Choosing a pig

Selecting the right pig for you, really depends on what you want out of your pig. There are many different breeds and cross-breeds to choose from. Take into consideration whether or not your pig is for show or you just want a pig to raise for meat. If you are looking for a good meat pig, cross-bred pigs may be the way to go. Cross-bred pigs are cheaper in cost and have a good feed to weight conversion. You are also not going to be paying for a pedigree. On the other hand if you are in 4-H, FFA, or just want to show a pig at the fair, pedigreed pigs offer the benefit proven genetics to get the lean, muscled physique that judges prefer.
(Amendment 1) After visiting many shows, here in central Florida, in the past few years it is common place to show cross-bred pigs as market hogs. In actuality, these are typical market hogs. Many have been bred to PSS (Porcine Stress Syndrome) boars and sows which is always easy to see. Look for the pig that can’t get up and is knocking on death’s door. There is nothing wrong with cross breeding!!! The problem lies in the genetics of the parents. These heavily muscled pigs can’t take the stress of being trailered and then pushed around a pen with other pigs who want to fight for dominance. Paylean is also a cause of higher stress in pigs. We do not use Paylean or any other growth hormones in our pigs. As a matter of fact, our Berkshire boars must prove to be stress negative before they can be registered. This ensures better meat quality and an overall healthier pig.

While it is difficult to see how a pig at 40-60 lbs will turn out, there are certain characteristics that you can look for. Here is a list to help you asses pigs and make a selection that you can be proud of.

Included in the list:
1) Breed Type/Appearance
2) Breed of Parents
3) Performance History of Parents
4) Measurement and visual observation of relatives at 230-260 lbs
5) Carcass evaluation of relatives (this may not be possible for all pigs)

Before you go out to buy a pig get a picture of a past champion, there are plenty on the internet, and memorize the characteristics of that pig. While judges all have different opinions, a solid pig will show well and place well. Not to mention, your customers will appreciate the lean muscled pig when they get it back from the butcher. So lets look at the pig.

CONFORMATION
This refers to the pigs framework and muscle structure. A large-framed, longer-sided pig will grow and reach market weight faster than a smaller-framed, short-sided pig. In either case, proper pig management , proper feeding, and health measures will allow the pig reach it’s genetic potential.

MUSCLE
Today’s meat hogs have a muscle pattern that is long, thick, and smooth. When evaluating a pig for muscle, start with a rear view. The most important indication of the total muscle in a pig is the width in the center part of the ham. The wider the better. A pig should be wider through the center and
lower part of the ham than the top (rump) part. The muscling in the ham should be long and tie in to the hocks. Check to see how the inside and outside muscle is shaped and if it goes down the ham to the hock. The legs should be wide apart and straight. Watch the pig walk away from you, and be sure there is ample width between its rear legs, including ample width between its feet. Lightly muscled pigs will generally be narrow through the lower part of their hams. When they walk away from you, their feet will be close together, oftentimes almost striking each other as they walk. The rump should be long, wide and level with a high tail setting.These characteristics of a pig’s rump seldom change as the pig grows.
As you evaluate the loin of the pig, remember that it is the most expensive cut of the pig and it should have lots of muscle. A heavily muscled loin will be wide with a deep groove down the center and rounded on the edges (butterfly shape). The groove should be pronounced enough so that if a golf
ball were placed in the middle of the loin, it would either roll to the pig’s head or tail and would not roll off the side. A lightly muscled pig will have the shape of an inverted “V” like the roof of a house. Move to the front of the pig to check the head for width between the eyes, width of shoulders and chest
floor. Heavily muscled pigs will be wide in their shoulders and chest floor. As you move to the side view, check the length of rump and ham as well as levelness of the rump. Select a pig that is long and level in the rump with a high tail setting. You want a long ham that extends well into the side of the
pig. Also check the pig’s width and length of loin.

FAT
You want to select a pig that has the genetic potential and appearance of staying lean, but feeding and management can also affect fat deposition. Fat is the pork industries biggest problem. As more and more people become health conscious, the ability to raise lean pigs becomes more critical. Also, fat is very costly to pork producers. It takes 2 1/2 times the amount of feed to produce a pound of fat versus a pound of lean.
The major places to look and check for fat when selecting your pig are jowl, elbow pockets, loin edges and shape and firmness between the rear legs. The jowl (lower part of neck) should be clean and tight. A long, clean, small neck is desirable. The elbow pocket (back of front leg on the shoulder) should be clean and not show any sign of fat rolling when the pig walks. The loin should have a deep groove, and the edges should be rounded and not square. Check between the rear legs of the pig, and check the firmness and fullness in the crotch. A fat-free pig will be very firm in the crotch area and have visible muscle separation in this area as the pig moves.
If all of the other selection criteria are excellent, but you see a little more indication of fat than is ideal, you can select a pig two to four weeks older than normal and feed the pig less and keep most of the excess fat from being deposited. For this to work, the pig must be heavily muscled.

STRUCTURE
Structural soundness in a market pig is a key ingredient to success. It takes several key features to ensure structural soundness. Body design on a structurally sound pig includes a mostly flat top, level rump, high tail setting, and a sloping, angular shoulder position.
Look for the following points of interest when looking for a market pig:

* When the shoulder is too straight, pressure is applied at the shoulder joint and at the top of the knee joint. Because the knee joint offers the least resistance to pressure, the front legs buckle over. Therefore, you want the front legs to angle out of the shoulder into a long, sloping pastern.

* Normal rear leg placement is best described as hocks slightly flexed, bending into a flexible pastern. This allow the various joints to absorb shock equally.

* The toes should all be evenly sized to allow for more stability. With proper weight distribution, the toe surface will wear evenly.

* Larger bones, or big bones, are a desirable trait as long as they don’t degrade structural correctness.

* Your pig should have desirable range of movement. Meaning that body weight is distributed equally on eight toes.

* Correct skeletal structure can be seen in the pigs movements. The front legs should reach forward with a long, loose stride. A pig should be able to raise its head and snout freely above the arch in the center of the back. Short and choppy front leg movements are associated with steep pasterns, straight shoulders, and strongly arched tops.

* Rear leg action is viewed from the side. A desirable pig will have long, loose strides with good cushion in the hock and pastern areas.

* A desirable market pig will be sound structured and should be able to put its rear foot approximately in the same position that the front foot had been. View from the side while the pig is walking.

GENERAL APPEARANCE

General appearance, often referred to as “eye appeal,” is the way all of the parts blend together to make the pig look like the perfect show pig. Too much of one thing or not enough of another may cause the pig to appear unbalanced. The pig may have parts that do not attach to other parts properly, and that will take away from the attractiveness of the pig. After you have checked all of the other selection criteria, back away from the pig and get a side view. The depth of body should be moderate and the bottom line should be straight. Ask yourself if this is the way you want your pig to look when it weighs 250 pounds on show day. Most of the time, the blemishes you see now will still be there on show day, often magnified.

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