Comparing Carcass Value

(This article first appeared in Ontario Hog Farmer magazine)

Recently, a small cut-out trial was carried out at Conestoga Meat Packers to compare the carcass value of four randomly selected hogs of comparable carcass weight. The data was presented recently at the 2005 Ontario Pork Congress in an educational carcass display. Participants were tested on their knowledge of carcass value and were required to match a series of photos depicting carcass sides and primal cuts with carcass index and retail value statistics. The grading data for each of the hogs are presented in Figure 1.

The four carcasses and associated grading information used in the exercise.

Figure 1. The four carcasses and associated grading information used in the exercise.

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Carcasses were essentially identical in weight (1.5 kg range) but showed a considerable range in backfat depth (14.0 mm to 28.0 mm). Loin muscle depth ranged from 57.0 mm to 61.5 mm. Estimated lean yield ranged from a low of 58.2 % to a high of 62.7 %.

Most participants in the carcass evaluation exercise were pork producers. In general, participants were able to identify the highest and lowest value carcass and match the primal cuts to these carcasses. Their decisions were typically made on the basis of backfat levels indicating that producers recognize that too much backfat is not desirable and does have an impact on the retail value of the product.

There were a number of other take-home messages from the display. First, the highest-yielding carcass (based on the estimated lean yield determined by the grading probe) also had the highest retail value for the processor. This was not the case, however, for the lowest-yielding carcass (carcass D) which had greater value than carcass C, despite the fact that carcass D carried more backfat and less muscle depth and hence graded lower. This is probably a reflection of the inability of the grading probe to consistently predict the value of the entire carcass (including ham, belly and shoulder) based on a measurement taken only in the loin area.

The second take-home message relates to the difference in the retail value of the highest and lowest ranking carcasses. Despite only a 4.5% difference in estimated lean yield between carcass B and C (which corresponds to a difference of 5 index points), the retail value we calculated for the two carcasses differed by more than $17.00.

Probably the most important message that producers could take from the display was the extra feed required to produce the hog with the lowest retail value. Table 1 compares the amount of feed that would be required to produce the carcass with the highest retail value (carcass B) compared to that required to produce the carcass with the lowest retail value (carcass C). Although feed consumption of these hogs was not recorded, the amount of feed required to produce lean and fat tissue is well-documented. Figure 2 shows the composition of lean and fatty tissue. Lean tissue has a very high water content relative to fatty tissue and as a result lean tissue growth is much more efficient than fat tissue growth. The figure indicates a 4:1 ratio for fat gain - in other words, 4000 grams of feed is needed to produce 1 kilogram of fat. Lean tissue has a 1.25:1 ratio - in other words, only 1250 grams of feed is required to produce 1 kg of lean. Using these ratios, the amount of feed required to produce each of the carcasses can be estimated as follows:

Table 1. Comparing the impact of fat vs. lean on feed requirement for two carcasses.

Carcass Difference:

Carcass B - Estimated Lean Yield = 62.7 %
Carcass C - Estimated Lean Yield = 58.2 %
Difference = 4.5 %
4.5 % x 96.2 kg (carcass weight of carcass C) = 4.33 extra kg of fat on carcass C*

Feed Difference:

1 kilogram fat = 4000 grams feed
1 kilogram lean = 1250 grams feed
Difference = 2750 grams feed (or 2.75 kg feed)

Amount of Extra Feed Required:
4.33 extra kg of fat x 2.75 kg of feed = 11.9 kg feed to produce the extra fat in carcass C
At current feed prices ($0.20 / kg), the cost to put on the extra fat in Carcass C is $2.38.

It is clear that Carcass B is the winner in this tale of four hogs. It is less expensive to produce and returns more value ($168.92 for carcass B versus $164.15 for carcass C using current pool prices and accounting for loin premiums) to the producer as a result of the higher index. Overall, carcass B provides an additional $7.15 of added value to the producer compared to carcass C. For a typical 300-sow operation the added value could be more than $40,000.00.

Producers can estimate their own opportunity for increased returns by using the Carcass Value Calculator which can be found on the OMAFRA website. The calculator uses grading data from producer statements and allows producers to calculate the added value of their most efficient hogs. The calculator can be accessed at Look for the link under Livestock / Swine / Production Management / Production Systems. In future, look for an Excel template that will help producers compare the performance and variability of their hogs to target values. If excessive variability (and lost returns) is identified, producers should work with their feed and genetic suppliers to identify and correct the source of the variability.

Composition of lean and fatty tissue.

Figure 2. Composition of lean and fatty tissue. (From C.T. Whittemore. "The Science and Practice of Pig Production". Blackwell Science Ltd. 1998.)

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Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: Cathy Aker and Jaydee Smith, OMAFRA
Creation Date: 8 August 2005
Last Reviewed: 24 November 2005