Planning for your 4-H swine project animal: Hog selection

Third article in series featuring tips and tricks as you prepare for and select your 4-H market hog.

Hog selection takes place at many locations, including judging contests.

Hog selection takes place at many locations, including judging contests.

Even with winter weather sticking around, many youth across the state begin looking for their 4-H hog project animal. Caring for a hog requires forward thinking and creating a plan of how to see your project through to the end. In addition to the requirement of selecting the animal, there is also a financial burden of caring for an animal through the duration of your project.

This three-part series from Michigan State University Extension will review important swine project content and address three main topics: preparations for your market hog, estimating costs of care and hog selection. These tips and tricks will help you be more prepared for your 4-H swine project experience.

This final article in this series focusses on pig selection. Swine projects are usually selected in one of two ways: purchased or chosen from the individuals or families herd. Here are a few items to keep in mind when selecting your swine project.

Time of fair or exhibition

The dates of the fair are one of the most important factors in animal selection. For example, a person exhibiting at a June fair is looking for a heavier weight pig than a person planning to exhibit at an August fair. When selecting a pig, you need to envision what you believe the pig will look like when they have reached the proper amount of finish, or fat cover, and weigh 250 to 290 pounds. This is the most desirable market weight and along with your fair or exhibition rules, what you should be shooting for in regards to final weight at fair.

Additionally, select pigs that will stay within their frame size and skeletal design when they reach their proper finishing weight. Otherwise, the hog may become unsound and this will affect its overall performance.

Growth potential

Healthy pigs will gain 1.5 to 1.8 pounds per day if fed properly. Many times, 4-H project pigs will gain over 2 pounds per day because they often have more desirable genetics, are raised in small groups and receive more individualized attention. One factor that will help in determining how much and how efficiently your market hog project will grow is looking at the feed efficiency value. The feed efficiency value measures the amount of feed a pig requires to gain 1 pound. A feed efficiency value of 3.5 means a pig had to eat 3.5 pounds of feed to increase its body weight by 1 pound. A low feed efficiency value is more desirable.

With your end goal in mind of marketing your hogs at your county fair or show, do simple math before selecting your pigs. For example, if you have 125 days to feed your pigs, it will be best to start your project with pigs that weigh around 50 pounds (125 x 1.6 pounds per day = 200 pounds gain; 50 pounds + 200 pounds gain = 250-pound market hog). If the pigs gain 1.7 pounds per day, their finished weights will be 262.5 pounds. Both fall in the desired range of market weights.

Using the previous example, you can decide at what weight to buy your project pigs. If you select a heavier pig or if you believe your pig will gain more rapidly, fewer days will be required. Under those conditions, you can select your pigs or start your project later. Keeping accurate records the first year will help you plan your next project more accurately.

Division

There are sometimes divisions within swine shows. These divisions include gender (gilts versus barrows), breed (Berkshire, Chester White, Duroc, Hampshire, Landrace, Poland China, Spotted, Yorkshire, etc. verses crossbred) and weight (lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight). Although these divisions are determined at the fair, it is a good idea to target a specific division in which you would like to compete.

Picking a pig

Selecting your swine project animal will be one of the most exciting and possibly challenging decisions you make. Some animals you select will not fall within your budget and therefore will not be a good choice for you. To learn more about budgeting, review the “Planning for your 4-H swine project animal: Estimating costs” article.

Selection begins with three fundamentals: muscle, structure and balance. Your ideal pig will feature these attributes:

  1. Heavy muscled
    • Base width (width at the chest floor between the front legs)
    • Top shape (definition of muscle along the loin)
    • Width through the ham (width from stifle to stifle)
  2. Structurally correct

    • Correct shoulder angle (has an angle to the shoulder that easily ties into the rest of the body)
    • Correct set to the pastern (has enough angle to cushion to the animal’s motion without being excessive)
    • Ability to travel with ease (moves without restriction having the rear foot step towards in the imprint left by the front foot on each side)
  3. Well balanced

    • Proportional (the front and rear half of the animal are about the same depth)
    • Correct lines (animal has a straight topline and underline)

With decisions made about the weight, age and divisions desired for exhibition, you can now select a pig. Using the criteria listed above and your previous knowledge, you are ready to enjoy the experience of selecting your animal project. The Michigan Pork Producers Association has a list of private treaty seller and auctions that will be helpful in locating swine project animals. 

Watching the development of your selected animal will be a rewarding and educational experience. Continue to set goals for your project and use resources like the 4-H Swine Project Snapshot and Animal Science Anywhere Lessons to help provide recommendations for content learning and discovery of new opportunities.

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