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Producing the Right Carcass

by 5m Editor
1 May 2003, at 12:00am

By Livestock Knowledge Transfer, UK - This article is the fourth in the series from "Getting the best from your pigs" and looks at factors determining carcass quality.

What does the market require?

Over the last 10 years processors and retailers have become more specific in the type of carcasses that they want from the pig producer.
The requirements are for increasing lean content with a reduced level of fat. Carcass weight has increased slightly over this period but the UK still slaughters the lightest pigs (71.2kg average carcass weight) within the EU countries with the exception of the Republic of Ireland.

Factors determining where and how you market

  • Size/scale of operation
  • Distance of farm to local abattoirs/centres of population
  • Geographical situation, regional access to main pig processing centres
  • Type/sex/breed of pig produced
  • Local preference for specific, or niche products
  • Regional branding initiatives
  • The importance of each factor will vary according to the individual farm

Influences on carcass quality

  • Genetics
  • Breed/breed type/sex of pig
  • Feed ingredients
  • Feeding strategy
  • Health
  • Management
  • Housing/Environment

Means at disposal of producer to influence carcass quality

  • Choice of Breeding Company to supply genetic material, either breeding stock or AI
  • Matching nutrient requirements of each specific genotype
  • Ensure feed system/feed strategy delivers correct nutrient balance during pigs growing life
  • Adopt production/housing systems which provide a healthy environment for the pigs

Breeding company?

  • Seek information from breeding companies on progeny performance i.e. growth rate, feed efficiency and grading returns (carcass weights, fat thickness, lean percentage) from carcasses produced by farms similar to your own, with respect to herd size, housing, feeding system and similar health background
  • Take advantage of genetic improvement by using more AI, particularly to produce slaughter progeny
  • Higher slaughter weight contracts, with premiums for tighter specifications for backfat, are now more widely available - these can be profitable for the producer, but how does the stock from each company perform at these higher weights?

Production/feeding systems?

  • Modern production is increasingly based on batch management systems involving large numbers of pigs reared in a single group on ad-lib feeding systems. Management needs to be of a high standard to ensure even growth and therefore production of a uniform carcass to meet the ever tighter specifications of processors
  • If housing produces widely fluctuating temperatures, the pig will respond by depositing fat. More even control of temperatures will ensure nutrients are used optimally for producing lean meat
  • It is vital that feed specification is chosen correctly for each stage of the pigs growing life to optimise lean tissue growth and therefore carcass quality. The feed system must deliver feed nutrients accurately to the pig

Carcass specifications

  • Processors require agreed numbers of carcasses delivered on a set day, often at a set time, to an agreed weight specification, within defined backfat limits. Price penalties for out of specification carcasses are the first sign that you are not supplying what the market wants! More than 20% of carcasses delivered fall outside the buyer’s specification
  • Monitor carefully grade return sheets, particularly with regard to average weights/spread of weights around the mean. Marketing groups can assist in providing analysis of carcass grading profiles as well as profiling the carcasses against contracts offered by the various processors. An efficient weighing system could be worth £2-3/pig

Example of weight/backfat grading contract

Grade Carcass weight (Kg) P2 backfat (mm) Price (p/kg)
1 65-80 <12 Base +2
2 65-80 13 Base
3 65-80 14-16 Base -4
UW 55-64.5 13 Base
UW 55-64.5 14+ Base -27
OW 80+ Any probe Base -27



Source: Livestock Knowledge Transfer - First published 2001. Added to this site 2003.