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Articles from 2002 In April


Selling Pork, Not Pigs

Establishing value of market hogs has gained accuracy and sophistication in recent years. Capturing the most value for the hogs you sell remains the biggest challenge and, perhaps, the biggest opportunity.

Before 1990, most pork producers fed pigs to a target live weight, called packers to get price bids and then delivered the pigs to the highest bidder.

During the '90s, packers adopted systems to estimate carcass lean. Target weights and lean content were established and premiums were paid on a sliding scale. These changes resulted in greater variation in carcass value.

The number of packers has declined in recent years, leaving producers with fewer marketing options. Market access and establishment of pig value are key issues that have prompted producers to reconsider their marketing strategies, focusing on selling pork rather than simply selling pigs.

Current trends are for cooperatives, niche marketers and integrators to maintain control of products through slaughter. Some do further processing to add value to pork cuts. Along with these changes, producers are attempting to establish the value of the components represented in the total carcass.

Packers are paid for weight of primal cuts in the dissected carcass, but each may cut carcasses differently. Few current, reliable market value reports exist for carcass components. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service is responding with market reports of wholesale cuts and byproducts in addition to values for carcasses. (See sidebar: “Market Reports from USDA.”)

Carcass Merit Value Systems

In most U.S. markets, producers are paid for their pigs based on carcass weight and predictions of fat-free lean from on-line measurements of backfat or a combination of backfat and loin depth. But packers use several different instruments to predict fat-free lean in a carcass, and each packer uses a unique grid to establish discounts or premiums, according to their fat-free lean estimates.

Producers have often questioned whether the prices paid on these different grids reflect real carcass value. They point out that pigs have different values on different packer grids, noting that these differences are related to weight and backfat thickness.

Therefore, to help producers determine optimum marketing strategies, it is important to establish value of slaughter pigs and to evaluate different packer grids for their ability to predict value. These questions can be answered only by comparing predictions of value from different grids with the value based on the weights of primal cuts.

An objective was to make such comparisons by first determining value of carcasses of different weights and backfat thicknesses, then comparing these values with values predicted by different packer grids.

Carcass Separation Data Gathered

The carcass separation data came from a sub-sample of the 1,964 pigs included in the Quality Lean Growth Modeling Project (1996-1998), the Genetics of Lean Efficiency Project (2000-2001) and the 1996 and 2000 National Barrow Show Sire Progeny Tests. Data collection was made possible through pork checkoff funds allocated by the National Pork Board.

The pigs represented in the data were a mixture of purebreds and crossbreds from U.S. breeds and breeding companies, typical of pigs marketed today.

Data available on all pigs included carcass weight and both live animal, real-time ultrasound measurements (SCAN) and chilled carcass measurements of 10th rib backfat thickness and longissimus muscle area (CARCASS).

Hot carcass backfat thickness and loin depth were recorded on-line in the plant with a Fat-O-Meater (FOM) and an Automated Ultrasound System (AUS), and last rib midline backfat thickness was measured with a ruler (RULER).

As all 1,964 carcasses were not evaluated by all procedures, a sub-sample of 441 carcasses that had been evaluated by all procedures was used.

Table 1. Percent of Pigs by Weight Class and 10th Rib Backfat Class
10th Rib Live Weight
Backfat Thickness, in. 250 lb. 290 lb.
Less than .75 in., % 23.3 15.2
1.00 to .75 in., % 39.2 33.8
1.25 to 1.00 in., % 26.0 25.8
1.50 to 1.25 in., % 6.7 13.2
1.75 to 1.50 in., % 3.5 6.0
Greater than 1.75 in., % 1.3 6.0
100.0% 100.0%


Table 2. Average Institute Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) Primal Cut Pricesa
IMPS
Primal Cut
Dollars/
lb.
Ham 401: 17 - 20 lb. 0.65
20 - 23 lb. 0.59
23 - 27 lb. 0.56
Loin 410: 21 lb. and under 1.16
Picnic 405 0.45
Boston Butt 406 0.90
Belly 409: 12 - 14 lb. 0.88
14 - 16 lb. 0.92
16 - 18 lb. 0.88
Sparerib 416 1.46
Jowl 2.66
Fresh trimmings: 42% lean 0.27
72% lean 0.49
Base carcass 0.59
aBased on the USDA Market News Service Weekly Report for 2001.


Table 3. Live Weight, Carcass Weight, Backfat, Loin Muscle Depth and Loin Muscle area, by Devicea
Live weight, lb. 250 290
Carcass weight, lb. 184 215
FOM backfat, in. 0.82 0.94
FOM loin depth, in. 2.16 2.33
AUS backfat, in. 0.70 0.87
AUS loin depth, in. 1.91 2.31
RULER backfat, in. 1.16 1.35
Carcass backfat — 10th rib, in. 0.96 1.10
Carcass LMA — 10th rib, sq. in. 6.25 6.83
SCAN backfat, in. 0.79 1.06
SCAN LMA, sq. in. 5.83 6.84
aAverage values used in computing example carcass primal cut wholesale and processor grid values.
FOM=Fat-O-Meater; AUS=Automated Ultrasound System; RULER=steel ruler; SCAN=live animal, real-time ultrasound measurements. LMA is loin muscle area.


Table 4. Market Pig Comparison
250 lb. 290 lb.
FOM grid value, $ 113.40 128.74
RULER grid value, $ 106.88 124.88
AUS grid value, $ 113.66 137.82
Belly, $ 29.86 36.76
Ham, $ 26.24 28.90
Loin, $ 49.40 35.50
Shoulder, $ 27.34 32.24
Byproducts*, $ 6.51 6.51
Component sum value, $ 139.35 163.11
FOM=Fat-O-Meater; AUS=Automated Ultrasound System; RULER=steel ruler.
*Estimated value of commonly sold byproducts.


After evaluation in the plant, half of each carcass was transported to a central location and dissected into primal cuts according to Institution Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) standard procedures. The fat and other lean left after cutting to IMPS standards was priced as trim. The distribution, by live weight and backfat thickness, is shown in Table 1.

Dissection Standardized

The IMPS standards include an exacting set of protocols for dissecting carcasses into both bone-in and boneless primal cuts, and subsequently, how each is to be trimmed. Their purpose is to provide processors, downstream fabricators, distributors and retailers with a common language as they engage in the trade of primal cuts.

For example, Loin 410 is a loin with the bone in and trimmed to ¼ in. of backfat with the tenderloin included. The specifications describe how the loin is to be separated from the other primal cuts and how each area of the loin is to be trimmed. As a result, everyone engaged in the wholesale trade knows exactly what they will get with the Loin 410.

A list of IMPS primal cuts and specifications includes:

Ham 401 — Bone-in, all weights;

Loin 410 — Bone-in, ¼-in. trim, all weights;

Picnic 405 — Smoker trim, regular shank;

Boston Butt 406 — Bone-in, ¼-in. trim;

Sparerib 416 — Fresh; and

Belly 409 — Seedless, skinless, all weights.

Establishing Actual Carcass Value

In this study, the value of each cut for each pig was defined as the weight of IMPS primal cut multiplied by wholesale price. Average weekly weighted pork wholesale primal and trim prices from the USDA Market News Service 2001 National Carlot Meat Trade Review were used (Table 2). Value of carcass byproducts was also established using USDA reported prices of commonly sold byproducts. (See “Establishing Byproduct Values,” page 42).

Evaluating Packer Grids

Considerable variation in average backfat and loin depth, estimated by different instruments, existed in the sample (see Table 3).

For example, the average 250 lb.-pig with 0.96 in. 10th rib backfat had 0.82 in. 10th rib backfat on the FOM and 1.16 in. last rib backfat using the RULER. This only points out that one cannot compare averages from kill sheets from different plants. The important question is how well the instruments predict carcass value and whether there is a bias due to weight or backfat class.

The sub-sample of 441 carcasses evaluated by all instruments was used to calculate comparative carcass measures among the systems. Live and carcass measures were used.

Comparative Value

Total carcass value was determined by evaluating the average pig at each weight by a sample of processor grids (Table 4). Predictions from grids are from equations unique to each processor and determine value of the carcass paid to the producer. Processor grids included those using the FOM, AUS and RULER.

Carcass component value is the sum of the subprimal cuts and trim in each of the four primals, plus a byproduct value. The costs of slaughter, cutting, packaging and marketing must be deducted from the carcass component value before it can be compared with values determined by packer grids.

For example, an average 250-lb. market pig in this sample was worth $113.40 when sold to a packer using a Fat-O-Meater grid. That same pig had a value of $139.35 when valued by carcass components. But packer costs must be subtracted to determine net value.

Opportunity

Producers involved in systems that sell pork instead of pigs must efficiently manage slaughter, cutting, packaging and marketing costs if they are to increase net returns. All carcass components, including byproducts, must contribute income. Likewise, costs of all pork preparation activities must be minimized. This is the challenge and opportunity that some producers are now facing.

Heritability Of Primal Components

Since the late 1980s, hog procurement has moved steadily toward a carcass weight and lean premium system. This emphasis on lean composition has forced pork producers to utilize good estimators of lean composition in breeding stock selection programs.

Loin muscle area and 10th rib backfat are good predictors of carcass lean content. Therefore, researchers investigated the heritabilities and genetic correlations of these key carcass traits.

Ultrasound technology has made it possible to measure these highly heritable traits in live boars and gilts. With the best individuals identified and used in commercial breeding programs, backfat thickness has decreased and loin muscle size of market hogs has increased dramatically.

Still, packers and processors are not paid based on weight of total lean. Rather, they are paid on weight of component primal or boneless sub-primal cuts. Naturally, the price of each component varies by weight. Pork use trends have increased the value of bellies relative to loins and hams. Further, the bellies from some very lean, heavily muscled pigs do not have the quality that bacon processors require.

New Carcass Component Data

Carcass component pricing is feasible. It's only a matter of time before packers and processors begin procuring hogs based on total weight and value of individual carcass components.

Table 1. Heritabilities (on diagonal) and Genetic Correlations (below diagonal) for Primal Cut Weights and Estimates of Carcass Composition
Traita HAM LOIN BB PIC BLY BF10 LMA
HAM 0.60
LOIN 0.57 0.61
BB 0.26 0.70 0.13
PIC 0.64 0.81 0.59 0.23
BLY -0.53 -0.54 -0.66 -0.67 0.66
BF10 -0.66 -0.63 -0.19 -0.57 0.52 0.59
LMA 0.53 0.75 0.56 0.59 -0.39 -0.57 0.67
aHAM=Ham 401, LOIN=Loin 410, BB=Boston Butt 406, PIC=Picnic Shoulder 405, BLY=Belly 409, BF10=Carcass Backfat, LMA=Carcass Loin Muscle Area.


Data from two national checkoff-funded programs were used in this study. The National Pork Board's Genetics of Lean Efficiency project included 285 purebred Yorkshire and Duroc barrows and gilts. And, 171 barrows and gilts from the National Barrow Show (NBS) Sire Progeny Test represented the Yorkshire, Duroc, Berkshire, Chester White, Hampshire, Landrace, Poland China and Spotted breeds. All pigs were classified HAL 1843 nonmutant.

All pigs were slaughtered at the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, MN. Loin muscle area (LMA) and 10th rib, off-midline backfat thickness (BF10) were measured on each carcass. One side of each carcass was dissected into primals and boneless sub-primals at Geneva Meats, Geneva, MN.

Primal weights included the Ham 401 (HAM), Loin 410 (LOIN), Picnic Shoulder 405 (PIC), Boston Butt 406 (BB) and Belly 409 (BLY) [See Table 1].

Heritability estimates for primal cut weights — ham, loin and belly — were as high as backfat and loin muscle area — 0.60, 0.61 and 0.66, respectively. Heritability was 0.59 for backfat and 0.67 for loin muscle area. Shoulder components — Boston butt (BB) and picnic (PIC) — were less highly heritable at 0.13 and 0.23, respectively.

Genetic correlations between components with a high lean-to-fat ratio (ham, loin) were positively correlated with loin muscle area but negatively correlated with backfat thickness. The belly showed the opposite relationship, being positively correlated with backfat thickness (0.52) and negatively correlated with loin muscle area (-0.54). These are large genetic correlations.

Once again, nature shows you can't get everything for free. Selection for decreased backfat thickness and increased loin muscle area has indirectly increased weight of the ham and loin while decreasing the weight of the belly. The value of the entire carcass can be reduced if belly weight discounts exceed loin and ham premiums. A few packers have reduced lean premiums for very lean pigs due to lost belly value.

Given economic values, heritability estimates and genetic correlations for carcass components, selection indices can be developed. With these high heritabilities and large genetic correlations, an index incorporating ham, loin and belly weights should protect a breeder from reducing the value of any of these three primals.

As long as packers and processors are procuring hogs based on a carcass weight, backfat and loin lean premium basis, producers will continue to use breeding stock that maximize economic returns from those buying grids.

Establishing Carcass Byproduct Values

Genetic improvements have changed pork carcass composition as well as byproduct yields. Carcass byproduct yields are important to consider because they can increase the value of the whole hog and directly impact profitability of packers and processors.

Growing domestic ethnic and international markets are creating a demand for pork byproducts previously overlooked by marketers. The USDA's pork byproduct reports do not reflect all of the organs, glands and other “parts” that have value in current domestic and export markets.

A checkoff-funded study using modern barrows and gilts at several market weights was completed by the National Pork Board to support market price reporting efforts. This comprehensive study of byproduct yields will also aid pork producers considering investment in small packing plants to better estimate total returns from slaughter operations.

The byproduct yield project was conducted at Geneva Meats and Processing, Geneva, MN, under USDA inspection, during the fall of 2001.

Byproduct Basics

A total of 196 barrows and gilts were slaughtered and byproducts collected and weighed. Pigs were selected from area producers to fit project parameters, including a range of live market weights and several genetic types considered to be representative of the U.S. slaughter hog population. Fourteen farms were sampled during the project. An average of 15 hogs were taken from one to four farms each slaughter day.

Live weights of the 196 hogs ranged from 166.9 to 354.8 lb., averaging 245.5 lb. Ninety-seven gilts and 99 barrows were slaughtered for byproduct collection. The mean weight for each of the 43 byproducts collected is shown in Table 1.

Estimating Byproduct Values

Obtaining prices for each of the byproducts proved to be a difficult task. The USDA has not reported prices for each item collected in this study, and packers are generally reluctant to reveal the value of the byproducts collected at each plant.

Byproduct values also vary with season and market conditions. Some byproducts may only be sold at certain times of the year. Differences in transport costs may also affect byproduct pricing.

Estimated values for each byproduct collected appear in Table 1. These prices may represent yearly averages or a price reported at a certain point in time. Some values were obtained from packers, others from the USDA.

These reports reflect the items for which the USDA regularly reports prices. However, some items are not consistently collected by packers due to the lack of an available market or a price level that doesn't support the collection of a byproduct.

Prices for these byproducts may not always be available since packers report sales on a voluntary basis. And, prices are not reported unless the necessary quantity, such as a half-load or 20,000 lb., is sold. In the future, it is possible that other byproducts will be added to the USDA reports.

The USDA Beef and Pork Variety Meats Report is available on the Internet at: www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/NW_LS440.TXT. The Hog Byproduct Drop Value Report is available at: www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/NW_LS446.TXT.

Devalued Byproducts

The economic value of various byproducts may be further affected by collection procedures. For example, hearts may be slashed for inspection. The extent of the slashing may vary from one plant to the next.

Slashed hearts are regarded as less desirable, especially in foreign markets such as China, where whole hearts receive a greater value. Likewise, slashed kidneys have less value.

The Chinese market also places greater value on tongues that have not been “tipped,” which simply means approximately 1.5 in. is cut off the tip, leaving a square end. Tongues that have nicks or slices on the surface will likely lose value as well.

Other factors that may affect byproduct value include degree of bleaching of stomachs, tail length and bung length.

Table 1. Mean and Estimated Economic Valuea of Byproducts Collected from Market Hogs
Byproduct Mean
(lb.)
Packer
Value
USDA
Value
Average
Value
($/cwt)
Per Hog
Value
($)
Market
2001 2000 1999
Blood 9.20 18.00 18.00 1.66
Skin, chilled, trimmedb 12.64 18.67 27.11 20.79 22.19 2.81
Boneb 21.68 3.77 3.77 0.82
Tail 0.26 22.00 24.98 40.83 26.59 28.60 0.07
Fore feet 1.87 24.00 22.22 19.29 14.13 19.91 0.37 Korea
China
Hind feet 2.22 17.00 17.00 0.38
Trachea 0.09
Lungs 1.74 1 to 2.50 1.75 0.03
Heart, unslashed 0.92 24.98 22.15 19.48 22.20 0.20 China
Heart, slashed 0.92 24.00 28.05 21.27 14.92 22.06 China
USA
Canada
Liver 3.59 16.00 22.21 13.73 11.49 15.86 0.57
Spleen 0.42 4 to 5 4.50 0.02
Pancreas 0.34 90.00 75 to 81 84.00 0.29
Esophagus 0.13
Stomach 1.39 47.00 58.63 42.94 34.99 45.89 China
Mexico
Stomach, without pepsin lining 0.97 41.50 41.50 0.40
Pepsin lining 0.39 85.00 85 to 90 87.50 0.34
Small intestine 3.41
Large intestine 2.96 33.93 42.82 30.34 35.70 1.06
Bung 0.33 77.00 77.00 0.25
Urinary bladder 0.09 0.20 2.22 0.002
Uterus 0.33 79.75 68.50 47.77 65.34 0.22 Mexico
Ovaries 0.02 0.25 12.50 0.003
Kidneys 0.70 21.00 16.25 18.53 12.68 17.12 0.12 China
Leaf fat 3.06 9.69 8.25 10.02 9.32 0.29
Skirt meat 0.65 46.00 46.00 0.30
Hanging tender 0.41 26.67 26.67 0.11
Head, without inner ear chambers 13.88 48.00 48.00
Ears, without inner ear chambers 1.19 60.00 60.00 0.71
Ear base, left and right 0.66 15.00 15.00
Outer ear, left and right 0.53 90.00 92.31 65.76 79.16 81.81
Facemask 1.94 20.00 20.00 0.39
Snout 0.43 20.00 55.05 27.51 23.50 31.52
Lower lip 0.38 13.00 13.00 0.05
Pate meat 0.57 25.00 25.00 0.14
Temple meat 0.13 71.00 71.00 0.09
Head meat 0.21 50.00 50.00 0.11
Cheek meat 0.66 67.00 56.73 56.97 45.44 56.54 0.37
Salivary glands 0.12 32.00 29.34 14.59 16.56 23.12 0.03
Tongue, tip on 0.56 57.00 79.75 43.91 39.61 55.07 0.31 China
Tongue, tip off 0.53 57.00 57.00
Pork meat 0.47
Tongue cartilage 0.04 2.20 2.20 0.001
Brain 0.23 65.00 51.63 42.25 33.56 48.11 0.11 Mexico
Total estimated value per hog $12.63
aValues in dollars/hundredweight, which is equal to cents/lb.
bChilled, trimmed skin and bone removed from carcass primal cuts during the Quality Lean Growth Modeling Genetics of Lean Efficency and National Barrow Show Sire projects.


Per-Pig Byproduct Value

The per-pig value of each byproduct was calculated by multiplying the value per pound times the average weight of that product. These per-pig byproduct values were simply added to establish the total byproduct value — estimated at $12.63/hog (See Table 1).

Because markets are not always available for all byproducts, an estimate of $6.51 is used in the component value of market hogs. This is about 4-5% of the market hog value.

Different collection methods affect the value of the byproducts. And, of course, a product can be collected in only one form from each pig. For example, only one heart can be collected per pig and it must be either slashed or unslashed. For purposes of determining the total per-pig value of byproducts, the collection method that provided the greatest value was used — in this case the unslashed heart.

The stomach is another example. It can be sold whole with the pepsin lining intact, or, the pepsin lining can be removed and the remainder of the stomach and the pepsin lining sold separately. This latter option captures the most byproduct value.

Other examples would be the whole ear rather than the ear base and outer ear or the entire face mask versus only the snout, or the tongue with the tip on.

Photographs of some of these byproducts are shown in Figure 1. The glossary of byproduct descriptions also provides greater detail about individual byproducts.

Byproduct Markets

The major markets for some byproducts are noted in Table 1. Currently, the greatest export markets for U.S. pork byproducts are Mexico, Japan, and China (including Hong Kong).

In the past decade, both the value and volume of pork byproduct exports to Mexico were consistently the highest. Other major markets in the past 10 years included Japan, China (including Hong Kong), Europe, Canada and Russia.

In 2001, Mexico ranked first in both tonnage and value, importing 75,941 metric tons (83,535 tons) of U.S. pork byproducts worth $62,953,000. China and Hong Kong ranked second, importing 32,585 metric tons (35,844 tons) valued at $24,420,000. Japan, ranking third, imported 7,495 metric tons (8,245 tons) worth $6,445,000.

These statistics are available from the US Meat Export Federation website at: www.usmef.org/exportstats/pork/1201.varietymeats.cfm.

Currently, other markets for U.S. pork byproducts include Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore. There are indications that Thailand may develop into a good market. Although they do have a large swineherd, Thailand cannot meet the domestic demand for pork byproducts. Specifically, they need supplies of pork liver, intestines and pigs' feet.

Our leading competitors for these expanded variety meat export markets include Denmark, the Netherlands, other European Union countries, Canada and Australia.

High on the list of ongoing challenges in developing these variety meat export markets is meeting the cutting specifications that these foreign markets demand.

Copies of the protocol followed for byproduct collection are available upon request. Contact Amanda Gralapp-Gonzalez at (515) 294-3746 or email amanda.gralapp@porkboard.org.

Figure 1. Byproduct Descriptions

Blood: The fresh blood did not undergo any processing.

Skin: The primal cuts from the chilled carcass were skinned during the Quality Lean Growth Modeling, Genetics of Lean Efficiency and National Barrow Show Sire projects.

Tail: Removed after the carcass was skinned.

Fore feet: Toe nails removed; skin on; separated at or above the upper knee joint.

Hind feet: Toe nails removed; skin on; separated at or above the hock joint.

Trachea: Cartilaginous tube that carries air from the mouth to the lungs.

Lungs: Includes both left and right lungs.

Heart, unslashed: Vessels trimmed close to entry; pericardium removed; cap (top portion) left on.

Heart, slashed: Heart cut open for inspection.

Liver: Gall bladder removed.

Spleen: Reddish-purple tongue-shaped organ.

Pancreas (sweetbread): Pinkish or yellowish white gland located near the junction of the stomach and small intestine.

Esophagus: Muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

Stomach: Cut open and washed to remove contents.

Pepsin lining: Portion of the interior lining of the stomach.

Stomach, without pepsin lining: The stomach after the pepsin lining was removed.

Small intestine: Approximately 39-52 ft. long.

Large intestine: Approximately 9-15 ft. long.

Bung (rectum): The final 15 in. (approximately) of the large intestine.

Urinary bladder: Small, round, thick-walled organ that stores urine.

Uterus: Female reproductive tract.

Ovaries: Female reproductive gland.

Kidneys: Includes both left and right; renal capsule removed; vessels and ureters trimmed close to entry.

Leaf fat: Deposit of fat within the abdominal cavity near the kidneys.

Skirt meat: The muscular portion of the diaphragm which separates the chest and abdominal cavities.

Hanging tender: A portion of a muscle that supports the diaphragm.

Head, without inner ear chambers: The whole head with the inner ear chambers and eyelids removed; includes the tongue and ears; skin intact.

Ears, without inner ear chambers: The ears with the inner ear chambers removed.

Ear base, left and right: Fatty portion, or lobe, of the ear closest to the skull.

Outer ear, left and right: Lean, cartilaginous outer portion of the ear.

Facemask: Skin covering the head including the snout.

Lower lip: Skin covering the chin.

Snout: Skin covering the nose and snout.

Pate meat: Tissue located at the top of the head between the ears.

Temple meat: Lean tissue located at the temples.

Head meat: Two strips of lean tissue on either side of the nose running from below the eye to the snout.

Cheek meat: Lean tissue from the inside and outside of the lower jaw.

Pork meat: Trimmed from the bottom of the tongue.

Salivary glands: Small, round, pinkish glands from the lower jaw area.

Tongue, tip on: The tongue with the pointed tip intact.

Tongue, tip off: The tongue with approximately 1.5 in. of the tip cut off to leave a square end.

Tongue cartilage: The top, semi-circular piece of cartilage from the trachea.

Brain: Split during removal from the skull; includes both halves.

Value of Shoulder Primals

The shoulder of a pork carcass (Figure 1: rough shoulder) is processed into two wholesale cuts: the butt, commonly called the Boston butt or shoulder butt, and the picnic, also known as the picnic shoulder or arm shoulder.

The Boston butt is obtained from the upper portion of the whole shoulder (Figure 2) and the picnic shoulder is obtained from the lower portion (Figure 3). The primary retail cuts obtained from the Boston butt and the picnic shoulder are blade and arm/picnic roasts (bone-in or boneless) and blade and arm steaks.

Meat quality is a concern for all pork wholesale cuts. However, the quality of wholesale or retail shoulder cuts traditionally has not been evaluated, nor is it a large concern, because these cuts are frequently further processed into sausage, bratwursts, luncheon meats and so forth. The quality of the meat cuts used in these types of products is more easily manipulated or masked by the further processing.

The wholesale Boston butt and picnic shoulder weights were obtained from three National Pork Board projects (See “Selling Pork, Not Pigs,” page 6). Knife separable fat, bone and other soft tissue weight were obtained for each of the wholesale shoulder cuts.

Backfat and loin muscle area for the 250- and 290-lb. hogs used as examples are shown in Table 1. This reference indicates the size of the shoulder primals that are expected from a 250- or a 290-lb. hog with the representative backfat and loin muscle area.

Setting Shoulder Values

To value the shoulder primals, the prices of each wholesale cut and trimmings and the 52-week average for 2001 were obtained from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The wholesale prices reported are for bone-in products that have been trimmed to ¼ in. of external fat. Prices reported for wholesale cuts of pork are more consistently reported than prices for various retail cuts. Because all processors do not fabricate the carcass into exactly the same retail cuts, wholesale prices were chosen as the best way to value the pork carcasses.

The weights and values of the shoulder primals differed as the size of the hog increased (Table 1). The wholesale Boston butt and picnic shoulder weights from the 250-lb. hog were 8.94 and 9.81 lb., respectively. The weights of the Boston butt and picnic shoulders were multiplied by the 2001 average wholesale prices that were $0.90/lb. and $0.45/lb., respectively.

The 250-lb. hog provided a single Boston butt value of $8.05 and single picnic shoulder value of $4.41. The same two cuts from the 290-lb. hog weighed 10.44 and 11.26 lb. and had values of $9.40 and $5.07, respectively.

The amount of fat trimmed from the shoulder primals totaled 1.80 lb. for the 250-pounder and 2.54 lb. for the 290-pounder. Closer examination showed that the fat obtained from the picnic shoulder was 0.54 lb. for the 250-lb. hog and 0.73 lb. for the 290-lb. hog, while the fat trimmed from the Boston butt was 1.26 lb. and 1.81 lb. for the respective weights.

Fat, although less valuable than lean meat, does have value as edible fat sold in the wholesale market. This fat is added to products like sausage, hot dogs and other edible goods.

The fat from the shoulder of the 250-lb. hog had a value of $0.41 ($0.12 from the picnic, $0.29 from the Boston butt), while the shoulder fat from the 290-lb. hog had a value of $0.58 ($0.17 from the picnic shoulder and $0.41 from the Boston butt).

In addition to the wholesale cuts and fat, the weights of shoulder trimmings from the 250- and 290-lb. animals were 1.40 and 2.06 lb., respectively. The 2001 USDA reported average wholesale price for 42% trim was $0.27/lb. Hence, the values of trimmings were $0.39 from the 250-lb. hog and $0.56 from the 290-lb. hog.

Jowl Values

The jowl, the small piece of meat pictured beside the rough shoulder in Figure 1, is also considered a portion of the shoulder and has some value. (Figure 4 shows it separately.)

Table 1. Wholesale Shoulder Cuts, Byproducts and Value from an Example 250 and 290-lb. Market Hog
Item 250-lb.
Market Hog
290-lb.
Market Hog
Carcass Weight, lb. 183.9 216.1
Yield, % 73.6 74.5
Backfat, in. 0.95 1.08
Loin Muscle Area, sq. in. 6.05 6.76
Picnic Shoulder Weight, lb. 9.81 11.26
Picnic Shoulder Price, $/lb. 0.45 0.45
Picnic Shoulder Value, $ 4.41 5.07
Picnic Fat, lb. 0.54 0.73
Fat Price, $/lb. 0.23 0.23
Picnic Shoulder Fat Value, $ 0.12 0.17
Total Picnic Shoulder Value, $ 4.53 5.24
Boston Butt Weight, lbs. 8.94 10.44
Boston Butt Price, $/lb. 0.90 0.90
Boston Butt Value, $ 8.05 9.40
Boston Butt Fat, lb. 1.26 1.81
Fat Value, $/lb. 0.23 0.23
Boston Butt Fat Value, $ 0.29 0.41
Boston Butt Value, $ 8.34 9.81
Shoulder Trim, lb. 1.40 2.06
Shoulder Trim Value, $/lb. 0.27 0.27
Shoulder Trim Value, $ 0.39 0.56
Jowl Weight, lbs.a 1.51 1.89
Jowl Price, $/lb. 0.27 0.27
Jowl Value, $ 0.41 0.51
Total Shoulder Value, $ 13.67 16.12
Total Carcass Shoulder Value, $ 27.34 32.24
aJowl skin weight is included in byproducts and not in this weight.


In this evaluation, the jowl was skinned; therefore, the portion of the jowl valued with the shoulder only included the soft tissue. The skin from the jowl is valued in the byproducts section (See “Establishing Carcass Byproduct Values,” page 42).

The skinned jowl weights from the 250-lb. and 290-lb. hogs were 1.51 and 1.89 lb., respectively. Since the jowl was skinned, this product was classified as trim.

The 2001 USDA average wholesale jowl price was $0.27/lb. The values of a single jowl (without skin) from the 250-lb. and 290-lb. hogs were $0.41 and $0.51, respectively.

The jowl can be processed in a variety of ways. One processor harvests a small portion (2 ½ -3 sq. in.) of jowl marketed as a “Korean” jowl. This highly marbled piece of meat is considered a delicacy in some markets.

Total Shoulder Value

The total values of a single pork shoulder (wholesale cut, fat and trimmings) were $13.67 and $16.12 for the 250-lb. and 290-lb. hogs, respectively. These values, of course, were doubled to $27.34 and $32.24 to determine total carcass pork shoulder value from the respective hogs.

The total weights of the wholesale shoulder cuts (Boston butt and picnic shoulder) represented 20.4% and 20.1% of total carcass weight from the 250-lb. and 290-lb. hogs, respectively. Shoulder primals provide 19.6% of the value of the 250-lb hog and 19.8% of the value of the 290-lb. hog.

Seasonal Fluctuations

The picnic shoulder and Boston butt markets are similar to other pork wholesale cuts in that seasonal and/or monthly price variation exists. Monthly averages were calculated from USDA Market News Service price information (Figure 5).

Generally, the peak price for picnic shoulders and Boston butts occurs in May and June, while the lowest prices occur in the winter months of November to January. Monthly Boston butt price variation follows base carcass price very closely.

The peak price months correspond to times when consumers begin more outdoor activities. Consumers fire up the grill and the demand for further processed products like hot dogs and bratwursts increases. Additionally, barbecued pork has a rich tradition in the U.S., particularly in the south. The Boston butt and picnic shoulder are generally favored in the barbecue trade to make “pulled pork.” Further processed and barbecued pork contributes to the picnic and Boston butt summer demand peak.

Seasonal peaks present both a challenge and an opportunity to pork processors. Since a pork carcass can yield only two picnic shoulders and two Boston butts, a system must be in place to help processors avoid selling their products during demand and price slumps. This is largely accomplished through cold storage during the months when demand is low and pulling from cold storage stocks when demand increases. Processors can weigh the cost of storage against the current market price to determine how many Boston butts and picnic shoulders to store and how many to sell on the open market.

Value of Ham Primals

The ham is one of the major primals of the pork carcass. Changes in ham value can influence overall carcass value.

The move toward heavier market weights has pushed carcass weights higher and, subsequently, the hams from these carcasses are heavier. As ham weights increase, the amount of muscle increases and so does the quantity of skin, bone and excess fat.

Two questions for the pork industry beg an answer:

Have these heavier carcass weights affected the value of the hams? And, has the quality of the meat from these hams been affected?

Weight's Impact on Composition

The ham comprises about 18% of the live pig and about 24% of the pork carcass. As market hogs go from a 250- to 290-lb. live weight, the ham primal or rough ham (Figure 1) increases in weight from 23 to 27 lb. (Table 1).

Normally, hams are not sold in their “rough” form. The major bone-in ham is sold, as the name implies, with the bone intact and the skin on. This ham is fabricated from the rough ham using the Institution Meat Purchase Specifications (IMPS) previously described (see “Selling Pork, Not Pigs,” page 6), to produce the Ham 401 (Figure 2).

The Ham 401 has the skin partially trimmed and some of the fat along the exterior surface trimmed. This trimming yields approximately 2 lb. of skin and external fat. The Ham 401 from the 290-lb. pig still weighs about 3.5 lb. more than the Ham 401 from the 250-lb. pig. These hams are used to produce bone-in, cured hams.

While bone-in hams are still traded, the majority of fresh ham meat is sold as boneless, trimmed cuts used to produce boneless cured hams.

Most ham processors have found it more economical to purchase boneless, trimmed, fresh ham cuts directly from the packing plant. By purchasing these fresh ham cuts, processors avoid the time, labor and cost of removing the bones.

Today's consumers also prefer low-fat hams with less visible fat. To meet consumer demands, ham processors began making hams from specific muscles.

Boneless hams can be made from individual muscles, but boneless fresh ham is commonly sold as either a four- or five-muscle ham. The four-muscle ham is made up of the four major muscles of the ham shown in Figures 3-5. These cuts can also be purchased individually.

As live pig weight increases from 250 to 290 lb., the weights of the inside ham (Figure 3), knuckle (Figure 4) and outside ham with the semitendinosus muscle (Figure 5) also increase. Weight comparisons of the muscles and byproducts of manufacturing boneless fresh hams — skin, bone, external fat and seam fat — are shown in Table 1. Lean, other than the major muscles, is usually mixed with other muscle and fat to be sold as 72% pork trim.

Table 1. Composition of One Ham Primal from a 250- and 290-lb. Market Hog
Ham Cut 250 lb. 290 lb.
Rough Ham, lb. 23.36 27.05
Ham 401, lb. 21.53 24.93
Ham Skin, lb. 1.45 1.50
Ham External Fat, lb. 2.56 3.46
Ham Seam Fat, lb. 0.13 0.15
Inside Ham, lb. 3.88 4.37
Knuckle, lb. 2.68 3.30
Outside Ham w/Semitendinosus, lb. 5.32 6.18
Ham Other Lean, lb. 3.40 3.76
Ham Bone, lb. 2.37 2.60


It is important to recognize that although ham skin, seam fat and bone increase only slightly with heavier live weights, the external fat increases substantially.

Ham Values

To better understand the impact of live weight on ham composition (Table 2) and subsequent value, the average price of hams for 2001 was used to compare the value of hams from the two live weight levels (Table 3).

Table 2. Ham Values Based on Weekly Prices Reported by USDA Agricultural Market Service for 2001, $/lb.
Ham Cut Average Minimum Maximum
Ham 401, 17-20 lb. $0.65 $0.49 $0.87
Ham 401, 20-23 lb. $0.59 $0.45 $0.68
Ham 401, 23-27 lb. $0.56 $0.43 $0.67
Boneless Four-Muscle Ham $1.14 $0.91 $1.33
72% Fresh Ham Trim $0.49 $0.36 $0.60


The pork ham prices reported in Table 2 show that as the weight of the ham increases, the price per lb. for bone-in hams decreases. Also, the price of the 17-20 lb. Ham 401 has a larger spread between the minimum and maximum values than the heavier ham categories.

The price for boneless, four-muscle hams is higher than for bone-in hams. The price differential is due to the lighter weight of the boneless hams; the labor cost to remove the bone and separate out the muscles; and the yield loss due to removing the skin, external fat, seam fat and other lean. Some value is regained from the external fat, seam fat and other lean as these ham components are added to 72% pork trimmings. The skin and bone have some value (See “Estimating Carcass Byproduct Values,” page 42).

Table 3. Composite Average Ham Value from a 250- and 290-lb. Market Hog, $/lb.
Ham Cut 250 lb. 290 lb. Value Difference
Ham 401 + Ham Fat $26.24 $28.90 $2.66
Boneless Four-Muscle Ham $27.18 $31.68 $4.50
72% Pork Trimmings
(external fat, seam fat, other lean)
$5.98 $7.24 $1.26
Boneless Ham Total Value
(Boneless Four-Muscle Ham + 72% trim)
$33.16 $38.92 $5.76


Even with the compositional differences between hams from 250- versus 290-lb. pigs, the value of the ham from a 290-lb. pig is higher for bone-in Ham 401; boneless, four-muscle ham; and for the combined value of the boneless, four-muscle ham and the 72% pork trimmings (Table 3). Whether ham values are high or low, the hams from the 290-lb. pigs are worth more.

Ham prices are subject to considerable seasonal variability. Prices averaged across four years (1998-2001), are reported for bone-in hams (Figure 6) and for boneless hams and 72% pork trimmings (Figure 7). Hams provide 18.8% of the value of the 250-lb hog and 17.7% of the value of the 290-lb hog.

Ham Quality

It is apparent that increasing live weight correspondingly increases the value of the ham. However, increasing value does not benefit the pork industry if the quality of the ham muscles decreases as a consequence.

As ham muscles are used for further processing, their ability to hold brines and to have uniform, pinkish color is important. Quality measures of color, firmness and pH were evaluated on the ham face and in individual muscles of the ham (Figure 8).

As live pigs increased in weight from 250 to 290 lb., quality of the ham face for color, muscle firmness and pH was not affected. However, when these same quality characteristics were measured in individual inside ham, outside ham and knuckle muscles, the muscles from the 290-lb. pigs were slightly softer, but had slightly less drip loss.

The comparison shows that as pigs are marketed at heavier weights, muscle quality in the ham is not significantly impacted. In fact, the ham muscles from heavier pigs may actually have greater ability to hold brines.

As the pork industry has moved to heavier weight hogs, composition of the ham has been impacted, but the total value of the ham has increased. And, the quality of the muscles from the ham have not decreased and may have improved slightly.

A New Look at Belly and Bacon Values

For today's consumers, bacon is a very different meat product than in our grandparent's day. The fresh pork belly — the raw material for bacon — is a major component of every pig.

Depending on how the carcass is fabricated, bacon accounts for about 11% of the carcass today, compared to 15-18% just two to three decades ago.

Forty years ago, the amount of separable fat in a belly was commonly listed as 68-75%. Today the amount of fat in sliced bacon is dramatically less, 45-55%.

Bacon has gone from a center-of-the-plate breakfast meat item to an integral ingredient in many foods. It is also widely favored as a condiment for sandwiches, particularly in the fast-food/take-out market.

Retail bacon, cooked at home, is still a significant market. Pre-cooked bacon is a growing category at the supermarket and is, by far, the fastest growing and largest segment of the foodservice market.

Beginning in the mid-'90s, fast-food outlets and restaurants have boosted the popularity of bacon by creating new entrees with bacon as a premium-valued flavor and texture addition. This has stimulated phenomenal growth in bacon sales and reversed the once poor profitability of bacon. This surge in popularity has also impacted, in a very exciting way, the entire meat products market for pork.

Throughout the '90s, the number and output volume microwave bacon processing systems has grown markedly. Combining convenience with the outstanding flavor and texture of bacon has made it one of the fastest-growing ingredients in the food field.

Belly Quality Traits

The measure used to assign value to bellies is simple — quality equals weight.

Understanding the unique opportunities and challenges associated with bacon production and processing is multi-faceted. Beginning with the raw material, the pork belly (Figure 1), it is important to focus on how bacon will perform during cooking and how that is related back to the pig, belly, bacon slice, processing and cooking procedures.

Two research initiatives in the Quality Lean Growth Modeling Project (QLGM), a checkoff-funded project of the National Pork Board, focused on the quality relationship of pigs to bacon and the study of production protocols used in making bacon.

Bacon quality, very important in reaching the market growth potential, had not been studied extensively. In particular, the quality measures that could affect some of the new opportunities for sliced, precooked bacon had not been studied.

Cooperation from representatives from the commercial bacon processing industry helped bring testing procedures into better focus. Several new quality attributes that needed further research and evaluation surfaced during this process.

These new quality evaluations included the shrinkage and distortion of a bacon slice during cooking and the color and quantity of the lean and fat. The prevalence of a defect condition seen during cooking, known as “shattering,” was also studied.

Bacon Processing Procedures

Two bacon formulations and procedures, aimed at retail and foodservice, respectively, provided additional quality information in this study.

The retail bacon contained a typical 12% pumping solution and was commercially sliced at 9 slices/in. The foodservice bacon contained the 12% solution with additional sugar and liquid smoke and was commercially sliced 13 slices/in.

Bellies were transferred to a commercial plant for temperature adjustment or tempering, pressing (Figure 2) and slicing. The sliced bacon was returned to the university for testing and evaluation.

Bacon slabs were sampled in five zones following slicing, from the anterior to the posterior end of each slab (Figure 3). Each zone represented 20% of the slices in the slab after incomplete slices were removed from both ends. The first two slices from each zone were used for most evaluations.

Shattering and Composition

Shatter marks were defined as breaks or shatters of the fat portion that occurred perpendicular to the slice. Shatter marks did not include the natural separation of fat tissue or separation between fat and lean tissue (Figure 4).

Shatter marks were classified into five length categories: 1-10 mm, 11-20 mm, 21-30 mm, 31-40 mm, and 41+ mm. Shattering was measured by checking for the number and extent of shatter marks.

The same two slices were then bagged, labeled and frozen for compositional analyses of moisture, fat, protein and ash.

Cooking Yields, Shrinkage

At the same time the first two slices were being taken from each zone for the above evaluation, the next 10 slices were removed from each zone, labeled, packaged and frozen for later cooking analyses. Five slices were analyzed for microwave cooking and five for double-belt cooking.

Of the five slices cooked by either the microwave method or the double-belt cooking systems, three slices were measured for length and width before and after cooking to calculate slice shrinkage. Cooked yields were also calculated on the five slices.

Distortion scores refer to the amount of “wrinkling” in the bacon slice following final cooking. A scale of 1-5 (Figure 5) determined cooked shrinkage for the three slices used.

Establishing Belly Value

To value the belly primal, the weekly prices of each side wholesale cut and trimmings were obtained from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and averaged for 2001. The prices reported for wholesale bellies were divided into three groups based on weight — 12-14, 14-16, and 16-18 lb. For this article, the 12-14- and 14-16-lb. weight ranges were used to value the bellies from the example 250- and 290-lb. market hogs, respectively.

The weight and value of the belly primals differed as the size of the hogs got larger (Table 1). The wholesale belly and sparerib weights from the 250-lb. hog were 9.87 and 3.35 lb., respectively. The weight of the belly and spareribs (Figure 6) were multiplied by the 2001 average wholesale prices, which were $0.88/lb. and $1.46/lb. for the 250-lb. hog, respectively, and $0.92/lb. and $1.46/lb. for the 290-lb. hog, respectively.

Table 1. Wholesale Side/Belly Cuts, Byproducts and Value from an Example 250- and 290-lb. Market Hog
Item 250-lb.
Market Hog
290-lb.
Market Hog
Carcass Weight, lb. 183.9 216.1
Backfat, in. 0.95 1.08
Loin Muscle Area, sq. in. 6.05 6.76
Belly Weight, one side, lb. 9.87 12.09
Belly Price, $/lb. 0.88 0.92
Belly Value, one side, $ 8.69 11.12
Belly Fat, one side, lb. 2.03 2.51
Fat Price, $/lb. 0.23 0.23
Fat Value, $ 0.47 0.58
Belly Trim Weight, one side, lb. 1.95 2.47
Trim price, $/lb. 0.22 0.22
Belly Trim Value, one side, $ 0.43 0.54
Total Belly Value, one side, $ 9.59 12.24
Sparerib Weight, one side, lb. 3.35 3.85
Sparerib Price, $/lb. 1.46 1.46
Sparerib Value, one side, $ 4.89 5.62
Sparerib Trim, one side, lb. 2.03 2.38
Trim Value, $/lb. 0.22 0.22
Sparerib Trim Value, one side, $ 0.45 0.52
Total Sparerib Value, one side, $ 5.34 6.14
Total Belly Value, one side, $ 14.93 18.38
Total Carcass Belly Value, $ 29.86 36.76


The 250-lb. hog provided a single belly value of $8.69 and a sparerib value of $4.89. The same two cuts from the 290-lb. hog weighed 12.09 and 3.85 lb., and had a value of $11.12 and $5.62, respectively.

The fat trimmed from the belly primals was 2.03 lb. for the 250-lb. hog and 2.51 lb. for the 290-lb. hog. As with other wholesale cuts, belly fat does have value, as it is sold as edible fat in the wholesale market. This fat can be added to various beef, pork and poultry processed products. The fat from the belly of the 250-lb. hog was worth $0.47, and $0.58 from the 290-pounder.

In addition to the wholesale cuts and fat, the weights of side trimmings from the 250-lb. hog were 3.98 (1.95+2.03 lb. from the belly and spareribs) and 4.85 lb. (2.47+2.38 from the belly and spareribs) for the 290 lb. hog.

The 2001 USDA-reported average wholesale price for 42% trim was $0.22/lb. Hence, the value of side trimmings (belly + sparerib) from the 250- and 290-lb. hogs was $0.88 and $1.06, respectively.

The total value of a single pork side (wholesale cut, fat and trimmings) was $14.93 for the 250-lb. hog and $18.38 for the 290-lb. hog. These values were doubled to $29.86 and $36.76 to determine total carcass belly value from the 250- and 290-lb. hogs.

The total weight of the wholesale side cuts (belly and spareribs) represented 22.0% and 22.2% of total carcass weight from the 250-lb. and 290-lb. hogs, respectively. The belly primals represent 21.4% of the value of the 250-lb hog and 22.5% of the 290-lb hog.

The belly and sparerib markets are similar to other pork wholesale cuts and commodities in that seasonal and/or monthly price variation exists. Monthly averages were calculated from four-year (1998-2001) price information obtained from the USDA Market News Service (Figure 7).

Generally, the sparerib price builds during the spring and peaks by May/June. The lowest sparerib price occurs from October to December.

Monthly belly price is not as variable as that of spareribs. However, belly prices tend to peak during the late summer and decline during fall. This variation is likely due to the supply of pork on the market during these months. The stability of belly prices is supported by consistent consumer demands for bacon. The demand for bacon in the fast-food industry throughout the year no doubt has contributed to seasonal stability of belly prices.

The peak sparerib price months correspond to times when consumers fire up grills and smokers cook ribs during the summer months. However, processors have begun to market a prepared rib product to simplify preparation for consumers. This may lead to less seasonal variation. However, the price variation forces processors to store wholesale cuts like the belly and spareribs to avoid selling all of their supply at any given time, particularly in a low spot market.

Bacon's Bright Future

Much has been learned about bacon in the QLGM project as the data relate to the design parameters of genetic line, sex, diet and slaughter weight. It is clear that there are large differences within the supply of commercially marketed pork. Clearly there are differences due to genetics and sex. The effect of increased market weight was very consistent with our understanding about growth of pigs and the effects of increased fat deposition in the meat.

The treatment of retail and foodservice bacon processing was added to learn more about methods that will capture greater quality. This effort raised additional questions that must be tested under unique commercial conditions.

The expansion of the project to include two processing methods — retail and foodservice — allowed for more than one injection pickle and level of solids. The second expansion of the project permitted two cooking systems to be evaluated — one simulating commercial microwave processing, the other a more traditional retail bacon. This has increased our understanding of bacon cooking performance.

New techniques for evaluation of bacon, including camera visioning for amount of lean and fat and color of the raw and cooked bacon, will be useful for many other products and processes.

Value of Loin Primals

Boneless loin, backribs and the tenderloin are considered premium pork cuts, suitable for ordering in a restaurant or serving to guests. There is a great range of prices for these three cuts.

Fresh boneless loin chops cost about $4.00/lb. at the grocery store when sold as a store brand. The same chops sell for $14.00/lb. on the Internet with a brand that says the pigs were “humanely raised.” Other pork marketing messages include organic, genetic type, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised and produced in a “sustainable farming system.”

Naturally, the message you send and its cost of delivery can affect the final value of a market hog.

Exporters pay the most for quality loins, foodservice bids for the next best loins and retail markets distribute the remaining loins. Given this marketing process, it is no surprise that the greatest variation in loins is seen in U.S. retail meat counters.

While some consumers may not consider cured products — bacon or ham — as pork at all, there is no doubt that pork chops are recognized as the major fresh pork product. The fresh pork loin can be marketed as a high-value product without further processing.

Loin Primal Values

The untrimmed loin primals are about 18% of the weight of the live market hog. Two cutting styles are used to value these loins.

With cutting style 1, each trimmed Loin 410 (Figure 1) from a 250-lb. hog weighs 20.7 lb., and 24.5 lb. from a 290-lb. hog. The value of the Loin 410 (Figure 2), plus any loin trim, equals total loin value.

Cutting style 2 breaks the loin into boneless loin (Figure 3), tenderloin (Figure 4), backribs (Figure 5) and loin trim. Adding the value of these cuts, plus trim, is another way to determine the total value of the loin primal. The ability to market these premium cuts can have a large impact on the total hog value.

The composition and value of one loin primal is shown in Table 1. Prices for the loin cuts are the USDA Agricultural Market News Service weekly weighted average prices for 2001.

Choice of cutting styles does affect loin value. For example, the loin value for a 250-lb. hog with cutting style 1 is $24.70. The value using cutting style 2 is $25.32. The loin value for a 290-lb. hog with cutting style 1 is $29.35, while the value using cutting style 2 is $29.04.

A 290-lb hog produced a Loin 410 that had proportionately more fat and less loin muscle than a 250-lb hog using cutting style 2.

Pigs with larger loin muscles are clearly worth more to processors using cutting style 2. The heavier boneless loin is worth $1.84/lb. and there is less trim, which is worth only $0.49/lb. The total loin contribution to hog value (both loins) using cutting style 1 is $49.40 for a 250-pounder and $58.70 for a 290-pounder. This represents 35.5% of a 250-lb hog's value and 36.0% of a 290-lb hog's value.

Seasonal Swings

There are large seasonal price differences. Higher prices are paid from May through September, reflecting the active grilling season and reduced supply. Figure 1 shows the average monthly price for Loin 410 during the 1998-2001 period.

Figure 6 features 2001 monthly average prices for backribs, boneless loins and tenderloins. Backrib prices varied the most during the year.

Loin Quality

Standards for loin color, water-holding capacity and ultimate pH, in addition to growth, carcass leanness and reproduction, have been established for the “ideal” market gilt. This is a major addition to the common growth and leanness standards that producers have used for many years.

New loin color standards and marbling measurements were developed by industry specialists. These color standards are very important to exporters. A color score of 3 or higher is required for most export markets. Current pork quality measures involve loin and/or ham measurements, but new quality measurements for fresh and processed belly have been developed.

Size and quality of the loin muscle are very good indicators of the total value of a carcass, since the loin and ham weights are highly correlated. Most genetic selection programs measure the loin muscle area of live boars and gilts using real-time ultrasound equipment. This accurate measure, combined with high heritability of loin size, has allowed breeders to increase the average loin muscle size of commercial market hogs each year.

Unfortunately, increased loin muscle size is genetically negatively correlated with loin intramuscular fat content (marbling). Some foodservice and export markets prefer more marbling and will pay a higher price for smaller loins that meet their marbling standards.

Quality Tastes Differ

Quality means different things to the various members of the pork production-processing-merchandising chain. Ultimately, quality is defined as a wholesome product that tastes good to many consumers. Sensory trait research indicates pork tenderness is very important.

The amount of effort and investment to be put into pork quality improvement depends on its value to processors and consumers. Less drip and cooking losses are valuable to processors. More-tender pork is valuable to consumers. And, in an effort to add further value, many processors are deep-basting or marinating loin products with flavors.

Placing a value on pork quality is a new idea. It is difficult to estimate the economic value of pork quality improvements.

Table 1. Composition and Value of One Loin Primal from a 250- and 290-lb. Market Hog
250 lb.
Market Hog
290 lb.
Market Hog
Carcass Weight, lb. 183.9 216.1
Yield, % 73.6 74.5
Backfat, in. 0.95 1.08
Loin Muscle Area, sq in. 6.05 6.76
Cutting style 1
Loin 410 weight, lb. 20.7 24.5
Loin 410 price, $/lb. 1.16 1.16
Trim (72% lean) weight, lb. 1.4 1.9
Trim price, $/lb. 0.49 0.49
Cutting style 1 loin value, $ 24.70 29.35
Cutting style 2
Backribs, lb. 1.6 1.7
Backribs price (1.25-1.75 lb.), $/lb. 3.37 3.37
Boneless loin, lb. 5.6 6.4
Boneless loin price, $/lb. 1.84 1.84
Tenderloin, lb. 1.0 1.1
Tenderloin price, $/lb. 2.82 2.82
Trim (72% lean), lb. 13.9 17.2
Trim price, $/lb. 0.49 0.49
Cutting style 2 loin value, $ 25.32 29.04
Total Carcass Loin Value (style 1), $ 49.40 58.70


National pork checkoff-funded consumer preference studies were conducted in 1994 and 1998. These studies taste-tested fresh pork loin (broiled to 158° F.) against boneless chicken breast.

Results in 1994 showed consumers had a strong preference for increased tenderness. The 1998 trials found an interaction between loin ultimate pH and the Instron tenderness measures of the cooked pork chop. Higher loin ultimate pH is associated with darker color, more tenderness and lower drip and lower cooking losses. Lower Instron readings indicate increased tenderness. This means increasing value to consumers is a two-step process involving both traits. Results are shown in Table 2.

Base retail boneless loin price in the checkoff-funded Quality Lean Growth Modeling study was $3.49/lb. The loins with the highest ultimate pH and lowest Instron readings (most tender) were worth $4.72/lb.

Conventional wisdom in the meat business is to put tenderizing and flavoring agents in poorer quality pork. However, the interaction of high pH and tenderness suggests the highest value may be captured by making the best pork even more tender. A larger consumer premium for superior product is possible under this scenario. Berkshire and Chester White pigs have shown the ability to produce high pH, tender pork. The breeders of these pigs are trying to capture extra value by creating a specialty market for genetically branded pork.

There is greater variation in pork quality traits than the commonly selected traits of growth and leanness. Quality can be a profit factor along with growth and reproductive traits.

Table 2. Value of the Interaction of Loin Ultimate pH and Instron Tenderness
Instron Class, Kg
pH Class 6 5 4
5.8 0 $.75 $1.23
5.6 0 $.72 $.54
5.4 0 $.63 $.51
aFresh boneless loin premiums ($/lb. for changing INSTRON 1 Kg and pH 0.2 units.)
Source: QLGM, 1998

USDA Market Reports Provide Pricing Data

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Livestock and Grain Market News office in Des Moines, IA, currently publishes numerous regional and national daily and weekly market reports covering a wide variety of hog and pork prices.

Daily Purchase, Slaughter Data

The Des Moines office is responsible for all Mandatory Hog Reports which require plants slaughtering 100,000 or more hogs annually to electronically submit daily purchase and slaughter data.

From this submitted data, reports are generated and released within one hour of the packer submission times. Some of the required data includes base price, head count per lot, purchase type, state of origin, net price and carcass measurements.

Feeder Pig Reports

The Iowa and Central U.S. Direct Delivered Feeder Pig Report is a weekly, voluntary report released every Friday. The report provides market price information for segregated early weaned (SEW) pigs and for feeder pigs in weight increments of 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 lb. This weekly trade represents 50,000 to 100,000 head.

Pricing Pork Cuts

Pork cut price information is collected from packers, processors, retailers and traders who voluntarily provide information on negotiated transactions. Information is confirmed by talking to both parties to insure that the prices AMS reports are an accurate reflection of market conditions.

The National Carlot Pork report includes prices for commonly traded wholesale items from which primal values and cutout values are derived through mathematical calculations based on average industry yields.

Byproduct Values

The weekly By-product Hog Drop Value reflects the total estimated value of offal from a typical slaughter hog, which is also mathematically derived from prices obtained on the Byproduct Price Report.

For More Information

These reports, as well as reports for cattle, beef and lamb, are available on the web at: www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/mncs/index.htm. Additional information concerning any of the hog and pork reports and historical data can be obtained by calling (515) 284-4460 or emailing: desm.lgmn@usda.gov.

Bill Sumpter is the voluntary meat reporting supervisor at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service in Des Moines, IA.

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