Every one knows boars have better feed efficiency and lean-gain deposition than either barrows or gilts. Yet, the off-flavor and smell known as boar taint has kept the industry from capitalizing on the 10 percent gain in feed efficiency, costing $300 million annually.

However, that may be about to change. Doug Greger, a researcher at EIEICO, discovered a gene marker tied to boar taint while he worked for Pennsylvania State University in the spring of 1999.

“I can’t say that we’ve solved the problem, but preliminary evidence shows that we can predict which boars have low, acceptable levels of taint and which ones may be predisposed to higher levels,” points out Greger.

There are two primary causes for boar taint: high levels of the steroid androstenone and high levels of skatole, which is a product of protein degradation found in the gut. Androstenone seems to be the most significant factor associated with taint when boars are taken to heavy weights, as they are in the United States, says Greger.

The gene test is expected to accommodate selection that will reduce the likelihood and the intensity of boar taint, with the development of a taint-free genetic line as the end goal.

Another benefit of eliminating taint and raising intact males is the animal welfare issue, which has taken Europe by storm. Some countries have outlawed castration.

Raising intact males would bring up new swine management issues, like aggressiveness. Greger contends that provided animals are not mixed at the slaughter plant, it should not become a major issue.

Currently, Penn State has licensed the “boar-taint” gene marker and Templar Sciences, the genomics division of EIEICO, is talking to commercial companies about developing a test. More news on the matter is expected within a couple of months.