Press release Independent digital comparison tool helps pig farmers to choose the right boar line


For the first time, Flemish pig farmers are able to consult ‘consumer reports’ on boar sperm. themselves. ILVO has now launched an interactive tool to offer more transparency and autonomy to farmers when choosing the right boar line.
“The new tool shows, in a quick and interactive way, the best boars according the parameters that each pig farmer thinks are most important,’ says Alice Van den Broeke (ILVO), operational testing coordinator.
The system is unique in Europe. An independent operational test for boar genetics selection has been a clear desire of the sector for a while. ILVO will now set up the system.
After a year of data collection at two indoor practice centers with commercial boar sperm coming from two (soon to be three) breeding organizations, ILVO has now a handy computer tool ready. The results are continuously updated online and are free for consultation by all Flemish pig farmers.

At, pig farmers can compare the performance results of different boar lines from different AI-centers on a number of maternity parameters and, in a subsequent phase, also daily growth, feed conversion (fattening pig data) and carcass quality parameters. Which parameters are important and which boar line is the best choice depends on the farm. If a pig farmer makes an informed choice on the basis of objective information provided by the tool, this can yield him up to 10 euros extra margin per fattening pig.

Since January 1, 2018, pig farmers pay 0.0175 euros per classified pig that has to be independently tested in an operation coordinated by ILVO, commissioned by the farmers syndicate (ABS), the farmers’ federation (Boerenbond), the Belgian meat federation (FEBEV), the Inter-professional association for Belgian meat (IVB), and supported by the Flemish government. The existence of such operational test is unique in Europe.

Choosing the right genetics: why is that so important?

Choosing specific genetics is an important decision for pig farmers. The technical and economical results of the farm are extremely influenced by it. In sow husbandry, great attention is paid therefore to the choice of a sow line. Boar genetics are taken less into account by Flemish pig farmers. Alice Van den Broeke, coordinator of the operational test: “However, earlier research from ILVO and KU Leuven shows that choosing the right boar line is extremely important. A pig farmer can yield up to 10 euros extra profit margin per fattening pig, due to differences in growth, feed conversion and slaughter quality”.

Need for independent coordination and a benchmark

The Flemish breeding organizations regularly share results from their performance research with pig farmers. But these results are difficult to compare, among others due to different stable, seasonal and management conditions. The great added value of an independent operational test therefore lies in the fact that comparisons across all organizations are possible, and that the objectivity of the results is guaranteed. ILVO was chosen as coordinator by four partners from the pig farming chain. The purpose of this assignment was clear: to provide a benchmark to pig farmers so that they can objectively evaluate which genetics are best used in their farm.

ILVO operational testing: collecting and processing data

That benchmarks exist now, after one year of data collection at two indoor pig farms ('pilot farms') with genetically selected boar lines from three breeding farms: the Flemish breeding organization Piétrainfokkerij, RA-SE Genetics Maximus, and recently also the Association Wallonne de l'élevage Piétrain. ILVO collects data from the breeding sheet, piglet batteries, fattening pig stables, and slaughterhouses in a 'Smartpig' database, which automatically links data to the right boar line. The following data is collected: date of birth, number of live-born piglets, number of stillborn piglets, hereditary defects, number of weaned piglets per litter, feed intake, growth, feed conversion, and carcass data.

Afterwards, an average is calculated per chosen boar line for those parameters, taking into account the possible effects on the farm, season and gender. These corrected averages are available to everyone at, and they are continuously updated with new data from the test companies and slaughterhouses. Momentanously, only the breeding sheet data and the meat percentage of the tested boars descendants can be consulted.

When enough fattening pigs from the test boars are slaughtered, the tool is expanded with pig fattening parameters such as feed conversion and daily growth.

Tool makes tailored choices possible

The website is interactive and lets pig farmers choose which parameters and factors are most important for the individual farm. The boar line most suitable boar line depends on the kind of pig farm, after all: size, vitality and quality of the piglets are important parameters for sow husbandry; the percentage of meat and feed conversion plays a bigger role for fattening pigs farms; and growth rate and uniformity are crucial factors for indoor farms with a strict piglet supply schedule.

Thanks to the smart filtering system of the website, a pig farmer can obtain a final ranking of tailored boar lines for each specific farm situation. ILVO pig researcher Frederik Leen: “Each kind of pig farmer can easily now make a well-founded choice of boar line and therefore increase the gross income from the farm’s fattening pigs without any major financial, infrastructural or labor-intensive effort”.

Unique approach in Europe

The current structure and approach of benchmark is unique in Europe. No other member state has a test operation where there is a continuous comparison between boar lines of different genetics. In order to make the benchmark even more relevant, it is important that as many breeding organizations as possible can participate. The four partners from the pig chain are therefore appealing to the Flemish genetic companies to voluntarily join, and to the pig farmers to encourage their AI suppliers. Ultimately, ILVO expects that pig farmers will choose to purchase sperm only from independently tested boar lines.


Contact us

Alice Van den Broeke

ILVO researcher

Greet Riebbels

Communications manager at ILVO

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