about an increase by between 10 and 15% of prolificity, that is, around one additional piglet per litter. 

In order to achieve an even greater improvement and uniformity, Inga Food weighs all piglets of the sows integrated on the project, both at birth and at weaning, and records the weights looking for those females that give better results. The difference in weight on piglets is one of the main causes of mortality in the Iberian pig, therefore by getting this character enhanced it is expected to reduce considerably the number of casualties. 

Thus, the Castúa Sow genetic project aims to apply the breakthroughs on the selection and genetic improvement in the swine sector to the Iberian pig field. The objective in the production of Iberian pig should be to provide with a final product of quality, guaranteeing at the same time the profitability of the productive system. The Castúa Sow project demonstrates that both concepts are compatible, meeting at the same time the indispensable premise of ensuring the integrity of the pure Iberian Breed.