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AHDB Pork Blog

Pork production with entire males by Lauren Turner

Lauren TurnerA couple of weeks ago, I travelled to Lisbon, Portugal, to attend the annual IPEMA EU Cost action group. The group consists of members from across the EU who all have an interest in exploring approaches for producing pork from entire (uncastrated) males.

To set the scene, across Europe producers have agreed, in principle, to abolish castration without anaesthetic from January 2018. This move presents new challenges, with particular focuses now shifting to the management of product quality (detecting and reducing boar taint, coping with extreme leanness), specific nutritional requirements, appropriate animal management and housing to reduce boar taint, as well as addressing associated animal welfare issues (aggression, sexual behaviour).

IPEMA Conference slideThe particular issue we were discussing at the IPEMA event, and which can be a result of rearing entire males, was boar taint; this is an unpleasant odour that occurs within pork from a percentage of male pigs when they reach sexual maturity.

The first talk was given by representatives from the University of Bonn, Germany, which is beginning to collate research from German pig breeding organisations looking at breeding against boar taint. From 2019, there will be a ban on surgical castration without anaesthesia in Germany and, with 25 per cent of their commercial crossbreds having problems with boar taint, the future market for entire boars still remains very unclear.

IPEMA ConferenceThe next session focused on nutrition; work in this area is very much concentrated on finding out whether any dietary adjustments can be made to reduce the effects of boar taint and whether any new feed concepts could be developed. One Belgian feed company, for example, claims to have developed a cost-effective concept that helps to reduce boar taint by promoting digestion in the large intestine, it is marketed as a viable alternative to surgical castration, costing in the region of €3.5 per pig.

Another session addressed the issues around meat quality. Carcase composition of entire and castrated males is of particular interest for processing industries across Europe. We heard how research being carried out in France is using an ‘image-meater’ grading device to compare the lean meat percentage of castrated vs entire male carcases and the presence of the halothane gene; the image-meater is able to determine fat, tissue and meat measurements.

Many more topics were covered over the course of the meeting and, if this is a topic you’re particularly interested in, you can find all the papers on the IPEMA website.

The group will continue to look at innovations and disseminate science-based best practice through similar events, with the aim of helping to support the industry to cope with the challenges faced when creating valuable products from both entire males and immunocastrates. Over the coming year, I will report on any outcomes from the research being undertaken and which may be of interest to the UK pig production and processing industries.


By AHDB Pork at 27 Feb 2018, 14:46 PM


Caroline Curtis
Hi Lauren Very interesting article, we have pigs on a small scale. We have had entire males sent to slaughter at 34 weeks with no boar taint.. is there any evidence to say if boars only get taint if they have been sexually active? Ours were in a single sex herd.
28/02/2018 21:36:25
Lauren Turner
There are a number of factors linked to boar taint, including nutrition, housing and genetics. Slower growth rates have been shown to significantly reduce the level of taint within boars. With mixed sex rearing the testosterone concentrations within the boars rises and, therefore, if they are being raised to heavier slaughter weights (80-90kg) it would be advised to split sex rear to reduce the risk of taint. Where they are slaughtered at 80kg or less, the concentration of androstenone within the back fat, that is a cause of boar taint, is not shown to be affected by social conditions during rearing. AHDB have developed a fact sheet on Boar taint and its control which you may find useful:
01/03/2018 15:11:36
Guy Williams
Hi Lauren, we farm pigs in South AFrica and I don't think we have castrated a pig for years. Is this a major issue in commercial pig farms in Europe? Our pigs are split into same sex groups at 8 weeks of age & stay in those same groups until they leave the farm Our target weight is a 85 - 90kg carcase at 23 weeks of age. The males (entire) are sold at this age, regardless of weight.
03/03/2018 13:53:01
Lauren Turner
Hi Guy, within the UK, male piglets are not castrated but are slaughtered at a lower weight which reduces the risk of boar taint. Across Europe, commercial pigs are finished at a much heavier weight which makes them susceptible to boar taint, hence why castration has been used as a common preventative method. The move away from surgical castration within European countries has created a drive to innovate and develop alternatives, with work looking at nutrition, housing and environment and managing product quality. You may find the following link of interest as it explains a little bit more about European approaches and the role of the IPEMA group:
15/03/2018 09:53:04

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