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Is castrating pigs necessary?

Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
I posted this on another website's forum.  So if y'all read over there as well I doubly apologize for repetitiveness.  I read the pastured pig post and following some of the links found a different approach than the answers I was given there.  This forum seemed more in line with what I would like to try to do. 

I am new to this forum as of [s]yesterday[/s] today so I hope I am not being repetitive in my topic question.  I looked around a little bit and didn't find any posts that address this, although there was a fairly recent post concerning how to castrate a pig.  I work on a farm that has some pigs that we bought at auction.  They were about 5 weeks old when we got them and were not castrated yet.  We took two of them to the vet and got them done.  I helped by holding them down, the doc had given them a mild anesthetic, so it wasn't that hard.  I'm not sure if it is because I enjoy pigs or because I am a man, but it kind of bothered me.  Although not as much as scrubbing the open wound and hosing it out for the two weeks after did.  So I started to research why it needed to be done.  I read about boar taint and how that may not really be an issue.  And of course there is the aggressiveness associated with all intact males (humans included).  But it really seems to me that this procedure can be avoided if you buy breeds that have less tendency to have the taint and/or rotational graze them so they don't eat as much of their own feces.  This seems like a commercial practice that has seeped into small farms.  Any answers, experiences, or thoughts on this would help me tremendously.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
5 weeks is late... we did that at 7 weeks once, about 40# each. not fun.

I cant speak to necessity. we always made barrows. it was easiest at 3 days, we held them in our arms, belly up, head under an armpit across the chest. then the partner would make two 1/2 long incision and the a lil squees and slice the seminal ducts, and done.  most animal supply stores sell a disposable surgical knife and  idone - thats all we used. sometimes gauze if we missed a bit, but after ytou do 3 or 4 its pretty easy. with 3 day olds,  a day later its closed. never lost any at any age. always did our own.

with older ones we doused with iodine and watched. It didnt take two weeks. I'd wager the scrubbing and irragtion is slowing down the healing in your case. even on the barrows we did at 8 weeks (bought a litter uncastrated at half price, about $30 a hog back then) they were closed and good after 5 days. walked funny for a couple days tho!

in my experinece pigs dont eat thier own crap unless their confined to it. they eat it as a substitute for soil. they do eat dirt, and the critters in it. Our hogs were actualy pretty tidy withier poo, and fairly consistant with where they droped it given a choice.  Im getting ready to do hogs after a 10 year break. rethinking my paddock strategies based on the great learning Ive done here and in permaculture workshops, etc.

anyhow, cut them young. 3 days, its easier to hold them they heal fast, get ahold of a local 4H group or farm bureau and ask who the oldsters are and have them show you if you like. It pretty simple. I dont think ill ever 'get over' the idea of removing even a locker hogs testes,  somehow seems crueler than the kill itself. just be skillful, learn from someone who knows how, have them watch you and your next litter will be done on day 3 in about 1 hour flat, no charge.

also, dont do this within earshot of the sow if possible or at least lock her in the farrowing pen and pray you made it strong enough to hold her. shes very protective and the piglets are loud when this goes down, though they dont seem to be hurt by it much- the 7 week old pigs did mind it alot more in terms of post cull stress. the piglkets at 3 days are back to bouncing happy things in 20 minutes flat, and are best to let go straight to mom for a suckle. this also calms her down.

one last thought. Dont do this around a dog, specially an untrained or big and agressive dog. it pricks up thier hunting instinct and will lead to alot of barking, and even attempts by the dog to get at the removed bits in a determined manner. the barking just upsets the sow even more.  we did feed the remnants to the dogs, but never let them hang while we cut the 'lets. the dogs can smell the fear and the blood and they think its a hunt, and it can do something primal to them, even in purebread bozo labs.

best of luck and I look forward to hearing if anyone DOESNT prune the boars!

there are alot of vpiglet castration vids on youtube. some are wretched. I dont have sound, but I think this one probably has the best practices of the half dozen I viewed. some are bad. dont say I didnt warn you.






Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    5
Well I have no experience right now but I can tell you that both of our boars - one castrated, one not - are both the most gentle wee men we have on our homestead.  If anything, the castrated one is more of a challenge as he doesn't respect the electric fencing and keeps busting out, therefore jostling the feed buckets right from the gate and making a mess.

I've read Walter's blog at Sugar Mountain Farm and have been convinced not to castrate when our sow farrows.  I'm hoping that I can convince the folk that want to have weaners from us.  Here in France there is the belief that meat will be 'totally inedible - inedible' (they say inedible twice for effect always  ) if not castrated.  We'll see.
Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
Deston Lee wrote:

one last thought. Dont do this around a dog, specially an untrained or big and agressive dog. it pricks up thier hunting instinct and will lead to alot of barking, and even attempts by the dog to get at the removed bits in a determined manner. the barking just upsets the sow even more.  we did feed the remnants to the dogs, but never let them hang while we cut the 'lets. the dogs can smell the fear and the blood and they think its a hunt, and it can do something primal to them, even in purebread bozo labs.



Thanks for all of you advice and for taking the time to give my post serious consideration.  Much appreciated.  Speaking of dogs and pig's testes.....before we got to this farm they had a batch of pigs castrated here at the farm on a day when the doc was out anyway (the two that I witnessed/helped with were brought to the vet).  He did it the same way, with anesthetic.  When he was finished they gave the testes to one of their dogs, a good sized mixed breed.  Anyway it knocked her out for a little while.
Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
Alison Freeth-Thomas "heninfrance" wrote:

I've read Walter's blog at Sugar Mountain Farm and have been convinced not to castrate when our sow farrows.  I'm hoping that I can convince the folk that want to have weaners from us.  Here in France there is the belief that meat will be 'totally inedible - inedible' (they say inedible twice for effect always  ) if not castrated.  We'll see.


I checked out the Sugar Mountain Farm page and that reassured me to try not castrating when we get that far.  Please update with your experiment, I'm sure many people would want to know your experience.  That's funny that France has the same boar taint prejudice that is present in the States.  When I first started reading about this, a lot of what I found said that European countries and Brazil were finding it isn't necessary and moving away from castration.  None of the articles mentioned France, but I guess I had higher hopes.
Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    5
Well in commercial indoor farming the boars don't ever get beyond 6 months of age and are frequently not castrated but I was rather hoping that ours might run this mortal coil for a little longer - uncastrated.  That's when folk say 'inedible'.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Ive never seen anasthetic given for a hog castration. Ive been at an handfull of pig farms, but wouldnt say im an industry surveyor. Ill go read that sugar mtn blog now. we marketed our hogs, and the butcher wouldnt buy them uncircumsized, Since im planning on doing this for my own locker and for luau and charcutterie - for personal use mostly, and for family and friends- It seems reasonable to NOT give the whack to a few and see how it goes.

misfit wrote:
When he was finished they gave the testes to one of their dogs, a good sized mixed breed.  Anyway it knocked her out for a little while.


forgot about that. oh, hormones and a full belly...
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
If experienced farmers are telling you that the pigs will be inedible un-castrated after a certain young age, there's probably good reason to listen to them.  It would be a shame to spend a year or more raising an animal only to have the meat be "inedible."  To make pork inedible, the hormones must truly taste awful.  I've no personal experience, but I tend to trust people who've been at it longer than I have.  Usually, but not always, their advice is warranted.  It's always well intended even when it's not accurate. 

Yeah, I think it'd be a pretty unhappy pig that eats their own feces.  Pigs are very careful to separate themselves from their poo if they have the space.  Our free range pair doesn't poo in "the yard", they only do it way out in the field away from high foot traffic areas.  It's fun pointing that out to visitors - Look at all the pig poo under that apple tree!  Look how there's NONE in front of the house! 

Our breed is supposed to be very good eating no matter the gender, even when fully grown and intact.  We'll find out!  We've a breeding pair, so if their intact male offspring end up tasting foul we'll have the opportunity to do it differently the next time around without a lot of loss (we're expecting to have around twenty piglets a year eventually).  If I bought a pig only intending to fatten and eat it, I'd be less willing to take that gamble. 

It's worth finding out for yourself.  Then you'll KNOW. 
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
theres a tendency in farmers to do what they have seen. its difficult to reinvent the wheel and we all work so hard anyhow, so by wrote is the tendency.  castrate the hogs, put headboards on bulls, till feilds. alot of the time the question of "why?" doesnt get raised.

recent tests on dryland rice production have shown that equal, even more productivity comes from drylands than paddies. so why do paddies? turns out that 6-8k years ago rice, being a wetlands marginal plant, got eaten at germination by rodents if the feild wasnt flooded. now farmers have other options for rodent control - fukuoaka relied on local predators and poly crop to both actively and passively reduce damages. And he out-produced industrial methods on a per acre basis.

so when someone says " cut it", I wonder- they say meat taste bad, smells foul, etc. but did they ever raise one that way?

Walter at sugar mtn, your blog is amazing. thank you. this post answered my first question- does taint set in by slaughter age?(5.5-6 months for most american market breeds)  http://flashweb.com/blog/2009/03/eliminating-boar-taint-high-snows.html
sounds like no, mostly.

Question is about agression.  I have met agressive hogs. We never had any. On my folks dirt farm the boar, at 1100lbs would roll onto his back and elicit scratches (he liked the rake actually) from us with batting eys and comely grunts. I really do think its in the handling, and loving them up. Maybe we had some agressive ones, but they went to the locker before we found out.  I dont know.. Do boars with balls= more likely to be agressive? Ive not surveyed the subject, but by the 4 boars we had over 12 years or so, I'd wager no.

Im just raising for locker this year, I wont go perrenial unless I can buy up the land next door, I dont have room for that. But I would try it if I picked that up. adherance to traditions sometimes must be questioned in light of evoloving understanding and knowledge.

finaly, we had a sow with the opposite of taint, and her litters carried the trait. the opposite of taint? when scratched she smelled like maple syrup. it was kinda awkward to love up on her, and start to drool as I imagined griddle cakes, sausage or backbacon, and eggs, and a smother of quality butter all toped with maple syrup. we sold her litters to 4h kids for show, they were really solid animals. Im hoping I can find one and get that almost strange pleasure again...
Warren David


Joined: Nov 18, 2010
Posts: 186
Deston Lee wrote:
the butcher wouldnt buy them uncircumsized
Was it a kosher butcher? The hogs are not kosher if they are not circumcised. 
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
kids say the darndest things... 
Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
marina phillips wrote:
If experienced farmers are telling you that the pigs will be inedible un-castrated after a certain young age, there's probably good reason to listen to them.  It would be a shame to spend a year or more raising an animal only to have the meat be "inedible."  To make pork inedible, the hormones must truly taste awful.  I've no personal experience, but I tend to trust people who've been at it longer than I have.  Usually, but not always, their advice is warranted.  It's always well intended even when it's not accurate. 


I do believe the advice is well intended, it is the experienced part that I am leery about.  That can go both ways.  I do trust people who've been at it longer than I have, as long as I feel we have similar values.  That is what I am try to get a handle on.  The people that I work for currently (the pig castraters) and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of practices.  They were raised on a farm that had pigs and castrated them.  These pigs generally are slaughtered before sexual maturity, and they are confined.  Its just how they have always done it.  There is no room for change or growth or openness to new information.  I find that attitude disappointing and unfortunately occurs frequently not just with farmers but people in general.
Pam Hatfield


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508

I'm not sure at what age it happens; perhaps when the boars go through what would be called puberty in humans but I can tell you that I once had a roast  that we eventually figured must have come from an uncastrated boar.  I had to throw it out before it was even finished cooking. The smell was totally gross, no idea what it might have tasted like as nobody would have wanted to get close enough to try it.  The meat came from a commercial meat packer, wasn't contaminated or spoiled in any way (I have smelled spoiled meat and that's different)  but once the heat got to it and it started to cook....yetch. I tried to keep cooking it to see if the smell would go away but it got worse and worse until I had to throw it out. I have never had meat smell like that before or since. It even took a while to get the stench out of the kitchen

Maybe they don't all do that but I'd never take the chance of raising a pig for x months and then have to feed the meat to the dogs or something. 

Years ago we used to raise pigs and always castrated them very young..they recover faster and are easier to handle so less likelihood of problems.  Piglets will scream even if you aren't doing anything but pick them up  (not trying to suggest it doesn't hurt them, just saying) and they all shut up and snuggled up to mom right after and we never had a problem. It's not pretty  no matter when though.

Also, I never have heard of pigs eating their own feces. Dogs and rabbits will sometimes but pigs (at least the ones I've known) are generally very tidy in their bathroom habits. They will root through OTHER animal's feces quite happilly, an old custom was to have them follow cows or even sometimes share a shed with them, esp in winter, as they could get vitamins and so forth from the cow's deposits but  never their own. I would tend to think something was very wrong if I saw a pig eating its own feces.
Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    5
Pam wrote:

Also, I never have heard of pigs eating their own feces. Dogs and rabbits will sometimes but pigs (at least the ones I've known) are generally very tidy in their bathroom habits. They will root through OTHER animal's feces quite happilly, an old custom was to have them follow cows or even sometimes share a shed with them, esp in winter, as they could get vitamins and so forth from the cow's deposits but  never their own. I would tend to think something was very wrong if I saw a pig eating its own feces.


I've heard that in parts of India, pigs are kept to act as the composting toilet!
Chris Fitt


Joined: Jan 10, 2011
Posts: 115
Location: Eastern Shore VA
Pam wrote:
Piglets will scream even if you aren't doing anything but pick them up  (not trying to suggest it doesn't hurt them, just saying) and they all shut up and snuggled up to mom right after and we never had a problem.


That is so true. This is my first experience with pigs they had 5 here when we came.  And they were already in their own routine.  I did start to get in the pen with them and giving them attention.  The pigs here are mostly ignored.  They are cared for but mostly just a point A to point B meat for sale situation.  Nobody really handled them or abused them. I would pet them behind the ears when we fed them milk. 

We went to an auction and got 4 pigs that were about 5 weeks old.  Two of these were the ones we castrated.  One was a female and the other a male that we slaughtered for a pig roast 5 weeks later.  At the auction they moved all of  the pigs with an electric cattle prod (or maybe the porcine equivalent) and kicked at them.  Most of those pigs screamed and screeched like they were dying.  Its an intense noise.  I've heard that we are hard wired to be disturbed by a human baby's cries, I wonder if there is something similar with pigs.  It just is disturbing.  So we get the pigs home and we have more interaction with this group.  We have to move them a few times, load them to the vet, off load them, etc.  Whether I am petting them, touching them, washing out their castration wounds, or sometimes just getting in there with them, they scream.  So I agree that it is not so much that the pigs are being hurt (sometimes they are) some are just very vocal.
Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    5
Ours squeal their heads off if we're late with their meals!!!
Pam Hatfield


Joined: Jul 07, 2010
Posts: 508
Alison Freeth-Thomas "heninfrance" wrote:
I've heard that in parts of India, pigs are kept to act as the composting toilet!


Yes...it would tend to make you think twice about a pork chop, wouldn't it?   I have also heard that such habits are why the ban on eating pork for some religious groups.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 890
    
  17
On the question of aggression, I've not found boars any more aggressive than sows. Either can be very aggressive. BUT I don't keep the aggressive ones - I cull them. Temperament is highly genetic and I was able to trace it through our pig herd lineage's. I culled the entire lines of the worst aggression. The result was gentle pigs. We have sows as big as about 800 lbs and boars twice that size. Not fat, muscle since they're out on pasture.

On the screaming: aye, piglets are amazingly loud and ever so easy to setoff! I think one issue is they are ticklish around the middle. When a predator grabs them it does so around the middle - think wolf or fox. So by being ticklish and very loud they call for help. Pick them up by supporting the legs from below or by lifting by the hind feet if you can't get the first.

On the dogs: ours were disappointed when we stopped castrating years ago. They sat politely and waited their turn to snap up the testicles I tossed. The pigs appreciate the decision, I hope.

On boars vs barrows vs gilts (females): as a general rule boars grow significantly faster than barrows which grow faster than gilts and boars are more efficient at turning feed into meat, muscle. Barrows make more fat, gilts make even more fat. So if what you want is lean meat then raise boars, if what you want is lard go for gilts. In both cases the type of pig, bacon (long) vs lard (short bodied) also has a big effect on the amount of lard with the latter tending to grow more slowly. Diet (high calories like corn) also will promote fat - handy again if you want lard. All are tools to achieve goals.

But on to taint: Taint is real, some pigs do have it but scientific research shows that only a small minority of boars have taint. Not only that but barrows, gilts and sows can all have taint too. Taint is produced by more than one chemical. One is produced in the testes (balls) AND in the adrenal glands which you didn't remove. The other (skatole) is produced in the intestines - which you also left on. Boar taint is primarily a myth, very rare and often an excuse used for slaughter/butchering failure.

Taint can be controlled through genetics (breed away from it), feed management (higher fiber such as hay, chicory, etc) and through management practices (don't stall or confinement raise, put them out on pasture instead). There's even a vaccine for it, but don't accidentally stick yourself with the needle or you could end up sterile too.

We don't castrate. We have about 300 pigs on our farm, out on pasture. We take pigs to market every week of the year and about half of those are boars. Typical age is about six months although we've done them as old as 30 month old boars (sexually active, kept with the females, 800 lbs) without any taint. We sell standing orders (repeat business) through stores, restaurants and to individuals. The point is that if our pigs had taint then our thousands of customers would have noticed over the years. I can taste/smell taint and love our pork - no taint.

This is a topic I've done a bit of research on as you might have guessed. After the second time a piglet's guts came squirting out (hidden hernia) I decided there had to be a better way. For more than you probably ever wanted to know on this topic:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2009/04/tainted-big-pharma.html
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/blog/2007/08/hi-tech-vs-boar-taint.html

Follow the links in those articles to other articles and there are links to various scientific research.

There is the possibility that some breeds, specifically the red Duroc, may be more likely to have taint and that the light colored breeds (Yorkshire, Hampshire, etc) are less likely to have taint. One researcher I spoke with strongly thought this was the case. Our pigs are a mix of primarily Yorkshire with the addition of Large Black, Berkshire, Tamworth, Glouster Old Spot and probably Hampshire. In other words: good old American Mutt pigs. Except that we've been selecting them for our needs for generations. See this for pictures:

http://images.google.com/images?q=site:sugarmtnfarm.com+pigs

The European Union is strongly leaning towards a mandatory ban on castration. I expect this to come down within the next decade. I suspect the USA will follow suite. I detest government interference in our lives (e.g., you should have the right to castrate, or circumcise, if you want) but best to be prepared by developing the genetics, management and feed regimes now that avoid taint. As a side benefit you avoid this unpleasant task.

Cheers,

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep and Kids
in the Mountains of Vermont
paul wheaton
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Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14159
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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Misty Rayne


Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 37
Location: SW Ontario, Canada
We raise Tamworth pigs and we do castrate any males being used for meat. we do it before 1 week of age and have never had a problem, the cuts are all closed up by the next day and in a week you could never tell they were even done. I was nervous the first time I did it myself but I had a comercial farmer show me how to do it, must say my hubby stays clear of the barn when I am doing it though! LOL!!


blessed be
Alison Thomas
volunteer

Joined: Jul 22, 2009
Posts: 933
Location: France
    
    5
Coming back here on the results of earlier posts...

Our big boar went to 20 months and had no taint - lovely meat in fact. It was quite funny to invite our farmer neighbours who raved about the meat and watch their faces when I told them it was from the pig they had proclaimed inedible. In terms of aggression, he was only a little more assertive once and that's when a male wild boar was hanging around (and actually banged up one of our sows - grrr). He didn't want anyone else in his bit of pasture I think because he was guarding it. We let him be that day and the following day he was back to normal, loving his back scratches etc.

His sons were uncastrated also and met the butcher at 14 months old. Again lovely meat.

However, we now only have females as we have enough in our outdoor 'larder' so we don't need a boar currently.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 890
    
  17
When in doubt about if a boar needs castration I recommend taking a wee bite of the boar in question to see how he tastes. The odds are strongly in favor that he is fine and has no taint, thus not needing castration. Taking a bite and cooking it up will help you make a decision. Make sure that your official taste tester actually can taste (actually smell) taint since only about 75% of people can detect it.

Boars grow faster than barrows or females, turning feed into meat more efficiently so there is an economic reason for keeping the boars intact. We have 400 pigs on our farm's pastures and haven't castrated in closing in on a decade. We sell meat weekly to thousands of people - no problems with taint. 99% of the feeder weaners we sell each spring to people to raise their own are intact boars. I don't castrate so if someone doesn't want an intact boar they can buy a gilt, which is $50 more.

Years ago we used to castrate piglets, hundreds of them. Our livestock guardian and herding dogs always sat patiently waiting while we did it because as we cut we tossed them the treats. I stopped castrating because I didn't like the waste. About 1% of pigs have hidden scrotal hernias - you cut them and their small intestines come spewing out into your lap. Very unpleasant for the farmer and the pig. Try stuffing a screaming pig back together - not too successful. This led me to doing a lot of research about why castration was done and if there might be a better way, such as simply not castrating.

If you're hesitant about biting your boar just a bit then check out this article about how to do it safely and humanely:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/03/20/have-your-pig-and-eat-it-too/

The boars hardly noticed when I took my bites. I do this to test new incoming breeders.

Cheers,

-Walter
Devon Olsen


Joined: Nov 28, 2011
Posts: 973
Location: SE Wyoming -zone 4
    
    5
great thread
im glad to hear walter has done his homework on taint and found a (great, i might add) way around it in his herds and think i shall look towards his practices if or when i get any pigs


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Andrew Schreiber


Joined: Apr 01, 2012
Posts: 125
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
    
    5
We have American Guinea hogs, american guinea hog an old homestead breed (or used to be, most of the genetic diversity has been lost over the last hundred years). There smaller than most pigs, mature dead hanging weight of about 300 LBS for boers. Sows maybe 20 LBS less.

I just finished butchering the last of them, mostly males, at around 5 months old. weighed between 40-60 pounds. None were castrated, all of them are delicious. No "taint" that I can detect.

we hardly fed them anything. They roamed about 10 acres of our property, eating grass, herbs, bugs, acorns, compost and mama's milk.

I don't see the need to castrate these pigs so long as we kill them before sexual maturity (theoretically around 8-months old).

We have some articles about the pigs on Windward's website

windward's articles about pigs

nice to see lots of pig enthusiasts here
Andrew


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George Collins


Joined: Sep 22, 2011
Posts: 79
Location: South Central Mississippi
Yesterday I home-slaughtered my first hog and he was an intact male about 8-9 months old. The naysayers were plentiful until a sampling of the meat was cooked up and passed around. Upwards of ten people tasted it and no taster detected any flavor save deliciousness.

And as for aggressiveness, my wife and kids cried (well, most of em cried) when we killed him for, against my instructions, they made an absolute pet out of him.

And I'll have to agree, he was a pretty sweet acting ol pig.

That said, I have no plans to ever again castrate one for personal consumption.

Thank you for being such an outspoken champion of that cause. While I am no PETA member by any stretch of the imagination, I would prefer to inflict as little pain on any animal as possible. Just so happens that by doing something good for the animal, I get to be one shade lazier.


"Solve world hunger . . . tell no one."  The, the, the, . . . THE GRINCH!
 
 
subject: Is castrating pigs necessary?
 
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