Castration


Sexually mature boars have a stronger odor than sows, and in some cases this odor can be detected in the taste of the meat both as a smell and taste. This taint is known as boar stain. The chances of boar stain and strength of it can be significantly reduced, and indeed removed, by castrating the male pig within the first month of birth. This is what most pork producers do, usually without aesthetic or pain killers.

Castration is painful

Most pig producers do not apply local anesthetic or provide general anesthetic to the piglet when castrating. In the European Union it is permissible to castrate without use of anesthetics as long as castration is performed in the first 7 days of life. This is because it is assumed that young pigs have less developed nerve systems and so are less sensitive to pain. Some scientist however question this suggesting that because the nerve system is less developed its ability to regulate any pain is lower, so castrating piglets during their first week even more painful than if delayed until 3-4 weeks later.

Regardless, what is indisputable is that castration does inflict pain which is clearly evident by the pitch of squealing when performed and piglet behavior in the following 2-3 days after castration. They are:

  • less active
  • likely to tremble
  • have shaking of legs
  • slide and jerk their tails
  • exhibit signs of discomfort of hind quarters:
    • take longer to lie down
    • how lie

Factory farms castrate

Most factory farms castrate. They castrate without anesthetic. Some castrate in the first week of a piglets life, others wait longer an may castrate as late as 1 month after a piglets birth.

Natural pig farming and castration

There is little doubt that castration is an unpleasant experience for piglet and the person doing the castration. It's also distressing for the mother if the castration is done in her presence outside her pen: she hears the piglet squealing but is unable to come to its rescue. There is a natural alternative to remove the chance of boar stain without the need to castrate. Pigs under 90kg of weight and not older than 6 months of age are highly unlikely to have boar stain. Therefore one castation-free way you avoid boar stain in pork is to slaughter them prior to reaching 6 months or age / 90 kg+. This practice is reliable and is now predominantly used in the United Kingdom as a precaution to boar stain; 98% of all male pigs in the U.K. are not castrated. This does mean though that pigs are killed younger and at lower body weights than elsewhere in Europe and the world.

Given the choice natural pig farming follows this practice. However it is the buyer who dictates whether we must castrate or not. Here in Thailand where I live, there is an ingrained fear of boar taint. Whilst my natural pig farming philosophy places pigs welfare at its core, to date the closed views of retailers and buyers has meant that we have to castrate if we wish to sell our pigs and meat. They will not accept uncastrated piglets or meat. The United Kingdom has shown that non-boar tainted meat is possible without castration, but this change has occurred largely unknown and unnoticed by the public at large and around the world.  Changing public opinion is key if pork producers around the globe are to be able to move away from having to castrate their male pigs. The sooner we can stop having to castrate our pigs the better!

 

Natural pig farming v factory farming

Castration

Natural pig farming

Factory farming

Ideologically against castrating

Yes

No

Castrates solely due to commercial pressure

Yes

No

Castrates no later than day 7 after birth

Yes

No

The better way to raise pigs