Pork producers have many options for pain control

Veterinarian says producers shouldn’t have a problem meeting new regulatory requirements

BANFF, Alta. — By next year, a new code of practice will force hog producers to use some form of pain relief when castrating, tail docking, ear notching and tooth clipping their animals. 


Fortunately, drugs are already available, an Alberta swine veterinarian told the Jan. 20-22 Banff Pork Seminar. 


“There are a lot of things we can do now that are accessible to help us meet the requirements of the code with respect to pain management and euthanasia,” said Egan Brockhoff of Prairie Swine Health Services in Red Deer.


Veterinarians are working with producers to find reasonable ways to meet the new requirements on the farm.


The 78-page code of practice, which was released last year, contains significant updates on requirements and recommendations for using analgesics and anesthetic. 


An anesthetic is a drug that causes a reversible loss of sensation. Analgesics relieve pain without eliminating sensation. 


Surgical castration is the primary method of reducing boar taint and male aggression. It traditionally involves cutting the skin and removing the testicles, which is a painful procedure regardless of age.


Castration performed at any age must be done with analgesics as of July 1, 2016, to help control pain after the procedure.


Meloxicam and banamine are allowed for pigs in Canada. They are not labelled specifically for pain following castration, but all could be used in an off label prescription, Brockhoff said. 


A University of Calgary veterinary school study looked at injecting lidocaine with a multi-dose injection syringe. This is easy to do on the farm with minimal costs.


The technique was effective within two minutes of injection, and negates the need to significantly change processing practices. 


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It did not reduce post-operation pain, so analgesics are needed during recovery. 


Rubbing lidocaine on the surface will create significant analgesia. However, there is no way to be sure it will penetrate the reproductive tract and provide pain relief.


Another study released last year looked at providing pain relief to piglets via sows’ milk. Sows were given high doses of meloxicam, which moved through the milk and provided corresponding analgesic for the pigs. 


Each animal received 15 milligrams per kilogram per sow weight for three days in a row. The recommended dosage is .4 mg per kg per sow weight.


Brockhoff said using such high amounts could run the risk of kidney damage and causing ulcers in sows.


“At this stage, with the technology we have available, we have to look closer at (what) the long-term use of a really high dose like that would cost,” he said.


“At this point it is not practical, but it is very useful research and hopefully it leads to the evolution of new stuff.” 


A vaccine on the market called Improvac is an alternative to castration and controls boar taint and aggressive male behaviour while still allowing the pig to grow well. Developed in Australia, it is approved for use in 60 countries, including Canada. 


Selecting lines of pigs that do not express boar taint is possible however processing plants do not want intact males at this time.


Tail docking to prevent biting is also mentioned in the code of practice. As of July 2016 tail docking at any age must be done with analgesics to control post procedure pain. Analgesics are available to control it.


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The code says ear notching for identification may only be done when deemed necessary and when pigs are 14 days old or younger. Pain control is available.


Tusk trimming in boars presents special challenges. 


The tusks are large and sharp and should be cut two centimetres above the gum line. 


Many farms cut close to the gum line, which can cause a fracture in the tooth or expose the inner pulp. 


“We need to change that behaviour,” Brockhoff said. 


The pulp cavity is filled with nerves, blood and connective tissues, so severing it is a painful procedure.


Veterinarians at his practice use azaperone to sedate boars and then cut the tusk with a wire saw. They also make sure they are at least two cm above the gum line.


Euthanasia requires a plan on when and how it is to be done so that animals are put down humanely. 


“We also need a plan for training. Individuals need to be trained on proper techniques,” he said. 


Pigs that don’t respond to treatment, hopeless cases and those with compromised conditions should be euthanized on the farm rather than transported. 


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barbara.duckworth@producer.com