Change is coming, but it won’t be huge change nor difficult for pork producers to adopt.
Effective July 1, 2016, producers will have to use pain mitigation medication when performing procedures like castration and tail docking.
“There are a number of these elective husbandry procedures in the code, and these are painful procedures for pigs, and they can certainly lead to distress, discomfort and pain,” Dr. Egan Brockhoff, veterinarian and owner of Prairie Swine Health Services, said during a recent telephone town hall organized by Alberta Pork.
When the updated code of practice for the care and handling of pigs comes into effect, castration at any age must be done with an analgesic while pigs older than 10 days must be given an anesthetic and an analgesic.
An anesthetic takes away nerve sensation, similar to freezing at the dentist, while an analgesic leaves sensation but takes away the feeling of pain, explained Brockhoff.
“The great news is that we have these products in place already and these products are available for pork producers to use on their farms,” he said.
Castration is necessary because it’s the only method of reducing boar taint, aggression and handling challenges, he said. But pain from castration slows the growth of young piglets, and those castrated at three days of age gain less than non-castrated piglets.
“It certainly can slow them down if we don’t manage the pain,” said Brockhoff.
Research has demonstrated that the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, similar to an Aspirin or Advil, can help mitigate pain. Different non-steroidal anti-inflammatories work different in different species. Giving medication 30 minutes before castration significantly reduces pain.
Producers will also be required to use analgesics for tail-docking procedures on pigs of all ages by July 1, 2016. As well, pain medication will also be required for ear notching and tattooing, as well as tusk trimming.
Researchers have looked at using Medicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory approved for use on swine in Canada, as a pain medication in castration, said Brockhoff. Researchers have been administrating Medicam at the same time as they supply their pigs with iron.
“All of our pigs need iron. They are born with very low supplies of iron, whether they are born inside or outside,” he said. “No matter where they are raised, pigs require iron injections or exposure to iron.”
Administering Medicam and iron by injection before starting the surgical castration procedure provides pigs with a good analgesic.
Lidocaine, an anesthetic, removes sensation for one to two hours, depending on the dose. It can be administered directly into the testicle using a needle. Researchers in Alberta have shown that Lidocaine is effective at reducing pain and pain-related behaviours during and following a castration procedure.
Brockhoff said that the new methods for castration are effective, and don’t require major changes in livestock management. All pork producers are encouraged to consult with their veterinarian, he said.
“There are tools that are readily accessible and there are things you can do today to move forward,” he said.
The code was revised by National Farm Animal Care Council in consultation with the Canadian Pork Council, other industry players, and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. The latter praised the revised code as “a turning point for the welfare of pigs in Canada” when it was released two years ago.