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What Does a Winning Market Hog Look Like?

Written by: Grant Grebner, Washburn, IL

Article reprinted from www.showpigs.com

Raised on his family's grain and livestock farm in central Illinois, Grants interest in swine began at an early age. Active in livestock judging through FFA and exhibiting livestock at the county, state, and national levels, Grants involvement in the swine industry continued to grow. Grant enrolled at Black Hawk East, Kewanee, Illinois, where he was a member of the National Champion Livestock Judging Team and was the high individual at the National Barrow Show Judging Contest in 1983.

After receiving his associates degree at Black Hawk, Grant transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received his bachelors and masters degrees in animal science. While at the University of Illinois, Grant was a member of the livestock judging and meat animal evaluation teams. His masters degree in non-ruminant nutrition involved research on the effects of porcine somatatropin (a growth hormone) on the growing / finishing pig.

Upon completion of his masters degree, Grant worked for the Hampshire Swine Registry where he served as the editor of the "Hampshire Herdsman" for three years. In October 1992, Grant returned home to the family farm and also started his own freelance advertising agency, The Advertising Edge. He continues that business with his wife, Susan, and still manages the 100 sow farrow-to-finish operation on his family farm.

He continues to be actively involved in the swine industry, serving as a judge on a nationwide basis. Grant has judged in eleven states including the Southwestern Livestock Exhibition in Ft. Worth, TX; the National Western Stock Show in Denver, CO; and he has already been selected to review the hogs at the 1999 Houston Livestock Show.

Choosing the champion market hog a long, difficult process, but is one that I thoroughly enjoy. When I first enter the ring, I try to picture in my mind the ideal market hog. Although my job for that day is selecting what I feel is the best hog, of no less importance is my attempt to give each exhibitor a fair and equal evaluation. Regardless of the age or skill level of the exhibitor, I make my best effort to honestly look at every hog that enters the ring.

Market hogs must be lean and heavily muscled. That much is easily accepted. Personally, I like hogs that are complete and well balanced in addition to being lean and heavily muscled. The most complete hog, in my opinion, is the one that best combines soundness, length of body, and structural correctness with acceptable leanness and muscle volume. I try not to select my champions based on one single trait ‚ such as the biggest butted or the leanest of the show. Instead, my champions put together the most positives in one package.

Each show is different. Even each class within a show is different. Although I pride myself on being consistent in my selection of type and kind, I have no formula for my selection of a class winner or champion. In each class or champion drive, I weight the positives and negatives of each hog in my mind. I may use the leanest hog in the show, but that hog must also be the most complete. I will not select him champion because he's the leanest, but rather because he's the most balanced and complete.

While an eye appealing hog in the show ring is certainly important, it's just as important that we keep the end product in mind. A champion is of little value if it does not meet the needs of the packer or ultimately, the consumer. In my mind, a champion marker hog must be in an "acceptable" weight range of 230 to 275 pounds. That market hog should have a loin eye area of 7 to 9 square inches with a 0.5 to 0/7 inch back fat at he tenth rib. Additionally, the hog should measure a minimum of 31.5 inches in length, from the first rib to the aitchbone, and have adequate height at its shoulder.

As each pig enters the ring, I look down the pigs top for a general impression of leanness and muscle. Specifically, I evaluate the natural width at his blades, the shape and turn to his loin edge, and the volume of muscle through his hip and rump, looking for a lean, pronounced meat-animal shape from front to rear. I also look at his profile to analyze length of body, levelness, soundness, structural correctness, and leanness. Not only do I look for a large volume of muscle, but I also look at how the muscle is laid on the skeleton of the hog. The muscle cannot be too tight or restrictive to inhibit movement. I prefer muscle that will not limit the functionality of the animal. In addition to muscle, hogs must have the width through the floor of the chest as well as adequate rib shape and volume as not to sacrifice growth or productivity.

Although it's difficult to precisely determine age at a market hog show, it's imperative to me that a champion market hog be fresh and youthful. Hogs that appear stale with a coarse hair coat or are too coarse in the skeleton are oftentimes older. In such cases, the hogs have often been held past their ideal weight and consequently look out of place within their respective class. To me, this is unacceptable due to industry standards ‚ hogs must grow and perform adequately for commercial producers. One function of the show ring is to showcase the industries ideal hog, and this hog must also be what the commercial producer is trying to produce ‚ a fast-growing, efficient, protein source. Ideally, a hog should reach market weight in 160 to 180 days. I realize it is impossible for me to know exactly how old a hog is on show day, and in turn, to know its growth efficiency, but freshness is my best indicator.

Please keep in mind that these are my opinions of what a champion should look like. Each judge has different priorities. I realize when I judge a show that not everyone will agree with what I do. It is, however, my goal to describe each hog accurately. Everyone may not agree with how the hogs are placed, but as good livestock people, we are able to see the same characteristics in the hogs while we make the show a positive learning experience for the exhibitors.

In conclusion, I am a strong advocate of the junior livestock program. Many valuable life skills such as discipline, responsibility, sportsmanship, and self-respect are taught on a daily basis. Good luck to each of you. I hope our paths will cross in the future.

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