To Cut or Not?

This is a posting I have hesitated to make. It delayed me from making a post yesterday. I have hesitated because I fear that fanatical anti-farming groups like People Eating Tasty Animals, they who shall not be named or something like that, will try and take this posting and abuse my words for their own ends. Undoubtedly I will also ruffle some feathers and spill some soup. This is not a posting to read over dinner.


Down in the lower right of that photo is the east end of a westward boar. He is missing nothing. Adult boars put even the most evangelitical sex spammer to shame. Traditionally in our culture male pigs, which are called boars if they have the balls, are castrated at a young age, that is to say cut, de-nutted, neutered, fixed*, relieved of the family jewels, etc. In a nutshell, they get their balls cut off. This turns the boar into a barrow in two fell swoops of the knife.

The reason for this process is that when boars come of age and start noticing pretty girl pigs as more than play mates, they release hormones that in some cases, can eventually flavor their pork with a rank ‘boar taint’ that people find objectionable. It is also argued by some that cutting the boars will make them more docile and safer to work with. This done for bulls, rams and roosters for the same reasons. No balls, no hormones.

Let’s start by examining the aggression issue. First of all, market pigs are slaughtered before they get far into puberty. Aggression is not an issue for them. Secondly, consider those who do get to puberty: they are to become real boars for breeding who thus must keep their family jewels intact. For these fellows, if you properly, gently handle them when you are raising them they are calm and gentle animals in almost all cases. I say almost because somewhere out there is an aggressive animal to argue the point. We have never had a bad boar. We borrowed several boars which we did not raise and they were all gentlemen. Those that we have raised were even more so. Any that are not gentle should be culled – You do not want to breed aggression into your livestock. We have a firm policy that the mean make meals and right quick. How you raise and handle the animal is the largest determinant in how it will behave.

Getting back to the taste of the matter… How bad is boar taint? Some people swear it is the worst thing they’ve ever smelled, that “it makes the whole house uninhabitable forever if you cook boar meat in the kitchen.” I suspect that is a bit of an exaggeration even in the worst of cases. Some people say the same thing for roosters, rams and other livestock. I differ.

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My own personal experience with young boars and rams, under nine months old, is that there is no boar taint even if you keep them in with the females. I have yet to eat a male older than that so I can’t personally comment beyond that point. Archie, a farmer I know a bit north of us, says that even with a big boar if you just set it apart from the females for a month then the meat tastes fine – he’s eaten three year old boars weighing in at as much as 1,062 pounds(!) and I’m inclined to believe him given that he’s raised pigs for over 30 years. When Archie speaks, I listen – he knows what he’s talking about.

We eat roosters, up to age two or three, all the time and they are delectable. There is no taint nor are they tough. Mean ones get eaten earlier so that is never a problem. They do tend to have less fat than younger birds and hens but the meat is still tender. Since they have so little fat in their lean meat, I marinade them for 48 hours to make them juicier, which is wise with any meat to pass the rigor mortis phase – with larger livestock you hang and chill the meat often for weeks – same thing.

There was a very interesting Brazilian study done on this topic. The report, published in December of 2000 at Conferência Virtual Internacional sobre Qualidade de Carne Suína by Jerônimo Antônio Fávero concluded that boar taint was avoidable without castration. The purpose of this study was to enact new standards in Brazil for the slaughter of “Entire Male Pigs” that is to say boars. You can checkout the original research paper in English if you like (the article is unfortunately gone from that link but I have a copy if needed) but here is a very short summary for those not interested in reading the whole thing:

“The maximum weight of the dressed carcass will be 73 kg without the head (equivalent to approximately 100 kg live weight), with a maximum age of 160 days. Up to these weight and age limits, all carcasses do not need to be submitted to any kind of test for boar taint.”

For the metrically challenged of us here in the USA, 100kg equals 220 lbs, which is a typical market weight pig. The point being that up to a certain age none of the male pigs show boar taint. They also identified the exact cause of boar taint as being “due to the presence of high levels of androsterone and skatol.”

If you’re interested in reading more on the chemistry, check out this Penn State research article “Pigs in Paradise” by David Pacchioli and this European article. It suggests that it may even be possible to breed pigs that have low levels of the problematic chemicals and indeed other research suggests that some pigs are more likely to show boar taint than others. Perhaps there are even differences between breeds. Interestingly, boar taint can also happen in female pigs on occassion. These articles also mentions some alternatives to castration to prevent boar taint such as feeding chicory root at a rate of 25% of feed intake – results are apparent in three days. Some of these articles mention possible vaccination against hormonal development but that has it’s own problems as they discuss.

There are significant costs to cutting for the person raising the pigs and for the consumer. Often the producer is the consumer out in rural areas so the cost does not get passed on but absorbed. Several studies show, and my experience bears this out, that barrows grow about 10% slower than boars on average and they are fattier than boars. Note that the focus is on growing meat, not bone or fat. Likewise down the scale are gilts, young female pigs, who grow again about 10% slower than barrows making them even slower growing than boars. This is not to say you won’t have the occasional barrow or gilt who outgrows a boar, but on average over many animals it has found to be the case that the intact males win the race to market.

This results in more time and more feed being needed bring the barrow up to market weight than if he hadn’t been cut. If you’re feeding the pig commercial grains then that matters since every day it eats it costs you money. It also means that instead of taking 160 days to grow to market weight the pig will take 176 days for example. The time doesn’t usually matter to most of us small farmers and back yard home pig raisers but the added grain cost does mount up. An extra 16 days at 4 lbs/day is 64 lbs or about $10 in feed required for the barrows to catch up with the boars. On commercial operation
s where they only profit $4 per hundred weight that could be the difference between profit and loss.

Just to confuse the matter I have read one study in Australia that said there is no significant difference in growth. I don’t know what the exact reason for that is but it mixes the equation just a little. However this study does point out that the feed intake is still higher for the barrows resulting in a higher piglet to market cost and the meat is fattier as well reducing the actual meat yield.

The cutting also costs the pig – the barrows go through a bit of a traumatic experience having their balls cut off and there is the risk of infection like with any surgery. We use clean instruments and iodine so we have never had a problem with that but it is a risk. Unfortunately you can’t use an elasti-bander or other tourniquet method like you can with sheep or cows since the boar’s testicles don’t hang down from his body like a man’s do. Instead, cutting is required and the term is very descriptive. Think about that image a moment… Worse yet is caponizing which is done to roosters to make them capons. Caponizing requires abdominal surgery which is more akin to spaying than neutering.

Lastly, cutting costs the pig breeder. It is a very labor intensive and an unpleasant task. I’ll tell you right off, the farmer does not enjoy the process. The pigs don’t enjoy it. They are scared, may bite, thrash and get an unpleasant association with the person doing the process. The person doing the holding or cutting can get cut as well, although hopefully not in that place. All around it is not a fun time for anyone involved.

This whole process is very cultural. In some countries they do not castrate their pigs, sheep, bulls or roosters. On the flip side, markets in other countries like Singapore and Germany absolutely insist on castration. In some countries it is even required by law. Other countries have banned it like Norway.

So why do we still do it? Because customers demand it. People are afraid of boar taint in the meat. They’re worried that the boars will be overly aggressive. I understand their fear. They’re buying piglets and want to maximize their chances of success. No balls = no taint. The equation is simple. I hope that education may change tradition.

If you raise boars away from females and slaughter them at a young age then they don’t start releasing large amounts of the tainting chemicals into their blood stream. They’ll grow faster than barrows would saving you money on feed as well as labor. The boars will also be more efficient at putting on muscle so they will have healthier, leaner meat. If you treat them well they should not be aggressive, the last reason given for castrating. The pig benefits – it gets a less stressful life. You benefit – you pay less for feed and get a quicker growing animal that hasn’t been stressed as much. It’s a win-win.

That was probably more than you wanted to know about the annual pig ball. I bring this topic up because I view the castration process as unnecessary and hope that people might start moving away from it to a more humane management of the pigs they raise. This would benefit the pig, the farmer and the consumer.

Also see the article: “Boar Meat”

Update 20150420: We have now been raising intact, that is to say not castrating boars for a decade and sold the meat from thousands of boars to our weekly customers feeding tens of thousands of customers hundreds of thousands of boar meat, repeat customers who keep coming back for more but through our CSAs, piglet sales, roaster sales, direct sales of whole pigs and through local stores and restaurants who buy from Sugar Mountain Farm every week. The market place has proven that boar taint can be controlled without the need for castration. Boar taint is real, the research shows that there is a minority subset of boars who have taint, but with good genetics, diet and management it can be prevented. For more information about boar taint see this page.

*How is that we’re fixing something that is not broken?

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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92 Responses to To Cut or Not?

  1. pablo says:

    I don’t think there is anything left to say about this subject.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter:
    Interesting post. We neutered two bull calves a couple of weeks ago, as the process seems to have the opposite effect on cattle from what you describe on hogs: in my experience, steers grow faster than bulls. This may only be a factor with the breed we raise (Highlands), but it’s quite noticeable in our goats as well – unless and until we start a goat breeding program (which will be never, if I have my way) we will not have a billy on the farm. With a billy, the smell doesn’t wait until cooked …;>)
    That being said, the intact Highland bulls that we do have are quite gentle – when he’s not out chasing the cows, Chip loves to be scratched between the horns, and will allow visitors to our farm to approach and “pet” him as well. All in all he’s quite a draw, but that may have more to do with his lineage than his sexual status.
    Interestingly, we’ve never castrated a sheep. Most of our lamb customers are Muslim, and it seems to be specific requirement with them that the rams be intact. We’ve not yet had any problems with aggression, either. Perhaps the operative word there is “yet”.
    The other reason we don’t de-ball our Blackface rams is that testosterone encourages horn growth, and those rams horns are quite valuable in and of themselves.
    We do dock the tails of our sheep, which involves banding. This is more a hygienic measure, as it prevents flystrike and bunch of other problems.
    I will have to tell you that Kevyn (the analog here to your man Archie) lost a bull calf to tetanus last year – he used the elasto-band but the cord didn’t separate properly, and the poor little guy got an infection. Even the most experienced can make mistakes and/or have a run of luck (good or bad).
    We eat roosters, too, and have never had a complaint about “gamey” taste – in fact, some customers want roosters, especially for stewing.
    Like you, I’ve got some real problems with the whole castration process, but I’ll probably keep up with it on the cattle as it seems to speed growth, and I don’t have the space to keep the bulls from the cows.
    Be well,
    Dave H.
    MacRaven
    http://www.haxton.org/weblog

    • Suzi says:

      Entire males put on more muscle (= meat) while neutered males have more long bone growth and gow taller. The ONLY cause for neutering to improve growth is when males are kept overly agitated around females and therefore lose weight. This is all scientifically established. And it rarely effects the temperament of the animal unless the male has severe hormonal issues. I actually have never had a problem with an entire male after 40 years plus of rearing livestock and dogs (beef cattle, horses, meat goats, meat & wool sheep and pigs) with animals that I raised. We did have a dangerous boar at univerisity, but he was imported from Italy and was “damaged” before we got him. It is my experience that male animals that are treated like normal stock, develop into normal stock. People who lock up their “dangerous” males are the ones who have issues. I saw a study once where men trained younfg horses (Arabs) from 2 years onward and many of the colts acted “studly”. Then they used the same bloodlines and had women traiin the colts and they were all just the same as the geldings and fillies…..no issues of male problems!

      • Yes, that’s why we don’t castrate. In pigs, the castrated males, the barrows, are more like gilts in muscle development and fat content. The boars grow faster, larger and put on less fat but more muscle. Studies show the boars are also more efficient at converting food into meat. Over the long term, the boars grow about twice as big as the sows of the same age. Our adult boars, the breeders, are 1,000 to 1,700 lbs while the sows are only 600 to 800 lbs at the same age. One of the nice aspects about pasture raising is none of them get obese, unlike with the high calorie corn based feeds.

  3. Interesting that the cattle grow faster castrated. I do not (yet) have cattle but have always wanted to get Highlands. My uncle has a herd of about 80. Beautiful animals and tasty too.

    On the goats, I’ve heard that is a big problem. Again, I have no experience with goats so I can’t comment there.

    The one other I can comment on is dogs. The myth is if you neuter/spay then they don’t roam. This is false. We have had neutered/spayed dogs that roamed and ones that weren’t that did.

    For now I too will continue castrating since people want it. I am doing experiments with letting boar grower pigs to older and older ages so I can keep testing the meat. I wanted to do this scientifically – just take a sample set 100 boar pigs and then every month remove one pork chop from each to test it. But Holly nixed the idea. :} So much for a good scientific inquiry! :)

  4. Wayne says:

    Just reading over this I’m conflicted between possibly getting “off-topic” and trying to express a general picture of the problem you’re speaking of.

    You’ve not ruffled my feathers, Walter.

    Just to move a little beyond your presentation, I’m a social liberal but nothing you say sounds like anything other than a profound concern and interest in the welfare of these guys, balanced off appropriately against your own welfare.

    Not to add fuel to the fire but when I think of the major tensions I think not just of PETA, but also of environmentalists and of AIDS activists, especially ACTUP. In each of these cases the possibly laudable primary goal gets lost in ignorance of the subject and in exploration of side issues that detract from the main point. I have little patience with any of them, and can’t see myself involved.

    In the case of PETA, there are so many bewildering side issues that it ends up a laughingstock. Uh, it’s unethical to have pets? How does that square with those who have pets and yet see factory farms as unethical? Uh, it’s unethical to keep laboratory animals and yet feel self-righteous about releasing them into a hostile world? Gosh, PETA has just wiped away all its support, and all because of a philosophical set of conflicting ideals.

    Environmentalists – who cut down the Golden Spruce, and how does that enhance anyone’s appreciation of the movement? Environmentalists really need a good dose of ecology, something most of them know little about.

    And ACTUP – even though I’m essentially an atheist, it seems like a Really Bad Idea to chase away potential supporters by disrupting religious ceremonies, however satisfying it might be in a self-righteous way.

    In each of these cases it’s a conflict between the main thought, which might be legitimate, and a myriad of insanities.

    Even though it’s been very clear from many of your previous posts, I’m glad you recapitulated your farming practices in this way.

  5. “In each of these cases it’s a conflict between the main thought, which might be legitimate, and a myriad of insanities.”

    I like the way you put that. You nailed the hit on the head. :) People need to focus better.

  6. Pete says:

    Walter,
    I butchered a 600 lb boar a few years ago. Talk about boar taint. It was horrible stuff. I tried hard to pretend it wasn’t there but ultimately failed. The final straw was one morning when I was frying up the first of the “boarkon” and the house stunk like boar pee for the rest of the day. I ended up giving it to an old Italian neighbor. He thought it was great. I don’t know if it was cultural or he was just hard of smelling. Now that I am on the brink of breeding a few sows again I am interested in the idea of not having to castrate. I may try it on the pig I keep for myself next year, to see if age is really the issue.
    Pete

  7. Walter,

    I just wanted to e-mail you and thank you for all of the time you put into your articles. I actually came upon your website by mistake but, I am glad I did. (I was searching for Certified Naturally Grown but the website seems to be MIA).

    My husband and I are finishing up our first year of having pigs. We were much more popular than expected this summer and sold out fairly quickly. We have put our two boars in with our 5 gilts for January litters. We have not castrated a piglet before and were not looking forward to it. After reading your information, I have decided NOT to castrate any of our future piglets. Indeed, our sausages, snack sticks and jerky are VERY popular and I will use the boars for that purpose at about 5-6 months of age instead of castrating them. For my gilts, I will still need to raise up until 7-8 months old before slaughter because we need them heavier than 250 lbs or we get NO bacon out of them. We have very lean hogs since ours too love their “salad” and exercise.

    I simply thought that you would like to know that you will have saved 20-50 young boars a year from the pain & suffering of castration.

    Charity Harris
    http://www.HarrisFamilyFarms.com

  8. Hurray, Charity!!! Castrating is a horrid task. Neither the piglets nor the cutter or holder enjoy the process.

    I just slaughtered and butchered a 14 month old sexually active boar. He tastes delicious. No boar taint at all. The research continues. Keep us posted with how yours turn out, what breed they are, what they eat, etc. This is an important topic to explore.

    Regarding the Certified Naturally Grown web site, looks like their server is having problems. I just sent them an email to notify them. It was up the other day and I just got an email from them. I think they’re still active. Ah! It is backup when I just checked now before leaving this comment. All is good. :)

  9. TalaMuir says:

    thanks for sharing this

  10. Great information, Walter! Thanks! I think that age may play a more important role than whether or not an animal is castrated — at least with some species. We have sheep, and this past summer, a 4-year-old wether died. My husband butchered him for dog food, and that was the smelliest meat I’ve ever known! In fact, my husband’s hands stunk for a whole day after he’d butchered him. The dog didn’t seem to mind, but I noticed that if we fed him the meat for more than about 3 days in a row, he started to stink!

  11. Erich says:

    Add my thanks for the info. It motivated me to experiment a bit, too. I left three Tamworth boars intact out of a June litter. I picked them up from the processor last week. They taste and smell no different from the gilts to me. The people at the processor’s made me feel like I did a very risky thing by not cutting them, though. I suppose I’ll continue experimenting. Unfortunately, I’ll always have to cut some of them, as the 4H market demands it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I read that every 2 years you should get a new breeder boer, because the boer will get to big for the sow. If you castrate at that age would you still get tanted meat or how long do you wait to butcher?

    David E.

  13. Anony, I’m not sure of the answer to that. I have heard the same thing. I’ve also heard that after two years the boars get fat and lazy and won’t do their job. Some people say they grow forever. When we started we borrowed boars so I don’t have enough experience to make a direct comment on this yet.

    Our oldest boar is approaching three years old. He doesn’t seem to have grown very much over the last year. I have a suspicion that the ‘grows’ for ever is related to over feeding and confinement. e.g., they get fat and out of shape. With them being on pasture perhaps this is not as much of a problem. Time will tell. in any case I have some younger boars that are up and coming just in case.

  14. Anonymous says:

    What age do you castrate. Some say between 1 to 21 days old, but the guy i got mine from does it when they get 50 pounds.

    David E.

  15. As early as 10 days, as late as weaning which is 4 to 5 weeks. I would not suggest doing it too early as the little piglets have enough to deal with without a wound. I would not like doing it at 50 lbs – they are strong and do object.

  16. Valent says:

    Walter, first of all, wow- this is a good blog. Very informative and very interesting. However, I must say the subject of boar taint is a definite peeve with me. I have always had problems with “smelling” and therefore “tasting” this problem. Others I have known are unbothered by the same meat. After some research, I found that it is quite true that certain people are completely unable to be bothered by the difference and others are bothered at even a very small concentration(such as when mixed in large pork batches of ground pork.) I do think at the ages you are talking about butchering it may not be a problem. Thanks for the fine blog. Valent

  17. The ability to taste the boar taint is definitely at issue. A gentleman who studies this topic and who’s research I cited told me in email that about 30% of the population can’t taste the taint. However, in my tests I’ve served it to over 30 people, many unrelated, so I suspect that I’ve hit upon many people who do have the capability. I don’t think that is an issue here.

    He also mentioned, as the research suggests, that the taint varies greatly from line of pig to line of pig, breed to breed and he even said that light pigs, like ours, tend to have less taint while dark pigs have more. I’ve recently read that Yorkshires, which is a large part of what ours are, have minimal taint and Duroc have high levels of taint. I just ran across this interesting article on the genetics. Check it out.

  18. brian martin says:

    Have you tried artificial insemination? I have found a place to get theequipment but not the semen I raise 3 pigs yearly Ijust slaughtred my boar for the year I pay 90 bucks for a large animal vet to put him to sleep and do the job

  19. Brian, I looked into Artificial Insemination (AI) but in the end decided against it because of the costs. We were able to find a local boar to borrow during our first years and then we got our own boar. Since we have 30 sows it is far more cost effective to have boars. If we just had three sows I think I would still be borrowing. One good reason I would consider AI is if I wanted to introduce new genetics, but if I had my druthers I would prefer to just get a new boar.

    Fortunately there are many ways to do it including AI, borrowing a boar, sending out sows to a boar, having a temporary boar and keeping boars. That way it fits everyone’s style and budget.

  20. Castration of pigs will banned as of Jan 1st, 2009 in Norway according to this article from Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica according to this article:

    Until 2002, castration of male piglets in Norway was routinely performed, mainly by the pig producers themselves, without any requirements for anaesthesia or analgesia. The only restriction was that the piglets should not be older than 28 days. In 2002 the Norwegian Parliament passed a law, prohibiting castration of piglets from 2009. At the same time it was decided that until 2009, the castration of piglets in Norway should be performed only by veterinarians, and that use of anaesthesia should be mandatory. The argument for the decisions was animal welfare. The meat industry, and the pig breeding association Norsvin, have co-operated with the research institutions and the Research Council of Norway to establish a research programme for entire male pig production. The main aim of the programme is to ensure that the ban on castration can be accomplished without large negative consequences for the industry and the pig producers, and that the consumers after 2009 still will be offered high quality pork without boar taint.

  21. fl mom with baby boar says:

    Hi,
    I bought a baby boar a couple of weeks ago. He is so sweet and friendly. He has a little barn and I let him roam the yard (fenced) during the day when I am home. I did not want to castrate him and just let him have a full life as a happy pig. People are telling me now that he will become aggressive and mean and will not be able to be contained when he gets to be 800-1000lbs. They say he will go right though the walls of his barn. He will bite and could seriously harm my family and other animals. Even if we do castrate him they say he will still be mean. Are all boars like this when they mature? Is this true?

  22. FL, I can’t comment on your boar directly because every animal is different. Our big boars are gentle although I am very careful to keep my hands and small children away from their mouths. They can step on your feet, crush you up against a post, etc. After all they are huge animals and must be treated with caution. Why have we had no mean big boars or mean big sows? Perhaps because we cull (eat) any animals that show a bad disposition. Use good judgement and enjoy your pig. Cheers, -Walter

  23. Anonymous Does Not Forgive says:

    wow you’re a fucking loser…please kill yourself

    I know you’ll reject this comment but fuck you fuck you to hell you stupid backwater mountain fucker.

  24. Hmm… And you’re too cowardly to sign your name or show your face when you call people names. Interesting. I do have your personal identifying IP address and other information from the web server logs. We backwater mountain types do know how to use technology… Cheers, -WJ

  25. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the info and the links. I’m here becasue I got into a conversation with some one who ended up tossing the entire animal because of boar taint. Then this post caught my eye:

    brian martin said…
    Ijust slaughtred my boar for the year I pay 90 bucks for a large animal vet to put him to sleep and do the job

    I do love meat, but myself I could never slaughter anything, heck, I put lobsters to sleep in clorinated tap water. I coukd never put a conscious living thing into boiling water, and someone else has to shoot Bambi. Is Brian talking about having the vet castrate or dispatch the animal. Would putting to sleep be a humane way to kill an animal for butchering? Or do the chemicals affect the carcass? Some will call me an idiot, but I’d never make it as a livestock farmer, they’d end up being pets. I’ve recently moved to Montana and there are plenty of places where I can have an animal raised and butchered for the freezer. I’ve also read that trauma can affect meat. So if I am a dork, so be it. But I do like meat in all its forms, just would like to see as much compassion as possible.
    Stefanie

  26. No, having a vet inject the animal with chemicals is not wise. I would not want to eat the meat as it now has chemicals in it that will kill. There has been a lot of research on this. A stunning blow is best. See this post. The animal feels no pain. Do go read that post.

    An electrical shock that shorts out the nervous system is also supposed to be good although I have read reports that can cause damage to the meat if the voltage is not carefully controlled.

    On the chlorinated water and lobsters, I would not suggest that as it is far more painful than the boiling water. Think about how over chlorinated pool water feels on one’s eyes.

    Trauma can definitely diminish the quality of the meat. You want the kill to be clean, painless and instant for both your sake as the consumer and for the animal’s sake.

    Also read these posts:
    Kindest Killing Blow
    Meeting Dinner

    Raising and slaughtering your own meat isn’t for everyone but it does allow you to make sure that you can raise and kill it humanely as well as maximizing the quality of life and of your dinner.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  27. Gary says:

    Hi,
    Just my opinion. I have found no problem with boar taint as long as the animal remains calm until slaughter (at home and hasn’t seen others killed) and an experienced person does the deed.
    Gary

  28. Rosalyn Price English says:

    Great article. Here’s a question for you: I am in the process of working out a scenario where I can keep a pig or two in with my horse and chickens. I have a large paddock that has livestock fencing around it. There is a very large four-sided in/out shed for the horse and the chickens have their own condo. My husband is a farmer in the old way: pigs in an enclosed concrete pad, put the feed to them, no outdoors or greens.

    Here’s my question: is it feasible to raise a pig or two in an indoor/outdoor with access to a grass paddock? Is is reasonable to expect that I can keep them contained? My thought was that I could string electric wire at ear height…

    Thanks for your expertise!

  29. Rosalyn,

    You should be able to fence the pigs in fine. How hard you have to fence depends on the drive of the animals, the value of what is outside the fence and the risks of harm if animals get out. Questions to ask are, how close are your neighbors and how do they feel about pigs in their garden and lawn? How close are roads and how busy (frequent & fast) is the traffic. What natural barriers exist? Is everything the animal wants inside the pasture? Are there predators that could scare the animal out of the pasture? You're on the right track. Fence well and appropriately. Here are some more articles about fencing you may find useful.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  30. Pam Smyth says:

    let me start by saying THANK YOU for this site, what a wealth of information! we plan to start pigs this spring, so the castrate or not information is very timely, we “won” a pig 2 years ago, just had to pay for processing, and it tasted well…off? my Mom said it was boar taint she remembered from her childhood.
    we castrate out buck kids (goats) that go for pets, but for meat they are usually buchered before it becomes a problem.
    thank you again, I plan to make your site a regular stop!
    Pam, living on a fauxfarm in michigan.
    http://www.finnsoap.com

  31. Pam,

    Be sure to read the other articles I’ve written on boar taint. There are many factors including whether you can taste it, the breed of the boar, the age of the boar, exposure of the boar to females in heat, how the boar was raised (management style: pasture vs penned vs stalled), what the boar ate, etc. When you are raising the pigs yourself you can bias these factors in your favor away from boar taint. However, if one started with a tainty line of boars and one could taste boar taint then castration would be the best solution. There is no single answer but rather it is situational. We purposely bred, manage and feed away from the boar taint factors.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  32. Thanks Walter,

    That was interesting.
    I had wild boar once, loved the taste, but doubt anyone was cutting them.

  33. Kat says:

    Thanks for your article on whether or not to castrate. I stumbled on your site while researching the best weight to butcher. We raise mulefooted hogs (along with Highland cattle) and have made it our goal to raise all our food animals in optimum cradle-to-grave conditions–clean water, plenty of room for foraging/roaming, good food and feed, hands on gentling, etc.
    We had a friend who worked at a local meat processing plant that uncut male hogs/pigs can make the meat taste and the air smell like urine. It makes more sense to butcher early if you don't plan to use the young male for breeding. Thanks again…I look forward to reading more of your blog articles.

  34. Jeff Marchand says:

    I checked with a local butcher to see if there were any regulations in Ontario preventing the processing of intact boars. We love our regulations here and I did nt want to end up with a whole bunch of young boars that I could not have processed. He says there was none and said that if I kept them away from females and butchered them at market size that they would likely be free of taint. That sounded awefully familiar, I wonder where I heard that before?

    • *grin* Well, Archie, the pig farmer we got our original boar from said the same thing long ago and he had been doing it for over 30 years at that point. Must be this is something some people know and others missed. I strongly suspect the fear of loss of meat carries a lot of risk aversion which makes people cautious if they don’t know the source of their genetics, how to avoid the problem, etc. Boar taint is real in a small percentage of boars. Even in some sows. I’m glad we don’t have it and hope you are fortunate too.

  35. Jeff Marchand says:

    Maybe I am getting a head of myself, planning the sale of lots of young boars, because yesterday one of my 3 11-month old gilts had her period, so obviously she is nt pregnant. I have my doubts whether her 2 sisters are either. I have seen my 10 month old boar mount them but Ive never seen any thrusting or penetration on his part. I am thinking of renting some piggy porno to show him what he needs to do!

    When do your young boars start producing?
    The breeder I got him from says his brothers have already bred sows.
    Any advice? I dont want to bring in another boar from another farm but at some point if he is nt doing his job he is going to the slaughter house.

    How long would you give him top start breeding? until his first birthday?

    • I would expect breeding by 10 months of age, that is when they hit their stride in sperm production. I would expect the gilts to have their first litter by a year of age, maybe a couple of months later. Do note that this varies somewhat with breed but the farmer you got them from is a good comparison since he has the same.

  36. hunter chick says:

    I hunt wild boar and never experienced the taint that some talk about. It smells bad cleaning it but then again I grill the majority of my meat so it is only the the house while it is being stored. : ) eat up yummy

  37. Randy says:

    Nice blog! We just ventured into hog farming.. Bought seven boars and four gilts. Wish I would’ve read your blog before yesterday… We ear tagged our stock, which was not peaceful but wasn’t too bad. Cutting, however, was a different story. To say the farmers find no fun in this would be a gross understatement. Made me feel horrible just imagining their pain… And I’d like to see the process used for holding a 50lb boar… I was holding ours while they were cut, and at 35-40 lbs they were exhausting me. Also got bit two or three times( can’t blame them!) I’m a 6′ tall , 280lb stout guy! 5 hogs wore me out… Good workout I guess, but I think I’ll pass next time around.

  38. Karen says:

    Thanks for your information. It’s time to change breeding stock here, so I was looking for advice with what to do with my 5 yr old boar at slaughter. I was planning to try spicy sausage to see if that would cover the expected taint. Now I think I’ll hedge my bets and build him a far away pen for the next month. Thanks!

  39. scott p. says:

    hey walter, just got a 90 pound boar pot bellied pig from an auction, he was cheap, was wanting to grind him into sausage…all the “know it all’s” keep telling me he will have to be castrated or i won’t be able to eat the meat. so your article was very informative to me..got a few questions for you though. 1. have you ever eaten any pot bellied hog meat? 2. do you have a recipe with measurements for sausage? how much salt red and black pepper and sage? lean meat? and fat? do you use when grinding sausage yourself?

    • I’ve never dealt with Pot Bellied pigs. I have heard that they can be good eating but tend to be toward lard. Other people have said they’re grizzly.

      On the castration, it is an unknown since I don’t know that breed. Things you can do to minimize the issue are: 1) graze him on pasture/hay + dairy for a month avoiding soy/corn; 2) clean living (e.g., pasture instead of pen) for that month; 3) keeping him away from females; 4) feeding chicory. All of these are things that may help even a line that has taint. You could also take a biopsy from his back fat and fry that up to pre-taste him. If he is tainty then making spicy sausage is one solution that has been done traditionally.

      For sausage recipes I would highly recommend getting one of the various sausage books. They’re filled with recipes and you’ll have enough meat from him to try a bunch of them. Here’s a search pattern. I have several of the Marianski books and like them.

      Let me know how he tastes and enjoy!

  40. Jeff Marchand says:

    Walter,

    I want my next litters to be born when the weather is nice like in late April /early May, so I will be keeping my sows separate from the boar until mid January. They are in separate paddocks that are kitty corner to each other behind electric fence. This years weaned piglets , including uncut boarlings are in with the sows. They were born in early July. So they can be no more than 5 months old when she conceived.

    I had a sow butchered the other day and to my surprise she was pregnant by the size of the fetuses I’d guess about a week into her gestation. If the boar is the father I would have expected to find him with his girls electric fence be damn or the other way around. Never did. Unless the visiting lover scooted back home after having their fun, but I doubt that. They would have stayed put. So that leaves me to think one of boarlings is sexually precious and bred his mamma.

    What do you think? Could a 5 month old do the deed? Could all his sisters be preggers? I hope not.

  41. Pingback: Herm

  42. george kelly wages says:

    I read these posts before. and was thinking of trying this no cutting of boars. I reread again today. do you have any more news to add or updates. I hate cutting little piggys. My wife went on strike, as all friend wont return calls. I want to call the Vet and ask if we could make a deal on doing 25 little boys by putting them to sleep for the operation. I have Large Blacks and the boars are wanting to breed at 4 &5 months old. Even just young males together are riding each other. So tell me again I should try moving my sow to a far field and keep the boars by themselves near the barns and pens. when you kill a pig to butcher, theres no noise,. theres no suffering. But when you cut them little boys the whole farm goes ballistic. dog are barking, sows are charging anything in sight. Boars are woffin. and Iam stressed. I done 100s in my life and its always the same. Its a big investment to chance, but I would like to try. So lets have more input while I ponder.

    • We continue to not castrate as we do not find it to be necessary with our genetics, management and feed. Taint is real and can be caused by a bad combination of those factors. The only sure way to know about taint is to test the pigs. We did this initially by not castrating a group of boars and then taste testing them at progressively older ages one month apart. Now I have another method you might want to try which is to do a biopsy – you take a small bite of the pig and see how it is. That is described in the article “Have Your Pig and Eat It Too.

      Note that taint is caused by a number of different factors including genetics, feed and management. Regarding genetics, the Red Duroc is the number one pig that I have heard to be tainted but not all Duroc pigs are tainted from the reports I’ve gotten from people. One researcher told me that the lighter colored pigs like the Yorkshire have the least taint. He also mentioned that corn/soy based commercial feed is strongly implicated in taint and that diets high in fiber tend to produce pigs that have low or no taint. Thus a pasture/hay diet is preferable to the commercial hog feed. On management, pigs kept in pens tend to taint more due to the skatole type taint since they are eating, breathing and always in their own feces. On the other hand, pigs kept on pasture do not have this problem. Again, another reason to pasture. By the way, woods and brush counts as pasture for this purpose. Taint is sometimes blamed for poor slaughter methods (stress taint), poor bleed out (blood flavor), poor chilling (meat rot) and poor cutting (bone rot & poor hygiene) so sometimes it isn’t a matter of castration but of proper handling and procedure.

  43. leslie says:

    We have steered our beef in the past but in our experience, it slowed the growth, now we do not bother, the meat is just as good and the animal does grow faster when left alone. It just seems like extra work, now that I have tried it both ways. I have never had to cut pigs, we are just starting with pigs, so I am nervous about the uncut male “taint”, I think I will probably go by customer request.I do not even know how to charge per pound yet, so I still have some research to do.

  44. Peter says:

    Andrew Zimmern has been doing “Bizarre Foods America” and had a guy on a couple weeks ago on the “iowa” episode who did this. Wish I could remember what variety of pig the farmer was raising….anyways the first thing I thought was “geez, Walter could probably tell these guys chapter and verse why NOT to do it. ” :-)

  45. Jami says:

    What a great blog! I found this while researching what to do with our 4 month old barrow that we started noticing a bump on one side of his backend. Looks like one testicle was missed. He is a Yorkshire and is larger than the other two barrows that we bought. He seems to be about 75 lbs and up now. Should we wait and have him butchered at the same time as the other two or take him now. I would hate to lose the meat. He is in a pen with some pasture, lots of rooting and commercial feed and corn. Thanks for your help. This is our first attempt at raising hogs for meat and your blogs have been so helpful!

    • It is very possible, even likely, that he’ll have no taint since most pigs don’t and Yorkshire are thought to have less than most. See how to do the biopsy to test. Taint rarely shows before puberty. But, with an untested combination of genetics, management and feed there is the risk of taint. At 75 lbs he is still small. Even as a roaster pig I would grow him some more.

      As a rule of thumb, boars grow about 10% faster than barrows who grow about 10% faster than gilts and boars are more efficient at turning feed into meat. This may explain the growth difference.

  46. Michael Givan says:

    Here is a archived copy of that missing link for you, Walter: https://web.archive.org/web/20030429081806/http://www.cnpsa.embrapa.br/pork/anais00cv_favero_en.pdf

    Once again, amazing site and loving to read through it.

  47. Jacob Gjesdahl says:

    I keep going back and forth on this. Seperating the boarlings and gilts is extra work (a whole new set of housing, wallows, fencing, etc), and I don’t want to castrate, but I just don’t want pregnant gilts going to slaughter. I’m experimenting with a high fiber diet, so the pigs could easily be 7 months at slaughter weight. Plus some can breed at 5 months. I’m toying with the idea of an injected sterilization. You can read about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boar_taint

    It says you can get sterilized if you accidentally inject yourself, which is worrisome, since I haven’t had kids yet :-/

    Maybe a thick leather jacket and gloves?

    • Yes, there’s an injectable castration method which wrote about in Tainted Big Pharma. It has already caused sterilization of people by accident when they got injected during applications. There is also the question of if you eat the meat will you get sterilized. Based on the chemical method of the injectable I see this as a significant risk. I would not eat it nor would I feed it to my children or customers.

      • Jacob Gjesdahl says:

        So how do you keep your gilts from getting pregnant then if you don’t seperate out your herd?

        • Almost all gilts don’t get pregnant until eight months of age and we slaughter them typically at six to seven months of age so they don’t get pregnant. We do run multiple herds and some are segregated as needed to control genetics.

          • Jacob Gjesdahl says:

            But there are some “lolitas” as you call them which could pose arisk – do you just accept that you’ll get some pregnant gilts going to slaughter?

          • I’m very good at spotting if a gilt is pregnant or not. If I get a Lolita I give her a chance to farrow. Mouse was an example – she turned out to be an excellent sow who produced many, many litters of fine piglets.

  48. Jacob Gjesdahl says:

    Intriguing. Well thanks for the info. Yet again, you and your site are one of the best resources for raising pigs outside of the normal confinement, corn/soy system.

  49. Rachael Cameron says:

    Thank you. Question answered. I’ll not be castrating my pigs. If people don’t like it they can buy elsewhere. I’ll be sharing this page in hopes that people will take on this method of thinking.

  50. Della says:

    At this very moment our trap box is in place to catch up the little boars and carry out the dreaded neutering procedure. I once let the boars go to 5 months old without castration and slaughtered early and indeed there was no problem with that meat except that they were still really too small to send off, I would have raised longer if I wasn’t afraid of ending up with a lot of boar taint and if they weren’t being such a pain in the neck to the girls. I did that then after reading some of your other posts, this was a few years back. I’m thinking of now just separating the boys out that I have yet with the sows and raising them away from the girls to full grown status before sending them to the butcher, but you know how darned nervous that makes me? I hate gambling. Not a gambler. LOL. Thanks for your website.

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