The Taint That Ain’t, from the Archives

D. E. Larsen, DVM

It was 12:30 on Thursday, and we were mostly closed. Thursday afternoon was reserved for golf. But the phone kept ringing, Sandy had stepped into the back, and I was tempted to not answer. But duty calls.

“Good afternoon, this is Doctor Larsen,” I say as I picked up the receiver.

“Oh, Doctor Larsen, I am so happy I caught you,” the lady said. “I know you close early on Thursday.”

I recognized the voice. It was one of the sisters who lived on a small farm not far out of Sweet Home. They were older, maybe spinsters, but I did not know much about them. They were Edith and Elsie, it was almost impossible to tell apart in person. On the phone, I had no chance of knowing which sister I was talking to. Most of the time, their emergencies were minor problems or no problem at all.

“Yes, we are closed, I was just about to switch the phone over to the answering service,” I said. “Is there something I could help you with briefly.”

“This is Edith, I know that you probably have a golf game scheduled this afternoon,” Edith said. “But we were feeding our pig just now and noticed that he has some large swellings on his rear end. He doesn’t act sick, but if he has a large abscess, I would hate to have to leave it for another day.”

“Tell me about this pig,” I said. “How old and how big is he?”

“He is young, I think we got him in February as a weaner pig,” Edith said. “He is growing fast. He is getting big enough that we are going to have him slaughtered sometime in October.”

“Has he been castrated?” I asked.

“Castrated, will I guess. Don’t they usually do that to weaner pigs?” Edith said.

“Just where on the rear end are these swellings?” I asked. I was convinced now that they had just noticed the testicles on this pig.

“They on just below his butt, they are just bulging out,” Edith said. “They can’t be normal, Doctor. We would really like you to check them.”

“It sounds to me like you are looking at his testicles,” I said.

There was a long pause on the phone. Then I could hear the sisters talking to each other.

“He thinks they are testicles,” Edith says. 

“Testicles?” Elsie says. “I don’t think they could possibly be testicles. They are way too large.”

Now I remembered, Edith always did the phone calls and most of the talking. Elsie just seemed to disagree with everything that was said.

“Doctor, we don’t think they could be testicles,” Edith says into the phone. “These swellings are larger than a grapefruit. Each one of them.”

This discussion was going nowhere fast. And it was not going to be resolved over the phone.

“I’ll tell what,” I said. “I will be going right by your place on my way to the golf course. I will stop and just get a look at this pig. If it looks like something that won’t wait until tomorrow, I will stop by on my home and take care of it tonight.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Edith says. “We were hoping you could get a look at him.”

“You be ready, I am leaving here shortly, and I won’t have much time,” I said. “I am just going to glance at him for now.”

“We will be waiting for you,” Edith said. “He is in a small pen, so it won’t be any problem looking at him.”

I pulled into the driveway, and both sisters were waiting for me. It was just a short walk to pigpen out beside the small barn. The thought occurred to me that I might not be acceptable on the golf course if I got splattered with pig manure, but I didn’t have time to put on coveralls and boots just to glance over the fence.

I could see the pig through the slats in the fence of the pigpen as we approached. This was a good looking young pig, probably over 200 pounds. He had a long body and black and white in color.

I approach the pen so I could get a good look at the rear end of this pig. One glance and I stepped away. 

“Those swellings are testicles,” I said.

“But Doctor, they are so large,” Elsie said. “Are you certain, I mean, I have seen lots of testicles but nothing like these?”

“I didn’t make the design, that is just way pigs are put together,” I said. “I am certain, and I have seen a few testicles also. Now you probably have a couple of choices to make with this guy.”

“What do you mean by choices?” Edith said.

“When pigs are not castrated, their testicles will produce products that can flavor the meat when they reach sexual maturity. This guy is close to market weight but has obviously gone through puberty. You may be okay if you slaughter him now rather than waiting until fall. Otherwise, castrating him now would be a good idea.”

“What do you mean when you say flavor the meat?” Elsie asked.

“It is called boar taint,” I said. “It is in the fat, and in bad cases, it will run you out of the house when you put sausage in the frying pan. Some people say it tastes like piss. It probably occurs in 20 to 30 percent of boars slaughtered. The larger he gets, the more the chances that his meat will be tainted.”

“We were hoping to get him bigger,” Edith said. “I mean, he is growing so well.”

“It might be a good idea to talk with the place you are going to have him slaughtered,” I said. “Some of those places won’t even consider hanging a boar in their cooler.”

“A boar, I have been told you can’t eat a boar,” Elsie asked. “When do you start calling him a boar?”

“I would say about when those testicles start hanging there, so they are noticed. That is why I would suggest you either slaughter him now or have him castrated.”

“And I suppose that castrating him is going to cost some money,” Edith said. “That will sort of change the economics of this whole project.”

“At this age, if I castrate him, it will require anesthesia,” I said. “And yes, it will cost a little money. Actually, there will be more expenses than just the surgery and anesthesia. The procedure always comes with some risks, and he will lose some of his growth. That is why it is so much easier to do it when they are a few days old.”

“We will give it some thought,” Elsie said. “But I think we will go ahead and slaughter him on our original schedule. The odds are in our favor.”

It was sometime in November when Edith stopped by the clinic to let me know that I was probably correct.

“Elsie still is determined to eat that pork, but I make her cook it outside on the barbecue,” Edith said. “It is just like you said it would be when it hits the frying pan, it runs me out of the house. I won’t touch the stuff, but Elsie isn’t going to admit that she was wrong in her decision. She says it ain’t too bad.”

Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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