A new study from Spain shows that surgical castration leads to higher mortalities and lower weaning weights in male piglets — and as a result, diminished economic returns.
In an article published in International Pig Topics, author Niels Wuyts, swine technical director at Zoetis, explains that male piglets have traditionally been surgically castrated to eliminate the risk of boar taint, an unpleasant odor that can occur when cooking meat from entire male pigs. Limiting boar taint is critical to maintaining consumer acceptance of pig meat.
Surgical castration is both painful and stressful for the animal during and for some time after the procedure, Wuyts notes. The open wound may become infected or there may be other complications that reduce performance and, in some cases, increase mortality. Furthermore, he writes, there is growing pressure from consumers to ban surgical castration and investigate alternative solutions, including full anesthesia, the administration of local anesthetic before surgery, and vaccination against boar taint.
A recent study from Spain, sponsored by Zoetis and conducted by PigChamp, shows that even with pain-killing medication, the surgery was associated with higher mortalities up to weaning, as well as lower weaning weights in some animals. Furthermore, piglets with lower birth weights suffered most — which Wuyts says is especially concerning as litter sizes continue to increase.
The research team studied a group of almost 3,700 male pigs from more than 700 litters on two farms. Within each litter, half the male pigs were surgically castrated following treatment with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and the others were untreated. All the piglets were weighed at birth and at weaning, and any mortalities were noted. The data were analyzed for the effects of treatment, and also for the lightest 25% and heaviest 25% of piglets at birth.
Wuyts highlights the lightweight group was more disadvantaged by castration than the heavyweight group, while the weaning weights of the heavyweight group were negatively affected by castration.
The study has important implications for pig producers, Wuyts states. Above all, surgical castration — even with appropriate pain medication — is economically detrimental to pig production.
The full article can be found in the April 2016 issue of International Pig Topics.
The study on which the article is based, “Physical castration affects health and productive performance during the suckling period,” has been accepted for oral presentation at the 2016 International Pig Veterinary Society Congress. To view the abstract, download the IPVS scientific program here.