Classic Cut Size & Age

First Frost on Tomatoes

Kesley asked on the Farm Page: I was wondering if the age of a pig will affect how good the meat tastes? I am also wondering if it makes a difference whether the pig has had piglets before or not?

Sows, female pigs who have had piglets, taste just as good as gilts, female pigs who have not had piglets yet. My favorite cut of pork is the Boston Butt off of big sows because it is so well marbled and flavorful.

Older boars taste like beef – note that ours don’t have taint so that isn’t an issue but it can be an issue in some boars.

As a pig gets to about six months it starts putting on marbling. Marbling is the fat in the muscles. Fat is where the flavor comes from. Flavor is determined by diet. The one issue with older animals is the connective tissue becomes stronger so it needs trimming out or appropriate cooking to soften.

Flavor is stored in fat.
Feed determines flavor.
Age, Sex, Feed & Breed determine fat.
All pigs are good to eat.

In modern times the typical pig is slaughtered around 250 lbs to 300 lbs live weight yielding a carcass of about 180 lbs to 220 lb hanging weight. The reason for this is that the rate of gain of muscle for feed input changes at about this age making it less economical to raise pigs larger.

Grain isn’t evil, just expensive.

That is to say it cost more to produce a pound of meat on a year old pig than it does on a five or six month old pig. This has produced the commercially acceptable pork chop size that consumers have come to expect creating a feedback loop in the market. Personally I like them a little bigger and tend to raise them to a larger size since we’re on pasture rather than the standard commercial corn soy hog feeds.

Outdoors: 51°F/30°F Sunny, First hard frost
Tiny Cottage: 55°F/60°F

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About Walter Jeffries

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5 Responses to Classic Cut Size & Age

  1. aminthepm says:

    You mention majority of pigs are marketed at 6 months so consumers rarely if ever taste older animals. What about commercial sows that eventually go to market, how is the flavor at that stage ?

    • Correct. We typically process about one sow a month. Often these are pre-ordered months in advance by chefs and individual customers interested in charcuterie as well as those who simply know the secret that the bigger pigs are better pork. While the market has tended towards the standard size due to the economics of rate of gain and feed costs the better pork comes from pigs who are larger, in my somewhat experienced opinion. The standard finisher pig is more like veal at just six to nine months of age.

  2. Kevin says:

    I breed a handful of sows every year and sell piglets. With such a small scale (and precious little space) operation, my family consumes the cull stock.
    I prefer a 2 yr old product and even recommend a one yr growth to my customers. The meat is darker, the cuts are larger, and there is a significant flavor improvement.
    Since it takes a year to farrow the first litter, I’ll breed a gilt, let her “earn her keep” then butcher a month after weening unless she’s a spectacular mom. This also helps ensure a leaner product due to lactation metabolism.

  3. Pittman says:

    Very interesting on harvest time. I harvest a lot of damaging feral hogs in Texas and have found the large feral boars to be delicious IF properly processed. Grew up on a farm in Murfreesboro, TN where we butchered and processed about 7 hogs a year after the second freeze. I cannot emphasize the need for good butchering skills as I’ve seen delicious 150# sows turned into hunks of meat that I would not want in my ice chest much less on my plate. All feral animals have almost zero marbling as an animal cannot run unless it has lean muscles mass. I’ll always go to a local grocery store and get the butchers to save me pork fat for my sausage or to insert in/on roasts. Feral pork is lean enough to easily make jerky. Harvested a 280# boar about a year ago that had the most beautiful delicious white almost cream like fat but this was unusual. He must have been getting into grain somewhere. Do the same with venison periodically. Prefer to also mix with pork fat as I find it more flavorful but I have some Jewish, Muslim and “fundelmentalist” Christian friends that we enjoy breaking bread with so if I know they’re dining with us I’ll mix venison with beef tallow so all can enjoy.
    I really enjoy your postings and this website!!

  4. Farmerbob1 says:

    Hey Walter,

    When you are finally able to sell nationally, you should contact restaurants like the Big Texan in Amarillo and offer them cuts from your biggest culled animals.

    The Big Texan offers a 5-lb steak for free – if you can eat it all. If you can’t, it’s a pricey steak. This is not an uncommon thing in some roadhouse-style steak houses.

    But I’ve never seen it done with pork cuts.

    I’d bet that if you offered giant-sized pork chops and ham slices from your breeding sows, or maybe even breeder boars, in the range of 5 lbs, there are quite a few companies that would pay a premium for them.

    How big were Archimedes’ pork chops? And he wasn’t your biggest boar.

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