As the effects of African swine fever persist in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, particularly in China, swine producers want to rebuild pig populations, but that takes time and requires more boars to mate with the sows, according to information from Texas Tech University.
John McGlone, a professor in the department of animal and food sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources and director of the Pork Industry Institute at Texas Tech, may have an answer in the form of a product he developed from his research at Texas Tech, which holds the intellectual property license, and has licensed to companies in the U.S. and overseas.
McGlone developed an analog pheromone product (BoarBetter) based on his research into which pheromone, or combination of pheromones, in boar saliva and fat is most responsible for increased sexual behavior in sows. He determined that it's a combination of three pheromones exuded by boars that makes the sows most susceptible to impregnation, whether that is by the boar or through artificial insemination without the boar present, Texas Tech said.
This product is starting to gain some traction for use in the U.S., and McGlone said he is confident that it could help expedite pig production in China to help rebuild the pork industry.
“There’s no other product on the market like it. Products like hormones or feed additives will not increase the number of pigs,” McGlone said. “That’s the first thing. The second thing is not having boars around is revolutionary, because everybody thinks you need them. Well, you don’t.”
The basis for McGlone’s research began in the 1970s. Older studies claimed androstenone, a single molecule, as the boar pheromone. Recent research performed at Texas Tech identified three molecules unique to boar saliva: quinolone, androstenol and androstenone.
McGlone discovered that for a sow to be fully aroused sexually, it required a combination of the molecules stimulating all three of the glomerulus, just as it would be from boar saliva. He tested each of the molecules separately and in combination against a control of isopropyl alcohol to determine what best enhances sexual behavior in sows.
“I thought there must be something missing from this original research, because androstenone was not enough,” McGlone said. “This was the original idea that made us look at the boar saliva, and we have better chemistry tools than they had then. So, I worked with the chemistry department, and we identified what was unique about the boar. We could see the combination of molecules was better than any two of them together or by themselves. Once we discovered that, we knew we had something.”
McGlone applied for and received a patent for the chemical composition, and the product was developed, Texas Tech said. This synthetic analog of the natural boar pheromone is licensed in the U.S. through a company called Animal-BioTech, which works through research and innovation to develop products that benefit animals.
The analog pheromone product not only allows more sows to be impregnated but could also potentially reduce the risk of injury to sows if it can be used successfully while not having the boars present -- an aspect that has yet to be researched. Boars can easily cause injury to sows and people with their behavior.
McGlone said since the product’s introduction domestically and in China earlier this year, it has been gaining wide acceptance from pig farmers, with more than 1 million sows treated so far.
More important, by potentially eliminating the need for a boar and instead using the pheromone analog to mimic the boar saliva, it could reduce costs as farmers are no longer required to have a boar, Texas Tech said.
“If you look at other species like cattle, chickens and almost all the other species, they don’t need the male present to breed, but the pig has a greater, more developed sense of smell than the other species, so farmers think they need the male there,” McGlone said. “The boar is not breeding them; he’s just standing in front of them while they breed them by artificial insemination, but if you breed dairy cows, there’s no bull there. So, there had to be a way to induce the sexual behavior in the sow without using a live boar.”
Since hitting the U.S. market, the product also has been picked up and is being marketed internationally by Vetoquinol.
McGlone said the next step needs to be determining whether the product can be used without the boar being present. If that is the case, it could potentially help China rebuild its pig farms while eradicating African swine fever.
“Whether it’s U.S. farmers wanting to use this to produce more pigs or the Chinese wanting to use this instead of using a boar, they want to use it. So, this is a success story,” McGlone said.