Activity 25

Welfare friendly alternative to surgical castration for organic pigs


Piglet castration is a common practice carried out to avoid meat quality issues related to boar taint. Boar taint is the unpleasant smell produced by the meat of non-castrated pigs during cooking. But castration of piglets without anesthesia is a highly controversial practice in pig production, and conflicts with the high welfare claims of organic production systems. Most physical alterations are prohibited by the Canadian Organic Standard, but an exception still has to be made for castration, until a more welfare friendly alternative is found.

The use of genetic markers to produce lines of pigs that are free of boar taint but otherwise grow as normal boars is a potential long term solution to the problem. This solution is entirely consistent with organic principles, since it is based on the genetic diversity found in nature, and does not involve chemical or drug use. Genetic selection of low boar taint animals offers a non-invasive, cost effective and welfare friendly solution to the issue of boar taint. It may also improve animal growth and productivity. However, producing entire males raises other welfare issues, such as increased aggression and the performance of sexual behaviour, which may cause leg and feet injuries leading to lameness. Therefore, raising entire males may require changes in management. Before genetic selection for low boar taint individuals is proposed as a solution to producers, more research is needed to ensure that its welfare implications are thoroughly understood.

This project proposes to determine how breeding for low boar taint potentially affects behaviour, physiology and meat quality. It will also look at the effect of the social environment on boar taint. Because the research on selection for boar taint has only been conducted on conventional breeds of pigs, we also plan to determine the effectiveness of the genetic markers to reduce boar taint in heritage breeds, commonly used in organic production. This project addresses the several high priorities of the organic sector, which are to: “increase competitiveness through improvements in productivity…and quality of products, including breeding, characterization of the environmental impacts of organic systems and improvement of animal welfare”. Raising entire males decreases the environmental impact of swine production. Feeding entire males will increase performance by 10%, which will reduce feed and water inputs and reduce GHG, urine, and fecal outputs.

The main outcome of this project will be an elimination of the need for castration, a major animal welfare concern. This will be achieved in both conventional and heritage breeds.

Activity researchers

Name  Organization/Location
E. J. Squires (Activity Leader)
University of Guelph
R. Bergeron University of Guelph
I. Mandell University of Guelph
B. Sullivan CCSI