Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To cut or not to cut?

I wanted to talk a little about a completely unpleasant subject if I could (and I can)...castration. This is something that every farmer that breeds his own herd will have to address at some point in his time on the farm. Lets start by asking the question of why. Well there are a few reasons why. One reason is that an uncastrated male pig can become more aggressive because of the higher levels of testosterone in its body. This can lead to something called "boar taint", a musky flavor in the meat that is detectable when cooked. Mind you I have never experienced this, and Ive eaten lots of wild boar (obviously uncastrated) and if I was tasting boar taint then I guess I just thought it was a nice gamey flavor. But apparently only about 1 in 20 boars will have this quality...so that...I'm not really worried about. Also, if you separate the males and females about a month before slaughter, those hormone levels drop. So then I thought that it was important for them to be castrated so that they don't breed with their siblings or parents..."we don't want inbred pigs". But I was wrong there. It turns out that this is a type of husbandry practice called line breeding. All you are doing is giving the litter a double dose of recessive genes. So then why do we castrate? I have no freaking clue!

I can tell you why not to however. It turns out that an uncastrated pig will grow at a rate of 10% faster than a castrated pig. It will put more energy into growing lean meat and less fat (we have already chosen our breed for nice fatty pork so that's not a problem). This means that it will reach market weight faster, so the pig will consume less food, and you will save money on the feed bill...giving your farm a slightly higher profit margin. Which is not really significant on a farm as small as mine right now....but I hope to have 200 pigs in a few years and that margin will need to be as big as it can be! Finally, the most important reason that I have found for not cutting is; it could be the single most horrifying experience I have had in my life! I really thought I was prepared on castration day...I was not. It took a serious mental toll on me and my wife. For the rest of the day I was so worried that I did it wrong, that it ruined my whole day! I did everything right and the pigs recovered just fine. But the problem is that unlike a cow, the pigs testes are inside the animal, instead of hanging down outside the body. So castrating a pig is more like performing surgery...and I'm no surgeon! Not to mention that the pigs now have a healthy fear that at any moment, I might climb into their pen and start cutting into them...an experience they most definitely do not want to repeat.

So we have decided to try the uncastrated route and see how it goes for us. Everything for the new farmer is trail and error. I have lots of books and the internet and a really good mentor...but what works for some folks might not work for me (kind of like religion).


  1. i am in awe at this post. you are strong, strong people. we need to come see the swine!!

  2. At some point I gotta bring my girls down for a field trip to the pig house. I am so stoked with what your doing. And I thought my chickens and vegetable garden were an intense chore.