Pig Castration

April 7, 2009


I’m doing some research on pig castration and came across this impressively honest entry from a pig farmer in Georgia:

This week, I castrated my first pig.  It was one of the two survivors from Dottie’s first litter, which Liz has been nursing along for the past four weeks, as she discussed in this post.  His name is Brutus.

Pig castration is a topic that Liz and I have discussed frequently, and we’re torn on the issue.  Some farmers have been successful in essentially developing lines that are free of boar taint.  However, most people believe that you must castrate males if you plan to sell them, and certainly this would be required for the retail/restaurant sector.  Our struggle has more to do with how do we best emulate nature and maintain a natural environment.   The two Berkshire pigs we processed earlier this year were castrated, and both were outstanding.  The two Ossabaw pigs we processed last month were not castrated.  They too were outstanding, but I could definitely detect some boar taint when cooking. Liz, who is normally more sensitive to such things, could detect nothing after eating two different cuts.

We debate the issue of whether we should or shouldn’t castrate and, if there is any boar taint, adjust our taste to suit what nature, and the animal, gives us. Hunters have long known that does can taste different than bucks, especially during the autumn rut.  Does that make it bad?   And our hunter forefathers certainly could not count on hunting an already castrated bison, caribou or moose.  Castration does not occur naturally.  On the other hand, we’re in the business of producing safe, humanely raised and DELICIOUS food for ourselves and our customers.  So, for now, we’re castrating most males, although we may raise some intact in a control group for comparison.

The process for cattle (steers) is actually much less invasive, if you use banders.  Somehow, that makes it seem better.  For pigs, there are no bands. They’re not built that way. You have to separate them from the sow (be careful), hold them by the hind legs and flip them over between your legs. They’ll squeal like crazy, but this has nothing to do with pain or discomfort.  They just get scared and squeal loudly. That’s why you want them AWAY from mom…a tough trick when you’re raising them naturally without barns or barricades.  Once you flip them over, you have to work quickly, moving the testicles into the scrotum and making a slit over the scrotum with a sharp razor.  Push the testicle through the slit and pull the blood vessel out until it snaps off.   Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it.

As with most things, it’s one thing to describe it academically. It’s another to do it. Castrating cows was easy. But castrating a little, squealing piglet just for your eating pleasure, well, it gives you pause.  I do have to say that the piglet exhibited no signs of pain or discomfort, and was running around quickly afterwards.  There was actually more squealing before I made the first incision.  So it’s not the pain or discomfort that I’m questioning.  In any event, I suppose we’ll continue to castrate so that we can produce a predictable meat quality, but perhaps we’ll all learn to just appreciate what nature gives us, as is.

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