Have Your Pig and Eat It Too

Biopsy Test Kit for Biting Big Boars's Backs
Biopsy Tool and a Little Bit(e) of a Big Boar

Warning: This is a big topic. You can skim this article to get the basics. For more depth, read the comments with questions and answers. For even more, click through to the linked articles. Take small bites and don’t get overwhelmed.

Get in some new boars and one’s considerations go to an old story…

There was this city fellow driving out in the country who passed a farm where he sees an old man sitting out on the porch with a three legged pig hopping around in the yard. The fellow backs up and pulls into the driveway to investigate.

Getting out he goes up to the farmer and says, “Good morning, sir. I couldn’t help but notice your pig only has three legs. What happened to his other leg? Did he get attacked by coyotes, a gator or fall in a leg trap?”

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“And good morning to you young fella” replies the farmer, “no, it wasn’t anything like that. You see this pig is a very fine pig. Once my wife was cooking bacon and she stepped out of the kitchen. The grease caught on fire. No one in the house knew about it but the pig and he saved me, my wife and my three kids.”

“That’s amazing sir, but why does that pig only have three legs?” asked the man.

“Then there was that time the pig saw a big flood coming and we didn’t. The pig ran into the house and dragged us out up on the hill. If it weren’t for that pig we would all be dead.”

“Well, that is quite the miracle but how come that pig only has 3 legs?” the man said rather annoyed at all this dissembling.

“Well,” said the farmer, “with a pig that special… you can’t eat him all at once.”

It’s an amusing story but sometimes you really do want to have your pig and eat it too. This issue comes up with breeder pigs. Especially when bringing in new genetics in to the herd since I don’t want to bring in boar taint.

In the past I did my taste testing post slaughter by eating progressively older boars to test them for taint but that makes it rather hard to then breed the pigs. That method isn’t going to work with the new Berkshire breeder boar Spitz who we aquired this month. I don’t want to slaughter him to taste him nor do I want to take the two years that we did to prove out the genetics in the past by tasting the offspring.

Because the taint chemicals are alcohol and fat soluble milk and liquor are a method that could be tried to remove the smell from tainted meat.

So how to do it? How to have your pig and eat it too? I suggested that I simply take a small bite and see what he tasted like. I got some laughed and comments that Spitz might object to that. But, I had a plan. A man with a plan I am.

“I’m not sure whether to admire you, laugh hysterically, or be horrified. This is pure genius. Also, thanks for the informative article. I didn’t realize there were multiple kinds [of taint].” -K. Kaspar 20170826

With wildlife, biologists routinely take small biopsies. There are special tools made for doing just this. I bought a set and a biopsying I went. Ironically, I got my biopsy tools from a tattoo, body art and piercing store. These are medical, human grade, stainless steel tools so I figured they would work well enough for the boars.[1]


Interesting Taint Factoids:

Most boars don’t have taint at market age.
Taint is not found in a most pig breed lines.
Lighter colored pig breeds are less likely to have taint.
Some research suggests Red Duroc has a high incidence of taint.
There is a Pacific Island breed where even females have ‘boar’ taint.[1]
Taint is genetic, that is to say heritable.[2]
Only about 75% of people can smell taint.
Statistically women can smell taint a little more than men
but some women can’t just as some men can’t smell taint.
There are many kinds of taint besides ‘boar’ taint including:
stress taint, blood taint and rot from improper handling of the meat.
True boar taint is caused primarily by two chemicals stored in fat:
Skatole produced in the small intestines and smells like manure3
Androstenone produced in testes & adrenal glands and smells like urine or sweat.3
There are several other less common chemical taints like indole.
Stress at slaughter can cause taint that is often confused with boar taint.
Improper bleed out causes blood taint – often confused with boar taint.
Improper carcass chilling causes taint – ibid.
Confinement raising increases the odds of skatole based taint.
Being around a sow in heat does not cause taint.
High corn/soy diets increase the odds of taint.
High fiber diets reduce the odds of taint.
Boars grow about 10% faster than barrows and are better at converting feed into meat.3
Barrows (castrated males) grow about 10% faster than gilt pigs.
Gilts (females) tend to have the most fat and slowest growth.
Some countries, many in Europe, will soon ban castration.
Alcohol is a good solvent for skatole – use as hand wash.
Nearly nothing is absolute in the real world.
Take everything with a grain of salt,
Especially bacon.


Both Spitz, the new Berkshire boar, and Hamlet, the new Tamworth boar, didn’t object to the sampling. They’re pretty big boys and I was only taking a 12 cubic-mm sample from their back fat over their lumbar vertebrae, e.g., loin a.k.a. middle of the lower back. I had been prepping them for this day for well over a week by training them to accept the movements I would do to take the biopsy. To them it probably felt like getting a shot at most. I slapped the biopsy spot as I took the sample and I suspect that distraction was more noticeable than the actual biopsy. Penn & Teller would be proud.

There are multiple types of taint:

  • Three types of Boar Taint each caused by a different chemical;
  • Stress Taint caused by stressing an animal just before slaughter;
  • Blood Taint caused by failure to properly bleed a carcass;
  • Chilling Taint caused by failure to properly chill the carcass;
  • Handling Taint caused by failure to observer proper sanitization;

and there may be other causes that make meat go bad or have an off odor.

Each of these taints can happen at different points in the process and I’ve heard them all mistakenly blamed on boar taint. Boar Taint is only the first category and only caused by some very specific cases of poor genetics, poor low fiber feed and poor (confinement) management. Every single one of these can be avoided through good genetics, high fiber feeding, extensive (pasture) management, humane slaughter, proper bleed out, sanitary slaughter & cutting, proper chilling and proper handling all the way to the table.

So we took a few very little bits of our new boars, fry them up and pass the bacon around for everyone to try. No need to waste the whole pig when all you want is a tiny bite. The verdict was no boar taint in either of them. Yeah!

And that folks, is why our boars still have all four legs.

An interesting conclusion from one scientific paper on this topic:
Boar taint, an undesirable odour from meat from some entire male pigs, is caused by the naturally occurring compounds androstenone and skatole. The level of boar taint can be minimized by decreasing the concentrations of those compounds in adipose tissue, e.g. via immunocastration, genetic selection, dietary manipulations and improved rearing conditions. Meat processing can probably redu- ce or mask boar taint; however, more studies are needed to investigate possible processing techniques and consumers attitudes towards final pork product. Genetic selection against high boar taint is probably the most attractive alternative, but is not realistic in the near future. At the moment, the best temporary solutions are “humane” castration using anaesthesia and analgesia, or immunocastration. The advantages and disadvantages of alternative methods should be carefully studied before the final decision is made about how to prevent boar taint without the need of stressful and painful surgical castration. It is generally believed that in future, surgical castration of male piglets can be avoided and replaced by practical and ethically acceptable alternatives.
“Cause And Possible Ways To Eliminate Boar Taint In Pork”
Zamaratskaia, tehnologija mesa 50 (2009) 1-2, 43-47

In other words: good genetics, good management and good diet.

For more about boar taint try this search pattern.

An interesting taint factoid is that that most of these types taint can occur with barrows, gilts and sows as well as with boars. Castration isn’t going to help in those cases. There is even a Pacific islands type of pig where the sows have the boar type taint.

Update 20150925: Interestingly, more and more the big industry is starting to recognize that boar taint is something that can be controlled and eliminated through genetics, feed and management as shown in the recent article Reduced Boar Taint in Lightweight and Clean Pigs in Pig Progress Magazine. This is something we’ve been doing for a decade as of 2015 with our pastured pigs. It is good to see the big boys getting on board.

Also see: Tainted Big Pharma, Boar Meat and To Cut or Not for additional information.

Update 20170416: In Pig Progress magazine there was an article about producing only gilt piglets through sex sorting with a 99% accuracy. It’s a very interesting concept. The only two problems I have with it is that 1) it makes the farmer dependent on the AI source – this isn’t an issue if you are already using just AI; 2) I wouldn’t have the boars to pick through to advance my herd genetics – I figure that I keep 0.5% of males to test breed and if 99% of them have already been removed from the gene pool by sex sorting of the sperm it would make it very hard to improve herd genetics through selective breeding. While it isn’t something I’ll use it could be beneficial for farms that don’t keep boars as it would dramatically reduce the incidences of castration.

Outdoors: 73°F/43°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 74°F/64°F

Daily Spark: I’m not an Atheist. I’m not an Agnostic. I’m a Sceptic. I believe, in reason. I have faith in mathematics. 1+1+1 = 11. As for God – the two of us are still talking.

There is a myth that a boar being around females in heat will cause taint in the males’s meat. This is false. Around the sows in heat the boars are broadcasting pheromones from their saliva which you may smell but that doesn’t go into the boars meat. Research on flavor development shows that it takes a minimum of two weeks, really more like a month for flavor to go into meat (actually the fat – intermuscular, back fat, etc).

Note: Standard Disclaimer Applies You’re responsible for what you do, be careful around big animals and of doing what some fool (me) on the internet does. We’re “professionals” so beware of trying this at home, or work as Jamie and Adam might say. Seriously though, train your boars before your bore them.

[1]Little Piggy, Penn State Univerisity, May 2001

[2]An End to Boar Taint Genetics, Pork Magazine, January 17th, 2011

[3]Biochemical, nutritional and genetic effects on boar taint in entire male pigs. Animal / Volume 3 / Issue 11 / November 2009, pp 1508-1521, G. Zamaratskaia and E. J. Squires. Abstract: Pork odour is to a great extent affected by the presence of malodorous compounds, mainly androstenone and skatole. The present review outlines the current state of knowledge about factors involved in the regulation of androstenone and skatole in entire male pigs. Androstenone is a pheromonal steroid synthesised in the testes and metabolised in the liver. Part of androstenone accumulates in adipose tissue causing a urine-like odour. Skatole is produced in the large intestine by bacterial degradation of tryptophan and metabolised by hepatic cytochrome P450 enzymes and sulphotransferase. The un-metabolised part accumulates in adipose tissue, causing faecal-like odour. Androstenone levels are mostly determined by genetic factors and stage of puberty, whereas skatole levels in addition to genetic background and hormonal status of the pigs are also controlled by nutritional and environmental factors. To reduce the risk of tainted carcasses entering the market, male pigs are surgically castrated in many countries. However, entire males compared to castrates have superior production characteristics: higher growth rate, better feed efficiency and leaner carcasses. Additionally, animal welfare aspects are currently of particular importance in light of increasing consumers’ concerns. Nutrition, hormonal status, genetic influence on boar taint compounds and the methods to develop genetic markers are discussed. Boar taint due to high levels of skatole and androstenone is moderately heritable and not all market weight entire males have boar taint; it should thus be possible to select for pigs that do not have boar taint. In these studies, it is critical to assess the steroidogenic potential of the pigs in order to separate late-maturing pigs from those with a low genetic potential for boar taint. A number of candidate genes for boar taint have been identified and work is continuing to develop genetic markers for low boar taint. More research is needed to clarify the factors involved in the development of boar taint and to develop additional methods to prevent the accumulation of high concentrations of skatole and androstenone in fat. This review proposes those areas requiring further research.

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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63 Responses to Have Your Pig and Eat It Too

  1. Sean says:

    If it works for pigs, it can work for humans too ;)

  2. skeptic7 says:

    Can you show pictures of the two new boars? What made you decide to get them? I thought you were running a closed herd to prevent disease transmission. How did you find pigs that would fit in with your breeding program?

    • Yes, we have a closed herd. But that means we don’t bring in new pigs willy-nilly. It doesn’t mean we never bring in new stock or genetics. Over the years some of the boars we’ve brought in as adults have had higher levels than others of taint. From them I’ve always selected for the offspring with the least taint to become breeder boars. This helps to breed out boar taint. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and started on that prior to ceasing castration since we eased into the whole process of non-castration. One of my breeding goals is to increase the marbling. Berkshire are known for the marbling so I will cross Spitz with our ladies and then examine the resulting carcass quality. The sisters of the best scoring carcasses will become breeders. Breed improvement is a long term process so this will take years.

      • skeptic7 says:

        Why did you get Hamlet? I’m glad you did, I always found Tamworths cute and they were suppose to be superb pasture pigs.

        • Hamlet came to us as part of a package deal which included some Berkshire sows we got recently. It was the Berkshire I was looking for. Since I was testing Spitz I tested Hamlet at the same time. I’m not all that interested in Tamworth genetics as I’m dubious about Tamworth being superior pasture animals based on my experiences and with others I’ve seen. Tams are slow growing as well which makes them less desire-able. Based on these they are not good hay eaters either but part of that may be learned. They are also overly lean – good pasture animals need to be able to put on and maintain weight with low calorie diets. These also have reduced teat counts so anything out of that group is going to require extra hard selection – 80% of the litter we just weaned from one of those sows had only ten to 12 teats.

          Update: Interestingly the Tams apparently heard this discussion as a subsequent litter thrown from that line had two 18 teat counts and some 16 teat counts with excellent conformation. I believe they also promised to eat more hay but I couldn’t quite tell what they were saying as they were speaking with their mouths full…

      • Marsha says:

        Do you have access to Bunte Bentheimers in America? They are an old breed that was practically extinct and is now being saved by a few farms here in Germany. They grow slowly and therefore have very good marbling. This I can attest to, as the CSA I belong to raises them.

        • It isn’t a breed I have heard of. There is a bit of a myth that growth rate and marbling are tied together – they aren’t. Marbling has to do with genetics, age and caloric intake. There are fast growing breeds with excellent marbling (e.g., Berkshire) and there are slow growing breeds with poor marbling (e.g., Tamworth).

  3. Someone asked:

    Would you recommend testing each boar from same litter or will just one suffice to clear the others as well?

    I would test every boar three times and have a minimum of five people smell each sample and some should be female, some male and some genetically not related. I like to get statistically significant sample sets.

    Also, where on the pig is your preferred biopsy location? The rump or flank?

    Back fat mid-loin.

    Okay, so just smelling not actually tasting the meat?

    Taint is a smell, not a taste, and you may need to cook it to get the full aroma. I can smell taint raw but cooking it makes it more intense. Only about 75% of people can smell it which is why you want a larger taste test group.

    Do you use a new biopsy needle for each sample or same needle across multiple boars in one sampling session?

    I bought a set of five and clean them in alcohol.

    When you say test each boar three times you mean three samples pulled at the same time or three samples taken some days apart?

    I get three samples from each boar, three punches, at the same time. The reason is I wanted more volume. The punches are pretty small so each one only gives a tiny sample.

    Our boars barely even noticed. I think my slap was what they noticed rather than the punch. But, of course, use caution as they are large animals who could turn around and gore or bite you or maybe just step on you or bump you against a post if surprised. This is one of those, “do it at your own risk” sort of things.

  4. Carl Hammer says:

    Very innovative! I saw them do this to wales one a wale watching trip we did up in maine.

  5. Todd Caverly says:

    I want to start by thanking you for sharing your experience and gained wisdom with us newbies (both here and at homesteadingtoday).
    Question- I was under the impression that boar taint was a result of sexual activity, hence to eliminate it just keep them isolated/ sexually inactive for 4 weeks prior to butcher. You are making it sound genetic. Can you help clear the muddy water for me.
    Thanks, and God bless,
    Todd

    • Boar taint is caused by several different chemicals as well as environmental factors. One of those chemicals comes from the male testes, balls which is associated with reproduction. However the adrenal glans produce the same chemical which can make even a barrow or a gilt/sow have that form of taint. More importantly, taints are caused by other chemicals some of which are produced in the intestines. Very importantly, some foods enhance taint – corn/soy which is the standard commercial hog feed is implicated – and some foods reduce taint. High fiber, hay, chicory and such are reducers. The result is that any pig can have taint if the conditions are right. Taint can be controlled, reduced and even eliminated through genetics, management (e.g., pasture) and diet (e.g., high fiber). Castration helps with that one form of taint but does not solve all the taint issues. Sexually isolating a boar for four weeks prior to slaughter is another technique that apparently works with boars that have a mild genetic propensity towards taint. For more about taint see these posts.

  6. Dawn Carroll says:

    Walter,
    None of the 6 pasture raised boars that I sent in for butcher have any taint in the meat. They smelled strong when they were alive. The butcher was very careful to dress them like you would wild game (the males) and not spill any of the urine on the carcasses.
    My crosses are Hereford/Berk/Spots. They are strong smelling when they are alive. It is like testosterone city in the pastures as they are very active. Not like the two barrows I was raising for someone else but they are constantly on the move.
    Anyway I thought I would let you know that even though they were strong smelling and acted like a bunch of boars they still didn’t have any taint in the meat. And their carcasses were really lean to boot. So just because they smell like boars doesn’t mean that the meat will also smell like that.
    Later,
    Dawn

  7. Nat Kauffman says:

    Walter,
    What size biopsy punches did you use?

    I have a boar that I’d like to butcher, but want to see if he has taint. We butchered an old Tamworth boar in May, and he was nasty. Just boiling up the bones in a pot or cooking some loin in the crock pot, stank up the whole house. Not pleasant. When I took a whiff of that bone broth I said to myself, “This is the kind of stuff that would turn a person into a vegetarian.”

    I would love to not do any castration. I castrated 3 piglets yesterday with my brother. Not pleasant for anyone involved. But at the same time I’d rather not be running costly experiments by leaving boars intact only to find that they’re not fit to eat. My ideal would be to breed away from taint as you have done in your herd.

  8. Nat Kauffman says:

    I’m talking about diameter – just to clarify. I’m seeing punches ranging from 1 mm up to 8 mm readily available. I’m thinking maybe a 3 or 4?

  9. Pat says:

    The past 4 summers we’ve bought feeder pigs from local farms and fed them out over the summer. We’ve probably raised about 35 this way so far. I have been thinking about getting a sow to have two litters a year and up our production a bit. I’ve really enjoyed your postings and am hoping you can help me thinking about whether this makes sense. There are two basic questions: First, at what point does it make sense to get a sow considering you have to feed her all year? Second, at what point does it make sense to get a boar vs. use AI with the same questions in mind – you have to feed him all year. I imagine there’s a break point where you raise so many feeders that you may as well have a sow and you have so many sows that you may as well have a boar. Thoughts?

    • You may be on the verge for a single sow but the economics of keeping a single sow aren’t very good from a business point of view. One sow can produce 15 to 40 piglets a year – varies with the sow and management. At the output of three sows then it tends to start looking good on pasture but still hard with commercial feed. The article Have You Got the Right Stuff to be a Breeder touched on this topic a little. Do a business plan to figure how the numbers would run for you based on your local feeder pig prices and feed costs. How much you pay for feeders in the spring and how much it costs to carry the sow make a big difference in how the numbers will pan out.

      Farrowing is a lot more complicated than buying piglets. Plan on a learning curve of a few years. There are losses and costs that are hidden in the process that weaner pig buyers don’t see. The obvious cost of the sow and boar. Keeping them over the winter. Missed breedings. Lost pregnancies to miscarriages. Lost piglets. If you do keep a sow for farrowing your own piglets then I would strongly recommend timing her farrowings to spring and fall. Avoid the hard months of winter.

      A boar can service ten to fifteen sows – plus or minus depending on how they time their heats. It takes a lot of piglets to justify his cost, more if on commercial feed than if on pasture. This quote of a few day ago is relevant as to boars and sows:

      “The rule of thumb is that to justify the cost of a boar it takes three sows if by land (pasture) and six if by seed (commercial grain fed).”

      I like having boars because we have our own genetics line. I want to be able to control the lineage for reasons of avoiding boar taint, having the best pigs for our local climate and resources, for our market, etc. I also like having boars because they take care of heat detection and semen injection.

  10. Someone asked elsewhere:
    I’m so visual that it’s not quite making sense by reading it (I have one of *those* brains LOL).

    The biopsy punch (shown in the photos above) is a hollow needle. I hold it as if I was going to stab something with a downward stroke – Classic Alfred Hitchcock style. It’s a straight in, out, slam, bam, thank you man motion.

    Then using my other hand I slap the target spot on the boar’s back for distraction and immediately stab my unsuspecting victim – er, I mean the boar’s butt.

    This retrieves a tiny piece of flesh from the boar’s back fat. It’s like biologists do for harpooning a whale with a biopsy tool when they collect blubber samples. The sampling is barely noticed by the animal since it is so small. The boar notices my slap on his rump more than the biopsy.

  11. Annie says:

    Walter you are a scream! You are so funny. You write so well. You remind me of the gentlemen scientists farmers of the 1700s and 1800s who made so many discoveries that are the foundation of today.

  12. Someone asked what to do with a big boar:

    First I would take a small bite of him from over the loin to assess if he has boar taint. If he does not have boar taint then I would slaughter him, hand the carcass a week or two and it will be great meat. Many chefs are looking for large animals like this.

    If he does have taint you can try to minimize it. Putting him on pasture with a high fiber diet low in corn/soy may help. Research indicates chicory helps. Then I would take another small bite after a month. Then another month…

    If you can’t get him taint free then you might consider making a strongly spiced sausage from the lean. The taint is stored in the fat of the animal, particularly the back fat but also other fats. The lean is lower in taint. So if you mix the lean with the fat of a barrow, a sow or a cow you may be able to make an acceptable product.

    If that doesn’t work then there is the option finding someone who can’t detect taint who won’t mind it and will appreciate a discount. Only about 75% of people can detect taint. Thus if you’re going to test for taint make sure your tester can taste/smell the taint.

    If not that then possibly dog food.

    If not that then chicken food.

    If not that then compost – lots of good organics.

  13. Missy says:

    So glad I’ve found this article! I work at a meat processing plant. I’ve been told a local farmer has a boar that they just cannot get rid of. He is topping the scales at 1000 lbs!!! I can buy him for $20 with processing fees @ $0! My concern is this taint I’ve been hearing about. I’ve not seen the hog, so I dont know what kind or color he is. I dont even know how old. My employer has offered to butcher him & cook some up & if its good I obviously will keep it. If not, into the barrel he goes or home with me to feed my chickens. :-) So, I guess I dont necessarily have a question anymore… lol. Grateful for finding this page to shed some light… thank you!

  14. Dawn says:

    There are a ton of recipes for boar dishes that hide the taint. I found that the taint smell (if it is going to happen) happens when cooking the boar meat. The taint odor is stored in the fat. I found that the taint will stay in the cooking pan and taint all other foods as well.
    Some people are more sensitive to the odor and some don’t smell the odor at all. I processed a young boar and I could smell the odor but the meat was delicious. I did end up trading him for 2 cords of firewood and the guy who took the meat absolutely love it. But then he had no ability to smell the odor…lol…
    What I have done in the past too is take the boar to the vets put them in the chutes tranquilize them then we would castrate them. I then would put them on pasture for 90 days to clean them out. Weather or not this does any good or is an old wives tale I have no idea.
    This one was from the same bunch of boars I had raised for meat. The one I had castrated and pasture fed for 90 days had no odor (for me to smell) and he was delicious.
    Then again he may not have any odor. It really depends on the lines, how and if he was confined, and what he has been fed. Diets high on the commercial side vs pasture fed tends to produce taint in all sexes.

  15. Someone asked about how to actually do the biopsy on pastured pigs. I replied:

    I train the pig to accept the motion and the impact by slapping it just before feeding it. Realize that a slap is nothing to them. They are huge animals. They bump each other far harder. Then one time do the punch instead. It removes a very small pieces of skin and fat. Cook the fat up and smell it. Taint is primarily a smell, not so much a taste. Be sure you know if you can actually detect it. Not everyone can.

  16. Someone asked about exactly which tool I got. This one works well for me and my boars: 1.5mm Pre-Sterilized Disposable Biopsy Dermal Punch

  17. Someone asked about will their specific breed of boar have taint and I replied:

    According to the researcher in the field of taint who I have spoken with the red Duroc have the highest incidence of taint of any breed and the Yorkshire have the lowest incidence of taint. He specifically said that his observation is that the darker fast growing breeds tend toward the higher end of the taint scale while the light colored pigs tend toward the low end of the scale.

    From anecdotal experience of talking with thousands of people about this topic over the years there exist some Duroc who don’t have taint but many who do. In Berkshire I have some reports but mostly not. In Tamworth a few reports but mostly not. I have zero reports in Yorkshire. I have one report in Large Black.

    We have taint free Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black, Tamworth and crosses of these. I’ve been testing and selectively breeding on this for over a decade. If I had a new boar I was considering I would take a small bite of him, a biopsy as described above to test his taint levels. You must be able to smell taint to do this. Otherwise find someone who can and have them help you.

    Taint is caused by a variety of factors:
    Genetics (select for low taint)
    Feed (high fiber->less taint, high corn/soy->more taint)
    Management (pen dirty ->more taint, extensive pastured->less)

    There are also multiple chemistries of taint and things that are not boar taint that get blamed on boar taint such as poor slaughter (stress taint) which results in stress chemicals being released, poor bleed out (blood taint), poor chilling, poor meat handling, etc.

    It’s complicated. Until you test the animals, the genetics, the feed, the management system you won’t know for sure. By doing pasturing and feeding a high fiber diet (e.g., pasture) you bias the odds in your favor.

    Follow the links in the article above for more info.

  18. Pat Burdette says:

    Walter,
    I purchased my first set of pigs 5 months ago at the age of approx. 6 or 7 weeks. Their father was American Guinea and their mother some sort of red spotted hog. They are both boars and I have been told over and over by every farmer I know who has ever raised a pig that I should have them cut, but following your lead I’ve resisted. They are now scheduled to be slaughtered in a couple of weeks at a place called Marksbury Farm in central Ky. They’re not exactly organic, but very much into the locally grown, grass fed beef, pastured pork sort of thing, so I feel pretty good about that aspect (You can check them out on line).
    We’ve raised these pigs on about an 1/8 of an acre since August. The first 2 or three months they ate mostly table scraps and what they could dig up. After about a month I began rotating them through 4 or 5 paddocks, but by Thanksgiving they had pretty well rooted everything up so I left them in about 1/16 acre with access to a dry barn with bedding.
    Taint or not taint, that is the question. Taint- they’re black, they’ve had mostly corn for the last month and a half, they’ll be close to seven months old at slaughter. Not taint- they’ve never been confined to a pen (except when very young), they’ve never seen a sow since leaving their mother at 7 weeks, they’re at least half heritage breed (American Guinea), studies seem to suggest that only about 15-35% of all boars have taint.
    Don’t wanna put it all on you o mighty pig guru, but if it was you, given the facts as I’ve so clearly done, would you risk it? Not the deciding factor, but seriously I’d appreciate any thoughts.

    • I would take a small bite, a biopsy, to test for taint. Realize we did not jump into not castrating but as described we took years to carefully test that our genetics, feeding and management were not producing taint. The biopsy method described above is a good short cut that I developed to be able to more quickly test. It isn’t hard to do. As long as you have someone who you know can taste taint you can then do double-blind testing to see if there is taint or not for sure.

  19. Vanessa says:

    Hi, do you know about Saddlebacks at all? I live in New Zealand and am loving your site.
    I’m very interested in the comment about the darker animals having a higher incidence of taint.
    I have recently purchased a saddleback sow, about 3 months old now. I was going to use her as my breeder. We don’t yet have a saddleback boar but I do have kunekune pigs with one boar that is a mix of black and red. He is about 8 months old now.
    I’m not sure about hanging onto him or getting the home kill butcher in or not.
    The thought is to put one of my other boars over her when they are both old enough.
    A few months to go yet!
    My little boar is a mix of black and white, he was the runt, and will be a stocky little fella compared to his litter mates.
    What are your thoughts? Is colour really that important?
    From my research saddlebacks are supposed to be great for bacon and pork.
    All of my pigs are free range and fed daily table scraps from a business in town so very well fed. I do have to be careful with the Kune’s as they do have a tendency to get a bit too comfortable and gain a few extra pounds. Especially my boy Rusty who is now currently on rations which he is not impressed with!
    Thanks for your advice in advance.
    Vanessa.

    • I have heard of saddleback, also from someone over your way. The observation of dark pigs having higher taint levels was from a researcher in the field. Since then my anecdotal observations on that question is that it is really the breed’s temperament rather than color that matters. He was specifically noting the Red Duroc which is a high aggression and dark color so perhaps the color is merely coincidental. Test, test, test. Let me know what you find – I’m always interested in data.

  20. Someone wrote me:

    The butcher says that he will come to the farm to dispatch my boar and immediately remove the testicles upon slaughter to prevent taint.

    That is a myth perpetuated by the fact that boar taint is actually quite rare so people do this, have no taint and claim it prevented taint. The reality is there was no taint to begin with.

    When end up having taint then they claim that they weren’t quick enough to remove the testicles.

    This is a total myth. Don’t believe it.

    The reality is the taint chemicals are stored in the fat for a month or more prior to that time. If you have an old boar and you think he has taint then have a veterinarian castrate him and keep him to heal up for 30 days or longer so that the chemicals that cause taint come out of his fat. Longer is better. A high fiber diet is better. Pasture is better than confinement. A biopsy is a simple way to find out if he really has taint or not.

  21. Someone emailed me asking:

    I am interested in the taint issue. I hate the castration of the piglets but am worried. I am that obnoxious person who thinks goat cheese tastes gamey. I cant abide deer meat at all. Do you have any experience with people like me who can also taste taint that you cannot? I am not sure if that was clear at all. Have you had a gamey sensitive person taste test for taint?

    We’ve had tens of thousands of people taste our meat as we have sold perhaps a quarter million pounds of pork from our non-castrated boars over the years. Demand continues to be high as there is no taint.

    My nose is very sensitive. Both our sons and I can both easily taste taint although my wife can’t although interestingly she does not like deer meat – but that is because of the iron taste from failure to properly bleed it out in the field turned her off years ago.

    You can find out more about taint in the article above and follow the links for more details on this topic.

  22. Dawn Carroll says:

    On deer meat if you marinate it in a thousand island sauce and cook with that sauce it will lose that game flavor…I make my own with Mayo & ketchup it will loose any gamey flavor there is regardless of how it was dressed.
    On boars…I may have waited until mine were a bit mature to process them (300 lbs) but to smell the carcass while it was hanging there was no odor or taint.
    But to cook the meat that is when I got an odor. If one took the meat out of the drippings right away the meat did not taste or smell like the fat drippings. AND even after washing that pan you couldn’t cook anything in that pan because it took up the odor and taste of the odor. Again the meat was wonderful but cooking it made my eyes water. I threw the pan away that I used to cook it. I gave that entire pig to a friend who had no sense of smell…lol…and he loved it…
    I took some of the other young boars to the vet and we knocked them out and castrated them then fed them out for 6 more weeks with alfalfa hay & milk and there was no odor, no taint in the fat drippings…these animals were from the same litter and all were fed the same diet of alfalfa hay, milk products, and pasture.
    I didn’t hear anything from the other customers about whether or not they liked or disliked their boar meat. I told them at the time to please let me know how their meat cooked up and if they liked or disliked the meat.
    My breeds of pigs are Berkshire/Spot/Hereford boars crossed with crossbred sows of many different breeds. So that is my two cents worth…if I am going to eat them they will be castrated. I’ve never had any odor of any kind with a barrow or gilt just the one boar. I kind of doubt if I was the only one that got one with taint odor but no taint taste in the meat…some are more sensitive to the pheromone odor than others. I know when a sow is in heat because I can smell the boars getting all hot and bothered. The Hereford boars are especially strong with their boar odor….the Berks & Spots not so much.

    • My thinking is that Holly had some badly bled out deer meat once and has not wanted to try it since. She hates liver, which is high in iron and she complained that the deer meat tasted like liver – a sign of incomplete bleed out. I like venison but it is not a big deal.

  23. Dawn Carroll says:

    My batch of boars was killed and hung on site. So stress was minimal. Like I said I got no complaints from customers about the meat. And the meat on my animal was wonderful tasting with no taint but the fat drippings had the odor of testicles…or semen you know the smell. But none of that flavor was in the meat. I suppose if one grilled the meat where the drippings fell away I might not have ever known. But I couldn’t get the smell out of my cooking pan and the next thing I cooked even after thoroughly washing that pan picked up the odor AND flavor of boar semen. Hmmm….I don’t suppose that sounded very good did it…’flavor’ of boar semen…lol… No I don’t go around tasting the stuff but you know how it is when you can taste something that you smell. My particular boar was 3/4 Berkshire but he was gray in color. His mother was 1/2 Berk but was white/gray in color. The next one that I put in my freezer was a full brother of the same litter and same color was odor and taint free but the vet & I had castrated them 6 weeks prior to butcher. I did haul them into the processors with this bunch and it was a totally different processor…
    I know my batch of boars did grow faster and were leaner than the barrows or gilts I have had in the past.
    My Hereford boars are highly odorous…I can smell the pheromones in their saliva. This odor gets stronger when there are sows in heat. But from what you say if I am understanding you correctly is that the meat may not have that odor.
    I still castrate my little boar piglets though because my market is 4-H & FFA and families who want to raise a few for their own table. The 4-H shows for the kids don’t allow boars. I think they do allow them for FFA and I know I have seen them at the state shows & fairs.
    I would be highly interested in the chemical castration if it were available here in the States. I don’t do ear notching except on the registered purebreds. Oddly enough ear notching bothers me more than castrating the piglets. Maybe it is because the ear notching seems to stress them more than castration. I do have someone hold their mouths shut which whatever I am doing with them because if they can’t hear themselves scream the seem to stay calmer and it certainly keeps the whole herd calmer the quieter things can be kept.

    • If you ever try the chemical castration be very careful not to jab yourself as it can sterilize humans too, both men and women. See Tainted Big Pharma.

      • Dawn Carroll says:

        Good to know. I know several people who need to be sterilized…lol… I am already that way. I was vaccinating piglets one day and I stabbed my hand in that bulb below the index finger with one of the needles. Well the wound started swelling and sending red streaks out so I made my way to the doctor. The doctor I saw that day was new to the area. He must have come from the city because he was freaking out calling the CDC and poison control. I didn’t know which vaccine it was (I give 4 different vaccines for the fair pigs and they get iron & Ivomec) which added to the doctors excitement… I told him if I start squealing like a pig I would get concerned until then he should just settle down.

  24. Allison says:

    Was wondering about the Hereford Hogs and this issue. I spent last spring summer and fall interning on a farm. There were other kinds of stock as well as Hogs. That said, my dad has land and I was thinking of getting a few pigs. In looking at the heritage breeds I came across the Hereford. Does this happen frequently or at all with this breed? I’ve heard the meat has a more neutral PH. Is this true. If so, would this help with the issue of Taint? Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Taint can vary line to line within a breed. The best thing to do is taste test a set of potential breeders. I can just see you calling the hog farmer and saying, “Before I buy your pigs I would like a little bite from each…” :)

  25. Dawn Carroll says:

    I’m not sure on taint with the Herefords I have 5 purebred Herefords sows & boars but I haven’t ever raised one as a boar to eat it. I do know that my two Hereford boars are some of the rankest smelling especially when they get their panties in a wad about another boar or when a sow is in heat. Their breath, saliva, urine & semen has the strongest odors of all my boars. I have 2 Berkshire boars and 1 Spot boar. They are not couped up but enjoy 2 to 3 acres habitats and run with their girls. They get alfalfa hay & a small amount of rolled COB with molasses daily.
    Disposition wise the sows are among the easiest to work with. The piglets are very friendly and vigorous feeders. The playfulness of this breed can be a problem for the show kids because they tend to be really mischievous. I had one kid whose barrow broke rank in the show ring, ran circles around everyone and in doing so rallied the rest of the pigs into a lively game of misbehaving. I personally like this kind of animal although they can be a total pain in the rears sometimes but one is never lacking for entertainment with the Herefords around. The boars are also quite tractable when they are not trying to get into another pen and kill the boar next door.
    The sows generally have 10 to 12 piglets per litter and if you feed the sows well they draw down very little even when the piglets are at 7 weeks old. I do have some sows that are of mixed breeds that do draw down easily even when fed copious amounts of food so those babies get weaned at 5 weeks of age.
    They do take about 3 weeks longer to finish than the rest of the breeds. Since they are a shorter breed people think they don’t weigh as much as the taller breeds but they are a wider breed so that kind of makes up for their shortness. I have found that crossing them with Berkshires or Spots greatly increases their growth rate.
    One breed that I wouldn’t get involved with again is the Duroc breed…I suppose they would be fine in a confinement situation but holy crap I found out that I could sprint pretty dog gone fast to get away from those sows and their Duroc man…they went down the road the next day… They are all animals and one must never be out somewhere with sows, piglets, & boars without a panel or walking stick . Pigs are very protective of their young and the handler must always be aware of where they are and where you are and where the escape is. I have had piglets get stuck in something and they will be squealing and the whole herd will get upset. One has to be extremely cautious in these situations because even though you are only trying to help the mom’s & dad’s and even the adolescent pigs are not going to see that you are there to help.
    Sorry I’m not much help with the taint issue on the Herefords.

  26. Dawn Carroll says:

    One other thing about the Herefords. Their ears sunburn easily. Their eyes also have a tendency to weep and their faces get tear stained, not too unlike their doppelganger, the Hereford bovine.

  27. Allison says:

    Dawn, you were helpful. You answered other questions I hadn’t yet asked and a couple I wouldn’t have thought to. Every little bit helps. Thank you :)

    Mr. Jefferies that makes sense. And yes, if the farmer didn’t hang up thinking it was a prank, I’m sure there would be a long and confused silence on that question :)

    • The other thing to do is buy breeders from someone who actively tests for boar taint like we do. If someone is not castrating their boars and they are selling a lot of boar meat with happy customers then the market has proven that they do not have boar taint. Ultimately, that is the test and the proof.

  28. Richard Bach says:

    I raised a group of uncut boars that came from a breeder who never cuts and has had no issues with taint Berk Tamworth some duroc cross
    I have a buyer (butcher) who is concerned about taint I also don.t want to sell to one of my restaurant customers and have a issue how can they be tested, after slaughter or before can.t cook a piece from each butcher takes them split restaurants primal cuts

    thanks

    Richard

    • The traditional method used by the USDA was to cook post-slaughter, often with a soldering iron, a small bit of back fat and smell it. The biopsy technique I developed above allows for a similar smell test to be done while the boar is still alive. Boar taint is real, although not common, so you definitely want to make sure you don’t have a boar taint problem before you start selling boar meat. Good genetics, high fiber diet (pasture) and extensive management (pasture rotational grazing) all put the odds in your favor.

      Boar taint is not common, most boars don’t have it, so the odds are in your favor. Boar taint is real and the traditional solution has been to take the lean of the boar and mix it with fat from sows, barrows, gilts or cattle to make a hot spicy sausage that covers the taint if you got unlucky. The taint chemicals are stored in the fat.

  29. Someone asked what taint smells like. There are several different taints, each of which smells different.

    Adrostenone is related to male sex hormones and has a musty, musky male smell. Quite enticing to the ladies so I’m told by my sows.

    Skatole is produced in the small intestines and has a boutique bouquet like fine shit.

    That covers about 99.9% of the taint you’ll ever smell, if you are so (un)fortunate.

    Realize is that just because you can smell the rutting boar smell while the boar is alive and courting his ladies does not mean his meat and fat will have taint. Boars also produce pheromones in their saliva to bring sows to peak heat as part of their foreplay but that doesn’t result in taint in the meat.

  30. I’ve had several people say:

    “Just cut the nuts off imediately after killing and no problem”

    That’s an example of a myth – much like ringing a bell to keep away evil spirits. There was no problem to begin with and ringing the bell or cutting off the ‘nuts’ has no function other than self comfort.

    The way taint works is it sets it’s flavor in the fat. This takes about a month to change. Cutting of the gonads (balls) right after slaughter will have no effect on whether the boar’s meat has taint or not. If you don’t believe me then do a biopsy and prove it one way or the other. Use significant sample sets. Be scientific.

    • Farmerbob1 says:

      How can anyone even think that? After the animal is dead, the heart obviously stops beating.

      After death, the only blood movement is bleeding, which will carry any possible taint through major blood vessels. If I’m not mistaken, the ‘nuts’ are fed by very large blood vessels, connected through the body by other large blood vessels to the throat, which seems to be where a bleeding cut is typically made, if I’ve read right.

      Knowing a little how fluid works, I’m fairly confident that very little blood is going to travel from the ‘nuts’ to anywhere other than the neck, and the path it will take to get there will be the path of least resistance – large blood vessels.

      So, if the source of taint was the ‘nuts’ then the taint taste would be very strong only in the cuts of the boar that contained large blood vessels. As far as I’m aware, large blood vessels generally don’t make it into commercial cuts, though I’m fairly sure they make it into lots of ground products.

      The only potential real benefit I can think of to cutting off the ‘nuts’ is that it might allow for a quicker bleed out because there are large blood vessels there? I would think that the femoral arteries would be better cuts to make for that purpose though, if a quicker bleeding-out is desired.

  31. Dylan says:

    Hi all

    Wondering how much separation is the minimum between a boar and sows for the 30 day pasture and high fibre diet to reduce/eliminate possible taint? I am guessing that pigs can smell each other over distance, but not sure how much? thanks

    • If you are worried about it then I would suggest a minimum of 50′ with the boars upwind, uphill, upchores and a double fence between them and out of sight. This assumes the near constant breeze we get.

      However, in my tests I found that boars and sows being together was not a taint risk.

  32. Dylan says:

    Alrighty, thanks for your reply. not that worried, but being cautious, cheers

  33. Cody says:

    Can you go into more detail about how you raise these uncut pigs. Are you just letting them run with all your other pigs or do you separate them from the rest? Im assuming your main breeding boar is separate? Is there a limit on how many should run together? What age/size are you butchering at? What keeps them from fighting?

    • We do not castrate since we tested and proved our genetics with our feed (pasture) and management (rotational grazing on pasture) does not produce taint and I culled out the more tainty lines. Thus they all run together, males and females. Our farm is divided up into many pastures which are subdivisions of fields. We have multiple boar centric territories which we rotate the females through. Each boar territory has a main boar and then one or more upcoming sub-boars. I select for good temperament and they have a pecking order. Nobody challenges the mountain – e.g., the main boar – as he is simply so much bigger at 800 to 1,700 lbs. If I see pigs who are particularly aggressive, I cull them – something I’ve been doing for over a decade. The result is the pigs who remain are well tempered.

      You may find this article of interest: Taint

  34. Someone wrote that they had a boar that when they skinned him he smelled like shit. My reply below:

    Sounds like a case of boar taint of the skatole variety. Take a fatty cut and fry it up to get the real test. This will give you an opportunity to do some scientific taste testing. Skatole is alcohol soluble so you could try soaking a cut in an alcohol based brine and see if that helps. Do varying times and concentrations. The Skatole will move out into the alcohol if this works and then you’ll probably want to discard the solution. Fatter cuts tend to have more of the aroma than leaner cuts.

  35. Christine White says:

    How do you get the sample out of the punch??!!

  36. AliCT says:

    Hello Walter, thank you so much for all you do, your site, wisdom and philosophy are ever so helpful!

    Question for you, and apologies if this has been answered somewhere and I’ve missed it, but I’ve heard that if you have multiple boars in a smallish herd, they can stress the sows by constantly trying to breed them, eventually causing the sows to abort their babies. I’d assumed that was the prime reason to pursue regular castration of the males. I don’t have any livestock yet, but next year will be our big leap so I’m very much in the research phase.

    Your experience with this issue?

  37. Ginny says:

    Hi Walter,
    Thank you for all of the information you put out for us to learn! I have been raising pigs for many years now and in my area there is not one butcher who will take a boar. I wonder if this is an issue for other homesteaders as well. I have talked to a lot of butchers and they are pretty old school and won’t budge even if I show them research or try to explain that I don’t have taint in my herd. This may not be a problem in more progressive areas, but in rural America, I’ll bet it is widespread. If you butcher your pigs yourself, not an issue, but most people don’t. I know I don’t have boar taint, but unfortunately, still have to castrate to be able to process the pigs.

    • The problem isn’t widespread. I’ve never run across a butcher in New England who won’t take boars. I suspect it is a local phenomenon and possibly a small sample set problem. I know of one butcher who won’t down in the southern USA but it doesn’t have anything to do with boar taint, they just had a one time problem with bad temperament in one boar and over generalized it.

      If you can’t educate them then either go to the competition, castrate or build your own facility. It is their loss.

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