A review of the literature by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Division, covering methods of castration (surgical and immunocastration) of boar pigs, pain control and alternatives to prevent boar taint.
Castration of male piglets is a common practice in many countries and the vast majority of male piglets in the United States are castrated. Castration is performed to avoid boar taint in the meat of sexually mature male pigs and to reduce aggression toward other pigs and caretakers. Boar taint is an accumulation of compounds, such as skatole and androstenone, in the meat of intact males that cause an unpleasant smell and taste that is released when pork is heated. About 75% of consumers find meat from boars objectionable in comparison with meat from castrated males (barrows).1 The prevalence and intensity of consumer preference varies on the basis of human genotype.2 Barrows can be raised beyond puberty without developing strong boar taint, however they have poorer feed conversion and more fat deposits than boars. In addition to a reduction in the risk of boar taint, barrows exhibit less sexual and aggressive behavior,3 which makes them easier to handle and less likely to fight and injure each other each other in group pens.
Currently there are two methods of castrating male piglets: surgical castration and immunocastration.
Surgical castration of piglets is carried out prior to weaning, most commonly within the first three days of life. Piglets may be restrained for castration in a variety of ways including suspension by the hind legs using a castration stand or another stockperson, placement in a V-trough, or being held with a hand or between an individual’s legs.4 After the piglet is secure, either two vertical cuts or one horizontal cut is made to the skin of the scrotum, and the testes are removed by cutting the spermatic cord with a scalpel or pulling until the cord tears.4 Castration is typically performed without anaesthesia or analgesia.3,4,5,6
Surgical castration involves cutting and manipulating innervated tissues18,19 and if anesthesia is not provided it will be painful6,14,20 as reflected by elevated blood cortisol concentrations,14,21,22 high-pitched squealing,22,23,24 and pain-indicative behaviors, such as trembling and lying alone.25,26 Some behavioural indicators of pain may persist for up to five days.23 The use of a local or general anesthetic is mandatory in Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands for pigs entering their domestic markets.4 To avoid the pain associated with surgical castration other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, have elected to market nearly all of their male pigs intact.4