The first attempts at domesticating the pig date back to the Neolithic age, i.e., circa 5000 b.c. The process of domestication includes selective breeding for specific characteristics, and may be considered a first step in genetic improvement. Pig improvement has first been the result of empirical methods employed by individual farmers. Then selection became a technique scientifically based, progressing with the knowledge of the biology involved, and particularly with the development of genetics.

An early example of breeding plans for pigs is the Danish program of 1896 for developing a new breed, the Danish Landrace, to be crossed with imported Yorkshire boars for the production of bacon. Breeding centers were then established, and official performance recording for carcass traits started in 1907. In such a scheme, one can already find the ingredients of modern pig improvement, i.e., breeding structures, breeding objectives, choice of breed combinations, and within-breed improvement by selection, as detailed later in the article.

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