Pietrain bloodlines: What are the pros, cons?

Pietrain boars offer pig producers an excellent option for maximizing efficient lean meat production, particularly with commercial halothane-free lines available.

Courtesy of Hypor - A Hendrix Genetics Company | Pietrains perform well in the nursery period, exhibiting excellent health status.
Courtesy of Hypor - A Hendrix Genetics Company | Pietrains perform well in the nursery period, exhibiting excellent health status.

In many markets there is a demand for lean pork, and, as such, the Pietrain is used as terminal sire in commercial breeding programs. The breed is known for its high yield of lean meat and efficiency. However, growth rates have traditionally been slower than other commercially used boars. Genetic selection has successfully improved their performance, and their popularity is increasing. The presence of the halothane gene, which can lead to porcine stress syndrome (PSS), has been a problem. However, genetics companies have created halothane-free lines, which can be used with confidence.

Breed history

The Pietrain breed is from Belgium and is named after the village where it originated. It became popular in the 1950’s both in its native countries and other parts of Europe, in particular Germany. Most notably, this medium-sized breed is double muscled, has low back fat and a high carcass yield. It has piebald markings, being white with black spots that are ringed with white hair. The breed varies between countries, each Pedigree developed for its particular type of meat production. For example German boars are big and tall, whilst the Belgian type are a shorter, stockier show type breed.

Purebred Pietrains are not suited for intensive production, which they find stressful, and the sows have relatively small litters. However, as a cross they are suited to a variety of production systems. The breed has been commonly used in several European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. As a terminal sire it is favored in Russia where payment systems are based on lean meat percentage.

Commercial breeding

Many genetics companies offer a Pietrain boar line as an option for producers looking to obtain the most meat at the least cost. They are mated with white hybrid sows to raise efficient offspring. “The Pietrain has a smaller appetite than commercial white breeds and growth rates are lower,” explained Hans Olijslagers CTO, Topigs Norsvin. “That they are efficient but longer-finishing means that they aren’t popular in North America, where the focus is on barn throughput.”

Crossbred Pietrain boars and synthetic White Pietrain lines are also available. All these bloodlines have been the subject of breeding programs to improve growth rates. Despite this, producers using Pietrain bloodlines need to carefully consider nutrition. With a smaller appetite the breed requires high quality, nutritionally dense diets. The offspring of Pietrain boars are not suited for production systems relying on the use of by-products in feed, for example.

Purchasing a purebred Pietrain boar, from a pedigree breeder, for a home breeding program is commonplace in several European countries. Pietrain crosses are able to convert feed better than most traditional breeds. They also maximize the hybrid vigor of the piglets, with favorable health status and viability often reported. In Germany purebred animals are specifically reared for the low fat carcasses they produce.

Porcine stress syndrome

If a pig has two copies of the halothane gene, it is likely to have PSS, which makes pigs more susceptible to stress-related mortality and meat quality defects. Animals may die before slaughter or during transport, as a result of stress. Pale soft exudative (PSE) or dark, firm, dry meat may be seen, resulting in carcasses being rejected. Following a period of muscle activity, there is a change in muscle metabolism from aerobic to anaerobic, and biochemical abnormalities develop. However, gene probe technologies have allowed the identification of individuals carrying the gene from blood or hair samples. This makes producing halothane/stress-free lines possible.

Carcass characteristic

The Pietrain exhibits excellent lean growth; compared to the Duroc, for example, it has a much lower levels of both subcutaneous and intramuscular fat. These traits mean it is well-suited to the fresh meat market. Commercial boar lines have focused on further reducing back-fat, along with increasing yields of valuable cuts, with breeding programs selecting for optimum loin muscle depth and length, along with eating quality.


The Pietrain is known for its exceptional lean meat production, and breeding programs have improved its growth rate. The developments of halothane-free lines have alleviated concerns regarding PPS. With more terminal sire lines available to chose from and greater experience on how to get the best from Pietrain crosses, their use is becoming more popular. In markets where maximizing lean meat production is important, using a Pietrain as a terminal sire is an economically favorable option.

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