Animal welfare implications of surgical castration and its alternatives in pigs

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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.