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This paper constitutes an updated review of the production and meat quality aspects of rearing entire male pigs. Since a major obstacle in rearing entire males is the incidence of boar taint, possible methods for detection are also summarised. Safe and fast methods for detection of boar taint would be valuable in avoiding complaints from consumers. Pig meat quality is determined by many aspects, among which odour and taste are the most important attributes. Odour may be negatively affected by the presence of a pheromonal steroid, androstenone, and a fermentation product of l-tryptophan, skatole. Male pigs are surgically castrated in many countries to minimise the risk of accumulation of high levels of androstenone and skatole. Raising entire male pigs is more profitable because they have superior production characteristics and improved meat quality due to leaner carcasses and higher protein content, as compared to castrated pigs. Furthermore, surgical castration is negative from an animal welfare point of view. In most studies, no differences in sensory quality have been found between lean meat from entire male pigs with low levels of androstenone and skatole and pork from castrates and females. The question that remains is: which substances are responsible for boar taint besides androstenone and skatole and whether they need to be considered? The threshold values used for androstenone and skatole might also be too high for highly sensitive persons. Recent research shows that a human odorant receptor, ORD7D4, is involved in sensitivity to androstenone. If the ORD7D4 genotypes of consumer and expert panels are known, this might facilitate consumer studies in the future. There is still a great need for rapid on/at-line detection methods in abattoirs for identifying carcasses with unacceptable levels of boar taint compounds. Several emerging rapid technologies with a potential for boar taint detection have been investigated. They represent various measurement principles such as chemical sensor arrays (electronic noses), mass-spectrometry fingerprinting, ultra-fast gas chromatography, gas-phase spectrometry and biosensors. An industrial detection method should allow 100% correct classification of both acceptable and not-acceptable samples with regard to boar taint sorting criteria. There are, however, still too high a percentage of false negatives ranging from 5% to 20%. In addition, these methods do not yet seem to fulfil the industrial specifications with regard to cost efficiency, simplicity and analysis time. There is still no dedicated measurement technology available for on/at-line detection of boar-tainted carcasses that measures both androstenone and skatole.
This paper presents an analysis of the economic implications of alternative methods to surgical castration without anaesthesia. Detailed research results on the economic implications of four different alternatives are reported: castration with local anaesthesia, castration with general anaesthesia, immunocastration and raising entire males. The first three alternatives have been assessed for their impact on pig production costs in the most important pig-producing Member States of the EU. The findings on castration with anaesthesia show that cost differences among farms increase if the anaesthesia cannot be administered by farmers and when the veterinarian has to be called to perform it. The cost of veterinarian service largely affects the total average costs, making this solution economically less feasible in small-scale pig farms. In all other farms, the impact on production costs of local anaesthesia is however limited and does not exceed 1 €ct per kg. General anaesthesia administered by inhalation or injection of Ketamin in combination with a sedative (Azaperone, Midazolan) is more expensive. These costs depend heavily on farm size, as the inhalation equipment has to be depreciated on the largest number of pigs possible. The overall costs of immunocastration – including the cost of the work load for the farmer – has to be evaluated against the potential benefits derived from higher daily weight gain and feed efficiency in comparison with surgical castrates. The economic feasibility of this practice will finally depend on the price of the vaccine and on consumer acceptance of immunocastration. The improvement in feed efficiency may compensate almost entirely for the cost of vaccination. The main advantages linked to raising entire males are due to the higher efficiency of feed conversion, to the better growth rate and to the higher leanness of carcass. A higher risk of boar taint on the slaughter line has to be accounted for. Raising entire males should not generate more than 2.5% of boar taint among slaughter pigs, in order to maintain the considerable economic benefits of better feed efficiency of entire males with respect to castrates.
This paper constitutes a review on the welfare aspects of piglet castration that considers the scientific literature published after 2004. Castrating during the neonatal period (1 to 3 days of age) is clearly painful. In addition, inflammatory processes may take place at the sites of incision, thus adding further pain to the procedure. Surgical castration with general and local anaesthesia, in combination with long-term analgesia, has been shown to reduce pain but the additional handling and injection of the anaesthetic, the effectiveness and limited safety margins have to be thoroughly evaluated. Raising entire males during the whole fattening period or immunocastration of males towards the end of the fattening period are other alternatives with welfare benefits in young pigs compared to current surgical castration, but with some potential welfare drawbacks regarding handling stress and behaviour during fattening. Based on the current knowledge, it can be concluded that sperm sexing and raising entire males after genetic control of boar taint are potentially preferable alternatives to current practices, but need further research, as these methods are not yet available.
PIGCAS (Attitudes, practices and state of the art regarding piglet castration in Europe) is to our knowledge the first project that has focused on castration practice across European countries (European Union minus Bulgaria, Malta and Romania, plus Norway and Switzerland). About 250 million pigs are slaughtered in Europe each year. Of the 125 million male pigs, approximately 20% are left entire, less than 3% are castrated with anaesthesia and the rest is castrated without anaesthesia. The study identified large variations in castration procedures, both within and between countries. In females, castration is very rare, but is practiced without anaesthesia in special breeds/production systems in some of the southern countries.
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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