Measuring Pigs with a Stick

Walter Wanding Pigs

Hope snapped this photo of me counting pigs. I’m using my magic pig wand. The stick is a snip of brush I cut to a known length of 48″. Walking around through the crowd like this with the thin stick doesn’t scare the pigs like a tape measure or thicker stick would. This is like the method we use of weighing a pig with a string but even faster. The formula explained at that link is:

Live Weight = Length x Girth x Girth / 400

That is to say:

WL = L x G x G / 400

Since I know the typical ratios L:G of our pigs so I can short cut the formula around finisher weight by assuming that:

G = L – 4

This produces:

WL = L x (L – 4)2 / 400

Pigs who are the length of my stick crown to tail are market size, up about 250 lbs live weight which will yield about 180 lbs hanging weight.††

Waving my wand around gives me quick count of how many pigs are at about market weight, how many are a month off to market, how many two months off, etc. How many hand widths they are off the stick gives me an idea of how long they need to grow through the roaster finisher period.

My hands are about a month wide. My nose to thumb is a yard – yes, I have long arms. My feet are almost exactly a foot long. My thumb is one inch. Rather handy to be the standard bearer of measures…

Outdoors: 14°F/-9°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 62°F/56°F

Daily Spark: Anticipation has always been worth more to me than reality. -Agnes by Tony Cochran

Since we’re still back in the 1970’s I use inches and pounds here in the United States. I hear that soon we’ll be moving to metric. Big government push for a united world. Maybe by when that clown Reagan gets elected. Can’t wait for my flying car in 1999.

††Note that Live Weight WL is also often written as LW and Hanging Weight is often written as HW.

15 thoughts on “Measuring Pigs with a Stick

  1. What an awesome idea, I always wondered how to get a tape measure around a pig and I sure as heck wasn’t going to try. After raising the first few and having the weights back from the butcher, I’m pretty accurate in my guesses. This seems like a good way, however, to measure progress a little more accurately.

    On your system of measurement, I have been doing that more and more. I always have my arm handy and I am exactly 5 feet tall (don’t always want to lay down on the ground to measure though). Just read an article in my pottery magazine suggesting using one’s hand as a measurement tool to make mugs the same size without constantly getting out a measurement tool. His tip was to make a photocopy of your hand and write down your key for the future.

    By the way, thanks for selling me that fat back when we picked up our piglets. It got us through to the slaughter. I used to have access to more fat back because I would get the fat back from all my friends when they got their pigs back from processing but I did too good a job educating them on its uses and my supply has dwindled.

  2. We still use the old eyeball method and we’ll do real well for awhile and then completely miss the weight on one (or two) fortunately we always have room for error because whatever pigs are not pre-sold to customers we can sell in our farm store. But still…we are ready to try the stick method. Thanks much for sharing. Once we had a chef who wanted a piglet for a contest. He needed the hanging weight to be 22-23 pounds. When it came in at 21# he was so MAD! Then he won the national contest anyway. People.

  3. Great Idea – once realizing my ratios were also fairly consistent I dropped to only measuring length but I still use a tape. I love the stick idea…..and with all the wind this winter they are plentiful :)

    p.s. love that Large Black? in the forefront

  4. Here is something that confuses a new “pig guy”: why was my “hanging weight” higher (in percentage terms) than what it seems they should have been? I am not challenging anyone’s experience. I am literally wondering what happened and if I am understanding it all.

    Example: 360 live; 300 hanging (head on); 274-ish head off. That’s 100%/83%/76%.

    The other pig (300 pounds) came up about the same ratios. These were Berkshires. We let them go heavy mostly due to our personal schedule and weather issues – it takes a while to chill out down here.

    If we’re talking hang weight not including head, I guess I came close. I processed these myself, for personal use and sharing with family. It was a real learning experience. Also, we threw out very little of the carcass. Bones got braised; fat became lard; blah, blah. I think kept more than a commercial processor normally sends back. So maybe that’s the extra 4-5% of weight. I dunno.

    All I know is that when said and done, I froze about 300 pounds of edible stuff. The processing bucket of trim to toss was real light. There was little waste from the carcass. But I think we kept more than you see at the grocery store. We ground up only five pounds. We are braising lots of stuff that others probably grind. Tastes great.

    Part of this is curiosity, but there is a practical question in here. This year we are expanding from two to twelve pigs, and of course we need a professional processor to do the work for most (we are keeping 1-2 for ourselves). I am still trying to quantify the final carcass weights and estimate yield. It seems like I should aim for 65% or so “market” cuts?

    • If the same method of scald & scrape that we do is done (skin, head, feet, tail all still on) then I get:
      360 LW x 72% -> 260 HW
      However if your pigs had smaller guts or weren’t fed the day before or if the live weight was off then this could change the math a bit. It could also vary with differences in physique. Keep track of it over the years so you learn how your pigs hang. Data is good.

      • Food was off for a day and the water froze that morning before slaughter. Also, these were meaty hogs according to some of the folks around here with experience. I didn’t raise them, but the genetics seemed to be real good. I nicknamed this one “Ham Bone” because he had huge muscles even as a little one. The backfat was thick, but so was the muscle.

        I guess I got lucky. The problem we are going to have is that we are not farrowing anything, so it comes down to what we get. IE: luck.

        Thank you.

    • When I speak of a month off I’m comparing that pig to how fast I think it will gain over a month.

      We have pigs of many sizes. Everything from wee little piglets up to thousand pound breeders. Most are in the 30 to 250 lb range, the feeder range. At about 100 to 250 lbs they’re doing their peak growth rate which ranges over about 30 to 50 lbs.

      In the warm season pigs grow much faster than in the dead of winter. Part of this is because the quality of fresh pasture is better than hay and part is that in the winter they’re burning up some of their calories to keep warm. Additionally boars grow faster than barrows (which we don’t have) which grow faster than gilts. This is one more reason not to castrate.

      We try and keep a steady supply through the age ranges for the different markets. I know that in some seasons there is more demand for certain sizes and I adjust. There is also considerable range that I can take as a finisher pig for the retail cuts market. Most commonly people who are specifically getting a whole pig like a finisher pig to hang around 180 to 200 lbs which corresponds to 250 to 300 lbs live weight. Sometimes someone wants a smaller finisher or a larger one. Thus having a range of weights is good. This is very different than factory farms where they’re looking for all the pigs to go on the truck from the same batch at the same weight. One more advantage to pastured piggeries.

      • I am taking pre-orders now and people are generally inclined to get the larger animals, with more fat. More time on the hoof seems to help intramuscular fat up-take, and they like it (more taste). I’ve had people compare our Berks with some of the local farms, and they really like the extra fat. Most of the other farms seem to be selling “the other white meat”, but with a local touch. Still too lean for my taste.

        So I think we are going to aim them all high…300 or so. If some get bigger, then fine.

        I know the feed conversion rate drops fast at that point, but we are getting other people switching from their normal suppliers and two farmers cornered me to ask the secret. I just told them, “fat pigs”.

        Ugh. When did we breed taste from food?

        • I personally prefer the larger pigs. The flavor of the meat is better, the marbling is better, the yield is better and the economics of processing is much better. It costs about the same amount of time and effort to process a 100 lb pig as it does to process a 400 lb pig but the yield on a bigger pig is far better. My favorite cut of pork is the Boston Butt steaks and Country Style Ribs from a big sow. Both are from the same location on the pig, the shoulder, just cut differently.

          According to a researcher from NY the pastured pigs have higher levels of vitamin D from being outdoors in the sunlight as well as the heart healthy Omega-3 Fatty Acids which comes from consuming forages rather than grains.

          The other nice thing about pastured pigs is the fat is slightly sweet and delicious.

          Breed for pasture-ability.
          Raise longer for marbling.
          Feed for flavor.

          • I agree, and we’re looking to take a few up to about 400 if all goes well. The chops were pretty big on the 360 fella we did a few months back.

            I also like to cut full-rib chops, one per rib, instead of using a bandsaw to get even slices. They get to be pretty thick but generally you share these anyway. I’ve deboned and taken a 2″ chop down to two slimmer chops after the fact, but we generally slow roast the whole rib, over wood, to medium and let them rest before finishing them hot. Perfect. The extra fat in the muscle helps. I tried giving store chops that same treatment and it didn’t work, at all.

            I have also been taking the country ribs as a slab and then slow-roasting that after a modest rub with some five spice and salt. Great cooked over cherry wood. Another cut you probably won’t get a the big-box store.

            It’s going to be fun getting the processor to do some of these non-standard cuts for us. People who pre-ordered saw what we did with our own hogs, and want the same. But we rely on processors. I need to resell.

  5. The standard barer of sizes indeed! Did you know that all those measurements came from the King? Like literally an inch was the King’s thumb and a foot was the Kings foot and a yard was the Kings arm? Well, if you measure up then I guess that makes you the King. At least the King of the mountain! Love it. Thanks for this wonderufl tip on measuring pigs!

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