Ambassador: Ramon Armengol, Mas Sant Sebastià, Spain

Publication date: May 2018 | Theme: Animal welfare

Challenges: Castration methods

Spanish farmer Ramon Armengol has a 720-sow, farrow-to-finish ‘closed unit’ producing entire males. Aware of the risks of boar taint and possible welfare issues associated with this, he has introduced several different systems to address them – the results including lower production costs per kilo.

Europe is facing a voluntary abandonment of piglet castration without anaesthesia and analgesia from 2018 and the work in Spain shows entire male production is a possibility for all countries. Obviously, the risks of boar taint and welfare issues must be taken into consideration, especially for systems producing heavy pigs, in which alternatives must be properly developed.

It is estimated that around 80% of male piglets in Spain are produced without castration. This enables farmers to take advantage of the better efficiency of producing entire males and to produce meat with a lower fat content. At the same time, they avoid the practice of castration and preserve high welfare standards. From an economical point of view, they save the associated costs of surgical castration, including labour, materials, anaesthesia and/or analgesia.

“Spanish farmer, Ramon Armengol receiving an award from IRTA technician, Aranzazu Varvaro for his best practice on alternatives to pig castration.”

Results

The costs and benefits of the production system Ramon has used have been analysed, considering the changes in technical performance parameters. Based on real-farm data and calculations based on the Interpig model, the following changes have been observed:

  • 3.86% lower labour input per pig, with castration no longer carried out
  • Finishing feed conversion ratio was 5.34% better in entire males than in castrates  (castrates have a 9% higher feed intake)
  • Daily live weight gain was 3.6% lower in entire males than in castrates
  • Average lean meat percentage is 4-5% higher in entire males than in castrates
  • The farmer did not report any higher mortality or vet costs due to avoiding castration.

Based on these assumptions, the variable production costs were lower by 3.2% and the total costs by 2.7%, for entire male production (€ 1.36/kg vs € 1.40/kg hot slaughter weight). However, these gains may be neutralised by a 3.36% lower price obtained for non-castrates (1.092 € vs 1,13 €/kg).

Innovation in practice

Ramon has recognised that producing entire males requires proper hygiene on the farm, along with proper management and supervision skills to foresee and solve any behavioural problems.  The associated risks with non-castration include boar tainted carcasses and increased aggression and sexual behaviours.

To address these risks, Ramon introduced several systems and programmes, including different programmes of feeding. Surveillance of behaviour takes place regularly, to detect potential problems of increased aggression. The pigs are slaughtered at a weight of around 105 kg as opposed to 120 kg (castrated pigs).

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To access more information, contact RPIG (Spain): Emma Fàbrega.