Skip to main content Accessibility help

Impact of sexual maturity on the welfare of immunocastrated v. entire heavy female pigs

  • G. Di Martino (a1), A. Scollo (a2), A. Garbo (a1), F. Lega (a1), A. L. Stefani (a1), M. Vascellari (a1), A. Natale (a1), F. Zuliani (a1), C. Zanardello (a1), F. Tonon (a3) and L. Bonfanti (a1)...


During oestrus, fattening female pigs are more prone to lameness, fractures and wounds due to mounting and agonistic behaviours of penmates. This study assessed the effect of sexual maturity on the behaviour and welfare of heavy female pigs slaughtered at 36 weeks of age (180±10 kg) for dry-cured ham production. An immunocastrated control group was used for comparison. In all, 56 15-week-old female pigs, individually identifiable by back tattoos were equally distributed among four pens. All animals from two pens were subject to a three-dose immunocastration schedule at 16, 20 and 32 weeks of age. Skin lesions and behaviours were assessed at 18, 23, 28, 33 and 36 weeks of age. A blood sample was collected at 20, 24, 28 and 32 weeks of age for assessing health/stress parameters and GnRH antibodies. At slaughter, ovaries were weighed, measured and histologically examined; stomachs, carcasses and lungs were scored for lesions and a further blood sample was taken. Immunocastrated pigs did not significantly differ from controls in growth rate, feed efficiency and slaughter performances (lung score, gastric score, backfat thickness). However, they showed a lower frequency of aggressive interactions at 33 and 36 weeks, lower front lesions at 28 weeks, but higher at 30 weeks; a lower haptoglobin level at 28 weeks, a lower level of cortisol and back lesions at slaughter (36 weeks). These findings suggest a low, yet not negligible, impact of sexual maturity on the welfare of heavy female pigs.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Albrecht, AK 2013. Review on the consequences of using ImprovacTM in modern pig production. Veterinary Science Development 3, e1.
Brewster, V and Nevel, A 2013. Immunocastration with Improvac™ reduces aggressive and sexual behaviours in male pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 145, 3236.
Cronin, GM, Dunshea, FR, Butler, KL, McCauley, I, Barnett, JL and Hemsworth, PH 2003. The effects of immuno- and surgical- castration on the behaviour and consequently growth of group-housed male finisher pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 81, 111126.
Claus, R, Lacorn, M, Danowski, K, Pearce, MC and Bauer, A 2007. Short-term endocrine and metabolic reactions before and after second immunization against GnRH in boars. Vaccine 25, 46894696.
Dalmau, A., Velarde, A, Rodríguez, P, Pedernera, C, Llonch, P, Fàbrega, E, Casal, N, Maianu, E, Gispert, M, King, V, Slootmans, N, Thomas, A and Mombarg, M 2015. Use of an anti-GnRH vaccine to suppress estrus in crossbred Iberian female pigs. Theriogenology 84, 342347.
Daza, A, Latorre, MA, Olivares, A and Bote, CL 2016. The effects of male and female immunocastration on growth performances and carcass and meat quality of pigs intended for dry-cured ham production: a preliminary study. Livestock Science 190, 2026.
Di Martino, G, Capello, K, Scollo, A, Gottardo, F, Stefani, AL, Rampin, F, Schiavon, E, Marangon, S and Bonfanti, L 2013. Continuous straw provision reduces prevalence of oesophago-gastric ulcer in pigs slaughtered at 170 kg (heavy pigs). Research in Veterinary Science 95, 12711273.
Di Martino, G, Scollo, A, Gottardo, F, Stefani, AL, Schiavon, E, Capello, K, Marangon, S and Bonfanti, L 2015. The effect of tail docking on the welfare of pigs housed under challenging conditions. Livestock Science 173, 7886.
European Commission 2014. Commission Implementing Decision 2014/38/EU authorising methods for grading pig carcases in Italy. Official Journal of the European Union L 23, 3540.
Fredriksen, B and Hexeberg, C 2009. The effect of removing animals for slaughter on the behaviour of the remaining male and female pigs in the pen. Research in Veterinary Science 86, 368370.
Gamero-Negrón, R, Del Pulgar, JS and García, C 2015. Immune-spaying as an alternative to surgical spaying in Iberian× Duroc females: Effect on quality characteristics and fatty acid profile in dry-cured shoulders and loins. Meat Science 104, 5257.
Gamero-Negrón, R, Del Pulgar, JS, Ventanas, J and García, C 2015. Immune-spaying as an alternative to surgical spaying in Iberian × Duroc females: effect on carcass traits and meat quality characteristics. Meat Science 99, 99103.
Hintze, S, Scott, D, Turner, S, Meddle, SL and D’Eath, RB 2013. Mounting behaviour in finishing pigs: stable individual differences are not due to dominance or stage of sexual development. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 147, 6980.
Lipperheide, C, Diepers, N, Lampreave, F, Alava, M and Petersen, B 1998. Nephelometric determination of haptoglobin plasma concentrations in fattening pigs. Journal of Veterinary Medicine A 45, 545550.
Martin, P and Bateson, P 2007. Measuring behaviour. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Martinez-Macipe, M, Rodriguez, P, Izquierdo, M, Gispert, M, Manteca, X, Mainau, E, Hernández, FI, Claret, A, Guerrero, L and Dalmau, A 2016. Comparison of meat quality parameters in surgical castrated versus vaccinated against gonadotrophin-releasing factor male and female Iberian pigs reared in free-ranging conditions. Meat Science 111, 116121.
McDonald, M, Malone, E and McBride, J 2010. Confirmation of hormones in animal serum by Liquid Chromatography/Tandem Mass Spectrometry according to European Commission Decision 2002/657. Journal of AOAC International 93, 343349.
Negrato, E, Di Martino, G, Vascellari, M, Radaelli, G, Capello, K, Pascoli, F, Bertotto, D and Bonfanti, L 2013. Expression of heat shock protein 70 in the liver of extensively and intensively kept heavy pigs. Animal 7, 13621366.
Petersen, HH, Nielsen, JP and Heegard, PMH 2004. Application of acute phase protein measurements in veterinary clinical chemistry. Veterinary Research 35, 163187.
Richter, H 1974. Haptoglobin bei haussaügetieren. III. Mitteilung: der haptoglobingehalt im blutplasma undserum von widerkaüern und sweinen unter verschiedenen physiologischen bedingungen. Archiv fur experimentelle veterinarmedizin 28, 505519. (in German).
Rydhmer, L, Lundström, K and Andersson, K 2010. Immunocastration reduces aggressive and sexual behaviour in male pigs. Animal 6, 965972.
Rydhmer, L, Zamaratskaia, G, Andersson, HK, Algers, B, Guillemet, R and Lundstrom, K 2006. Aggressive and sexual behaviour of growing and finishing pigs reared in groups, without castration. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A, Animal Science 56, 109119.
Salmon, ELR and Edwards, SA 2006. Effects of gender contact on the behaviour and performance of entire boars and gilts from 60-130 kg. In Proceedings of the British Society of Animal Science, March 2006, York, UK, p. 72.
Scollo, A, Di Martino, G, Bonfanti, L, Stefani, AL, Schiavon, E, Marangon, S and Gottardo, F 2013. Tail docking and the rearing of heavy pigs: the role played by gender and the presence of straw in the control of tail biting. Blood parameters, behaviour and skin lesions. Research in Veterinary Science 95, 825830.
Scollo, A, Gottardo, F, Contiero, B, Mazzoni, C, Leneveu, P and Edwards, SA 2017. Benchmarking of pluck lesions at slaughter as a health monitoring tool for pigs slaughtered at 170kg (heavy pigs). Preventive Veterinary Medicine 144, 2028.
Thomsen, R, Bonde, M, Kongsted, AG and Rousing, T 2012. Welfare of entire males and females in organic pig production when reared in single-sex groups. Livestock Science 149, 118127.
Van den Broeke, A, Leen, F, Aluwé, M, Ampe, B, Van Meensel, J and Millet, S 2016. The effect of GnRH vaccination on performance, carcass, and meat quality and hormonal regulation in boars, barrows, and gilts. Journal of Animal Science 94, 28112820.
Welfare Quality® 2009. Welfare Quality® applied to growing and finishing pigs. In Welfare Quality ® assessment protocol for pigs (ed. A Dalmau, A Velarde, K Scott, S Edwards, I Veissier, L Keeling and A Butterworth), pp. 49–78. Welfare Quality® Consortium, Lelystad, The Netherlands.
Zamaratskaia, G, Rydhmer, L, Andersson, HK, Chen, G, Lowagie, S, Andersson, K and Lundström, K 2008. Long-term effect of vaccination against gonadotropin-releasing hormone, using immunisation against GnRH, on hormonal profile and behaviour of male pigs. Animal Reproduction Science 108, 3748.
Zeng, XY, Turkstra, JA, Tsigos, A, Meloen, RH, Liu, XY, Chen, FQ, Schaaper, WMM, Oonk, HB, Guo, DZ and van de Wiel, DFM 2002. Effects of active immunization against GnRH on serum LH, inhibin A, sexual development and growth rate in Chinese female pigs. Theriogenology 58, 13151326.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Di Martino et al supplementary material
Di Martino et al supplementary material 1

 Word (664 KB)
664 KB

Impact of sexual maturity on the welfare of immunocastrated v. entire heavy female pigs

  • G. Di Martino (a1), A. Scollo (a2), A. Garbo (a1), F. Lega (a1), A. L. Stefani (a1), M. Vascellari (a1), A. Natale (a1), F. Zuliani (a1), C. Zanardello (a1), F. Tonon (a3) and L. Bonfanti (a1)...


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed