Hi-Tech vs Boar Taint

For an update on this topic see the article Have Your Pig and Eat It Too.

Big’Un has ’em.

That is Big’Un, one of our breeding boars. This photo gives no perspective as there is nothing to compare him with but take my word for it, he’s big. He is a fast grower, long, friendly and throws great piglets. He is primarily Yorkshire with a pinch of some other breeds. He is not castrated – and that is not just because he’s a breeding boar. So far I have not tasted him so I don’t know if boar taint is an issue with him. None of his brothers or sons had boar taint so I suspect it is a non-issue with him as well.

I don’t like doing castration. It isn’t a fun process for me or the pigs. The question was, “Is castration necessary?” After much literature research on the topic as well as eating progressively older and older boars I’ve come to the conclusion that routine castration is not necessary at least for our pigs and possibly not for most pigs. Recently there was an article in the Wall Street Journal about castration of pigs. Unfortunately it read like an advertisement for high tech sex selection and a new vaccine for immuno-castration – an injection that would be required for every single male pig for all of eternity if you follow their logic. I for one don’t want to be dependent on some big corporation for my breeding herd.

There is a myth that boars will taste bad and the word for the taste is boar taint. There is a scientific basis for this in some pigs. In fact, it can even show up in female pigs (gilts & sows). Boar taint, when present, is caused by two chemicals, skatole and androstenone. Skatole is formed in the intestines and androstenone is formed in the gonads and the adrenal glands. Research shows that the vast majority of market age pigs, about six months, don’t have boar taint because they are too young in addition to possibly not being high taint even at older ages (pers. obs.). Perhaps there are some breeds of pigs that do develop boar taint early enough to be an issue but thankfully ours don’t.

There is a simple test for taint – fry up a piece of meat and smell it. Most people, especially women, can smell it. For the more analytically inclined there are complete laboratory analysis’s that will tell you how much of the taint chemicals are in a line of pigs. I’ll admit that when we began this research I had trepidation, I had been warned that boars tasted and smelled so bad it would make the house uninhabitable if I cooked any boar meat. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. I do admit to timidly frying up a tiny piece of fat and meat the first time. I started with a young boar – but there was no taint. Would there be in an older boar? No, again and again as we taste tested progressively older boars. The oldest to date has been well over a year and was kept with breeding females, sows, for the ultimate test. At this point a very large sampling of people have eaten meat from our intact pigs and declared it delicious so I’m very confident of the taste.

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Since I don’t like castrating and I haven’t found boar taint in our pigs I’ve been working to educate people who buy piglets and meat from us that castration is not routinely necessary. Most people are open minded about it. After tasting the meat from our pigs or reading the articles I’ve written about our experiences (“To Cut or Not” and “Boar Meat“) they realize they can’t tell the difference between boars (non-castrated males), barrows (castrated males) and gilts (females). Of course, if you had a line of pigs that was full of boar taint then your results would be different. Personally I would change breeds or actively work at breeding away from the taint. As much as I dislike the idea of government attempts to micromanage our lives I can see a time down the road where routine castration is likely to be banned. It is already happening in Norway.

Castration can also cause needless deaths. If a piglet has a hidden hernia then when it is castrated the piglet’s intestines may shoot out of the cut in the scrotum resulting in extreme pain and death, especially if the intestines are cut during the castration. Even with the best of techniques this is not possible to avoid 100%. There is also the chance of infection – pigs are not good about keeping bandages on or keeping their cuts clean – the first thing they want to do after being castrated is rub the wound on the ground which could lead to infection requiring antibiotics for treatment – something one tries to avoid in the meat.

There are very significant advantages to not castrating, besides the avoidance of the unpleasantness, infection and death. Boar pigs, on average, grow faster and leaner than barrows or gilts. Boars put on more muscle and are more efficient and economical to raise. Castrating them sets them back several days as they recover from the castration and loses these advantages.

Another rationalization given for castration is temperament – people claim that boars are inherently dangerous. This has not been our experience. We see about the same aggression in all three groups, boars, barrows and gilts. Most importantly, breeders need to select for temperament. I won’t keep an aggressive animal – they go to the butcher, not the breeding herd. It is just too dangerous to breed ill tempered 200 to 800 lb animals. The result is that with a little section you can have well mannered livestock which means less danger for you.

I do have to question the logic of maintaining a breed that requires routine mutilation when there is a better way. Some suggest that the ‘need’ is more myth than fact and better management practices eliminate the boar taint. If one had pigs that were high in boar taint then a good solution would be to either change breeds or simply select toward pigs that don’t have the taint while retaining the rest of the characteristics you want to keep. Selective breeding over a few generation should help greatly. But there are plenty of breeds of pigs that don’t have the ‘boar taint’ so one can start ahead of the game with one of them. Our pigs are primarily the large white Yorkshire but they have a bit of the Hampshire, Berkshire, Tamworth and probably some other breeds mixed in – genuine all American pigs.

Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal article suggests we don’t need is a new vaccine against boar taint. That’s just a money making program for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that doesn’t really solve the problem. I don’t like the idea of injecting one more chemical into our food supply. We don’t use antibiotic feeds or hormones in the meat we raise – immuno-castration from Pfizer would sort of defeat our Naturally Grown certification.

Another high tech non-solution that I’ve heard proposed is using Artificial Insemination coupled with sex selection of the offspring to simply not have boars. I’m not incline to do this either for the simple reasons that 1) it makes the whole process more complicated and expensive; 2) most sex selection methods are only partially effective but most of all 3) even if it did work inexpensively it would turn over genetic control to some third party rather than our having control over our own breeding boars and replacement stock. That last thing in the world I want is more control of my life by corporations – they have one goal, suck the money out of my pockets at minimal expense to themselves.

We also don’t need genetic engineering, or patenting of taintless pigs as Monstersanto would be likely to do. Turning over control of our food supply to the likes of them through patents on life is one of the black marks on our current times. These high-tech ‘non-solutions’ are unsustainable and expensive approaches to a non-problem. Beware the marketer who sells you a solution for a problem you don’t have.

Castration is a questionable practice for most pigs, and perhaps other animals as well. Just because you’re going to eat someone doesn’t mean you need to make them miserable. In fact, they’ll taste better if they’re not stressed. It’s a wholesome, all natural fact – happy meals taste better.

For an update on this topic see the article Have Your Pig and Eat It Too.

Sunday-Monday Outdoors: 80°F/56°F Mostly Sunny, 1″ Rain
Farm House: 76°F/59°F Econoline body work
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/68°F Dog house ceiling tests, sink tests

Update: The problem of accidental injection for men is quite serious and should not be dismissed so lightly. Two injections are not required to have a problem.

Sterility can occur from the first injection – permanent or temporary. Subsequent injections make it worse such that they recommend if you get injected once that you have nothing to do with the vaccine in the future. This is not a case of it taking two injections to make you sterile. One injection can do that. With each injection the effects get worse, higher risk.

Note that this effects both men and women. It does not just produce sterility but may affect secondary sexual characteristics. e.g., you could lose muscle mass (get weaker) and lose other male characteristics. Why risk it?

“People who get injected with the vaccine can become sterilised according to an EU report:“Accidental self- injection may produce similar effects in people to those seen in pigs. The risk of these effects is greater after a second or subsequent accidental injection than after a first injection.“[7] The manufacturer’s web site further expands on this: “accidental self-injection may produce similar effects in people to those seen in pigs. These may include a temporary reduction in sexual hormones and reproductive functions in both men and women and an adverse effect on pregnancy. The risk of these effects will be greater after a second or subsequent accidental injection than after a first injection. The product label advises anyone who has received an accidental self-injection to seek medical attention immediately and not to use the product in the future.“[8]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boar_taint

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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30 Responses to Hi-Tech vs Boar Taint

  1. Brian says:

    Well youve done it,I will try not castrating our next boar! I dont keep them for more than a yearHe is there to breed 2 guilts and then he’s off to the freezer. I have been paying a vet to come, anestitze him and do the surgery, That sets me back a 100 bucks i like yourself am sick of government interfearing with our everyday lives. If only they would do what they are supposed to do,Print money and protect our boarders and let us take care of our selves>

  2. Anonymous says:

    Heres an intersting article over on the pigsite……

    heavy pigs

    and i saw this one too….

    efficient production

    theyre saying separate sexes and dont castrate to get efficint production and humaneness to.

  3. Interesting articles. I note in the charts of data that they point out that intact boars grow faster, larger and more efficient than castrated barrows. That’s our finding too. It’s not just more humane, it makes more economic sense to move away from castration. Thanks for the links.

  4. Woody says:

    I believe castration became more of a common practice in confined herds. I have seen altered pigs that were just as aggressive as boars so I’m not convinced that it does any good for ease of handling herds. Boys will be boys..cut or not.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was told by an old timer that the taint is caused by letting the outside of the hide touch the meat and that it was an excuse made by butchers who didnt do the job right. He told me that if you skin the pig, goat, sheep, or cow right then it dont taint at all.

  6. jojo says:

    interesting read walter. i’m curious how do you breed the boar taint out? if you have killed that boar, he can’t breed anymore. what if you slaughter a boar and come to find out he has no boar taint? this might be a stupid question.. :)

  7. Jojo, that’s a very reasonable question. Perhaps the most direct way to do it is to do a biopsy on the boar so you eat some non-vital part of him including some fat. If he tastes good then breed him. If he doesn’t then cull him to sausage where the taint is masked by spices, a traditional use, or to dog food if he’s too strongly flavored.

    Alternatively, taste his sons. If they are tainted then cull him and test that meat to gain more insight.

    Another way is to test some of the brothers in a group and then cull the whole group if they are tainted but keep the best if they aren’t tainted.

    These latter two tests are what we’ve been doing. Over generations that should give improvement. This is the same technique long used to improve the meat, e.g., loin size, and taste of livestock.

    A more modern way is to do blood tests on the boar for the chemicals that create boar taint. This is similar to the modern technique of ultra-sounding for loin depth.

    An even more modern way would be to test the DNA once the markers are known. A bit too expensive for me.

    All of this presupposes that the issue is genetic. Evidence suggests that in some lines this is the case. There is also evidence that a large part of the boar taint is caused by feed and handling (confinement) conditions so all of that should be addressed.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  8. Jason Weir says:

    It was interesting to read your article on castration. This topic had just come up at a Sunday family dinner. We raise our own pigs every year and on a couple different occasions there was meat that my Father would simply not eat because it smelt like a boar. No one else in the family could detect the smell and the rest of us thought the meat tasted great.

    This year we raised 2 hogs for our local Old Home Day Celebration (pig roast) one of them was a Barrow and the other a Boar. They were 6 months old when we slaughtered them. While we were cutting them up after they came off the rotisserie my cousins 14 yr old daughter grabbed a piece of the tenderloin and immediately said to me that this one was a boar. This was the first time she had seen either animal and had no idea the sex of either one.

    She was correct as I had kept track of which was which for this very reason. None of the rest of us (6-8 people) could tell any difference between the 2 animals from a taste or smell perspective.

    After talking about this with her father, he indicated that she can tell the difference when buying pork from the supermarket. This makes me wonder if it is not an individual sense thing.

    As for me the jury is still out on the subject and the only “different” tasting pork I’ve ever had was from a pig I didn’t get bled out right, it still tasted better than store bought.

    As I buy my piglets each spring and the price is the same either way, I’ll probably continue to raise guilts or barrows but it was interesting to hear a different perspective..

    Thanks,
    Jason Weir
    Chichester, NH

  9. Anonymous says:

    We just bought a Sow with 6 week old piglets. We don’t yet know how many of the piglets are male, and it is interesting to think we don’t have to castrate them. I would prefer not to, My husband and sons are not castrated!!!, we were told we had to do it. Kathie

  10. Kathie,

    Keep in mind that until you’ve tested intact (uncastrated) boars at slaughter age you won’t know if the castration is necessary or not. We did gradual testing with older and older intact boars to find out if we had the taint genetics. For example, white pigs like the Yorkshires are generally low in taint whereas dark Duroc pigs are supposed to be high in taint from what I’ve heard and read.

    Additionally, there is much you can do with your pig management practices to reduce the likelihood of taint. Keeping them out on pasture instead of in pens helps, feeding pasture/hay helps, limiting the exposure to females in heat helps, etc.

    Good luck and have fun with your new pigs!

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  11. Angelo says:

    Nice article. My wife and I sold off three piglets to a another farm. When they heard we were not going to castrate our pigs their attitude towards us became fairly unfriendly. I tried dropping your name in the conversation to lend some credibility to why it wasn’t neccessary but it fell on deaf ears. Since this it my first uncut batch I’m a little nervous but deep down I feel it’s the right way to go. I’ll let you know if they turn out gormet or hot sausage. Thx again.

  12. Angelo, do keep in mind that boar taint is real. There do exist some boars who have it. In fact, there are even some sows that have the taint. Most pigs don’t have it at slaughter age. The trick is to test – simple smelling works if you can detect it – in order to determine if your line of pigs have it or not. Once you have established your pig genetics are safe from taint then you are okay not castrating as long as you don’t introduce new genetics – e.g., a closed herd – which can be done for a very long time.

    In addition to the genetics there is also feed (high fiber helps) and management (pasturing is better than confinement) factors.

    There is still a lot of myth around taint and people fear it. We can breed it out and people will in time get educated about the real issues.

  13. Karen says:

    Boar taint does exist. It’s cause is a mystery to me. I must be super sensitive to the smell and taste. I lived in England 30 years ago and never had a problem with this before. We moved back to England three years ago and I can honestly say that it’s in more pork than before. The odor is so strong that I cannot be in the same room while it’s cooking. We open doors and windows and have the vent on as well. I have sworn off pork for the duration of the time we have left in England. I look forward to moving back to the US, where I’ve never had this problem before. I don’t always smell the boar taint before the meat is cooked. I’d love to know how to test for it before you buy it.

    • Boar taint definitely exists. It just isn’t in most pigs. The research has shown it to be rare. Perhaps you have a near by farm that has a line of pigs that is high in the taint. Taint can also show up in barrows and sows and sometimes bad butchering gets blamed for it. Real boar taint is caused by two different chemicals. One is produced by the testes but is also produced by the adrenal glands over the kidneys and that can happen in the barrows and sows. The other is caused by skatole which is produced by bacteria in the intestines and primarily is a problem with intensively raised penned pigs who are in their own manure all the time. Pasturing and a high fiber diet fixes that.

      As to testing before you cook, if you’re sensitive to it (about 75% of people are) then smell the meat before you buy and you may be able to detect it, especially in the fat.

  14. Lindsay says:

    Well, we attempted to castrate our boars today. It didn’t go as expected so we decided that instead of putting them through it again, we would try to not castrate them. If nothing else, we’d have two hogs worth of meat for the dogs to eat from for the year. I’m a little nervous, but we practice good management (pasture, high-fiber diet, high quality feed, low stress), and we have a heritage breed, so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to avoid taint and never have to put our pigs through that again. Thanks for bringing a fresh perspective to it.

  15. Lindsay says:

    Well, we did it. We didn’t even have the *best* quality stock, but we had heritage breed hogs (herefords), we pastured them for most of their life, and did all the suggestions you gave on your site. We had our big boy butchered last week and got our first taste of bacon this morning. It is DE-LICIOUS! No hint of anything off, just yummy pork. We have one more boar that will be going next week to meet his fate and a gilt once we’re sure she’s not pregnant (hazard of not castrating and not having enough room to separate them, I guess). I’m beyond thrilled that I found your site and committed to not castrating my boys. I can’t wait to tell the ‘experts’ who told us we were crazy just how this whole thing turned out. Thanks again for a refreshing take on farming!

    • Congratulations, Lindsay, on your tasty home raised pork. It is a great feeling to know where your food has come from, to have provided the animals with good lives and to reap the harvest of your work. Keep on keeping!

  16. Beth says:

    I’ve finally experienced what might be boar taint. Slaughtered a 3-year-old, 300-lb pot belly/big pig cross uncut boar. (Not sure what the “big” part of his genetics was.) It was a swift kill (head shot.) Cooking the fat produced an aroma I can only describe as “rich pee.” It filled the house. Tasted mildly acceptable, but once that smell was in the nose, it was hard not to find that taste in the grease. Maybe a pb thing? He was not hung for very long, maybe a few days in the chiller. (I was donating him to friends who arranged for a local butcher to do the cuts, so had no control over hang-time, though I did advise extending it as much as possible.)
    I received some pork chops a few days ago and look forward to cooking them *outside* to see if the meat carries that unique aroma/flavor. (I’m undecided if it is really a flavor or merely an aroma.) Also undecided about mentioning my experience to my friends – if they can’t detect it, all the better for them!

  17. Nicole says:

    After reading your blog, we tried our first boar; a 7 month old purebred Berkshire. Oh, there was definitely boar taint!! It smells like chemicals while cooking, but I cannot taste the difference (only smell). However, the smell is really bad. We barbecue the meat outside, now.

    He was fed locally grown rice (no GMO’s) and organic soy meal, and the basic, occasional leftovers. He shared his area with 2 female pigs and they had approximately a 50ft x 250ft area with pasture area. They never really ate their grass, they plowed it all up, little stinkers.

    We now have his offspring and likely to castrate, though we really did not want to go this route. Anyhow, thought I would add to your information to see if maybe anyone can find a common theme.

    • That does sound like taint. Don’t breed him! Of course. :) His offspring are more likely to carry the taint so I would cull away from that gene line and castrate in the mean time.

      I have read that soy and also corn diets may be linked to taint. I suspect the issue is low fiber. One researcher is very clear that high fiber helps combat the taint in pigs that have an issue with it.

      Penning or dry lot as opposed to managed rotational pasturing is supposed to be a factor too in the secondary taint from skatole.

      Some people say that having a boar with a female worsens it while separating for the last month helps.

  18. Mariah says:

    Hi, interesting post and comments, thanks for the information! We have been raising some pigs in the back yard and just kept a male and female and let them breed. We are learning as we go. It was a wonderful experience to get piglets the natural way. They were born out in the pasture under some branches the sow gathered together. After two litters we decided the boar was too expensive to keep feeding and we want to try the AI way. Do you have any tips on breeding away from boar taint that way? When we took the boar to the butcher we had no idea that the meat would come back as tainted as it was – cannot even stand the smell of it when it is cooking, but it tastes fine, just a trace of taste to it. He was a big black Berkshire, not a purebred either. Now we have a young boar coming up on a year and some younger males as well and I am scared their meat will be as tainted, I really do not want to pay to process meat that comes back smelling like that. Just wanted to share our experience. Ps. They eat scraps and a soy based organic hog mix. Also have several acres of woods to roam.

    • I do not have any experience with AI but have both read and heard from people who do it that it is very easy with pigs. The hardest part is getting the sperm and timing it with the sow’s cycle which is just a matter of record keeping. When I’ve timed our sows they were very regular. For one sow I think you are right that the cost of keeping the boar is probably too high. One nice thing about AI is that you’ll be able to change boars with each litter.

      For breeding away from boar taint it is important to understand that it is caused by three factors: genetics, management and feed. On the genetics a researcher on this topic told me that the lighter colored pigs are generally taint free and the that the worst problem comes from the Red Duroc. That said, I have had some people say that they had Red Duroc free of taint. They might be avoiding taint because they were pasturing (good management) and not feeding a corn/soy diet (thus not a low fiber diet).

      Speaking of diet, that same researcher told me that pigs that are on low fiber diets and particularly eating corn soy are more likely to have problems with taint.

      Another thing I’ve read about is that when pigs are on dry lots, pens or confinement they end up breathing their manure which then puts the smell into their fat which gives the skatole based taint flavor.

      I have heard several people with Berkshires report not having taint and I taste tested our purebred Berkshire boar Spitz and he has no taint. However, a line within the breed could have taint.

      What we did with our herd initially was to gradually test boars of older and older ages to check for taint. You can do the biopsy method described in the link above about taste testing to shorten this but ultimately you must taste the pig entire.

      Taint is real, just rare, especially if you take some steps to avoid it through genetic selection (which may take testing), high fiber feed and other diet issues such as avoiding high corn/soy diets and management (e.g., out on pasture).

      Good luck and persistence.

  19. Galli the Greek says:

    It is really refression to see someone refuting the system and doing things in a better way in being more humane. Keep up the good work!

  20. Brian says:

    In New Zealand , most , if not all, of the male beef raised is not castrated. Just thought this was an interesting tie in to this discussion. They also do not refrigerate their eggs, either in the store or in the home. Interesting the differences between countries.

    • It is interesting although I’m not sure if it is really a country difference. In our home we don’t refrigerate eggs. It would be a waste of refrigeration space. Same for butter and a lot of other things I have found other people in more urban areas refrigerate a lot more than people in rural areas. But I think you are right that the idea is become pervasive that everything has to get refrigerated. Unfortunate. Refrigeration and electric companies love it. :}

  21. Heather says:

    Hi Walter – we are giving it a go with not castrating two of our males and all will be ready for slaughter in one week (they just hit 6 months old today). We have found the boars mounting the gilts the last couple of weeks. The gilts seem “ready” so we are a little worried about pregnancy. I see you rotate your sows with boars and keep multiple ages together. Do you ever have a problem with breeding that you don’t want to happen? Thanks and thanks for all of the information you share!!

    • The gilts do not tend to actually take until their eight months old although there may be a lot of sex play prior to that. Occasionally we get a Lolita who gets pregnant as early as six months but that is rare. There is no harm in an early pregnancy and one of our best, and biggest, sows (“Mouse“) was a Lolita but grew to a very large size and gave us many fine litters over her long life. We tend to take pigs to market younger than the age of first conception and I am quite good at spotting pregnancy so I do not worry about it.

      I recently read research that talked about how this sex play prior to mating is actually important for development of the animals and that those who are raised in mixed sex groups are better than those raised in same sex dormitories.

  22. Carlos Afonso says:

    Hello.
    Just In Regard To Boar Tainted I Have In Fact Don The Experience. I Have A Few Pigs And Last Year I Slaughter 2 Boars Witch Were About 13 Months Old, And In Fact The Meat Was Not So Pleasant. For This Year I Have Affirmatively Castrated The Ones I Have. Is Not Wort The Risk.

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