Last year I raised two pigs. This year other people I know are interested in having a freezer full of pork, too, and I’m raising a total of 5-6 pigs. I can’t legally sell the meat, but I can raise the pigs and then my friends pay for the meat at the processor’s. I’m so excited about having pigs around The Wallow again! I’ve been busily putting together all the information that everyone needs to make a decision about having me raise a pig for them.
One of the questions that I want to answer is how much meat you actually get from a pig and what cuts make up that meat. I’ve looked at lots of different sites to get a good idea of the answer, so I’m putting all that information together here.
There are several different terms you’ll run across when talking about how much pig there is.
First, there’s the live weight, which, like it sounds, is how much the pig weighs when it’s alive. Since I don’t have a scale, when I judge the live weight, it’s based on a tape measure and a mathematical formula, which gets me in the neighborhood but isn’t exact. This is also sometimes referred to as “on the hoof”.
Another term is market weight. Market weight is a target weight for when the pigs go to the processor. Market weight for pigs is in the 225-300 pound range. Any more or less than that and the ratio of how much meat you get versus how much money you put in isn’t as ideal. I’m aiming for 300 pound pigs this year.
The hanging weight is the weight of the carcass after slaughter but before butchering. The blood has been drained, the intestines removed, and parts like the head and feet cut off. This is the weight that the processor charges by, and the weight that I’m using for charging people this year. Other words used to describe the hanging weight are dressed weight and “on the rail”.
Cuts are the products you get from the pig. This includes meat cuts, like sausage and pork chops, plus bones and fat. Since it’s not all meat that you take home to your freezer, it’s more accurate to say cuts than to say meat when talking about what you get from a pig.
I’m aiming for 300 pound pigs, but the price to the customer is based on the hanging weight, so some math gets involved in predicting how much people will owe. Then there’s the weight of what goes into your freezer, which is another number. It’s also important to keep in mind that all these numbers are just estimates. Different breeds of pigs turn out different numbers, each particular pig is different, and the style of the processor also matters in the final number.
It’s common for sites to give the hanging weight as a percentage of live weight and then the cuts as a percentage of hanging weight. If you’re trying to figure out how much you’re going to have in your freezer based on my estimate of 300 pound pigs, this can get confusing.
Amongst the sites I’ve looked at, hanging weight is given as anywhere from 64-85% of live weight and cuts given as 68-90% of hanging weight. That’s a lot of numbers and quite a range. For my goal of 300 pound pigs, these numbers give a hanging weight of 192-255 and the cuts weighing in at 130-230. This would make the cuts 43-76% of the live weight. But 76% is way too high there. Most sites quote cuts as 48-65% of live weight. Besides, I’d like to give my customers a bit more certainty on what they’re getting for their 300 pound pig.
Instead of looking all over and combining everyone’s numbers, I’ll go straight to my two favorite authorities on this topic on the web. One is the The Meatman. I recommend checking out his site since it’s just a lot of fun to browse around. The Meatman has processed a lot of meat, and he gives an average of 104 pounds of cuts from a 215 pound live weight pig, which makes the cuts about 48% of live weight. Then I head over to Sugar Mountain Farm to hear from Walter Jefferies. Between the Sugar Mountain Farm site and Walter’s contributions on a pig-related email list I’m on, Walter is my online pig guru. Walter says hanging weight is about 72% of live weight and the commercial cuts 66% of hanging weight or 48% of live weight. Since Walter and The Meatman agree, that’s definitely the number I’m going with!
So, from my 300 pound pig, I can expect about 216 hanging weight and about 144 pounds in the freezer.
The next question everyone wants to know is exactly what they’ll end up with in their freezer. Again, this is inexact, since breed, individual pig, and processing choices will affect the end result.
Here are some examples I found of what you might get from a whole pig:
I’m sorry to say I didn’t record the cuts we got from our pigs last year. I know we got a lot more sausage than these examples give, and we got more ham. We did not get nearly that much fat, and we got less bacon. I can never keep the shoulder/butt/picnic roasts straight, so I’m not sure what we got of those or in what kinds of amounts. I’ll try to record what I get this year so I have a better idea of what comes out of our particular pigs and our particular processor.
The final thing I want to cover here is how much space you need in order to have a whole pig on hand.
The first consideration is the coolers needed to pick your cuts up from the processor. Walter provides this photo of a half-pig share:
A full pig would need twice as much space, of course
The second consideration is your freezer space at home. You need a chest freezer if you’re getting a whole pig. If you only got a half pig, you might be able to fit it into your regular freezer, but not much else would fit in there.
The Meatman estimates that you need one cubic foot of freezer space for 30 pounds of pig. That means I expect people who have me raise their pig this year will need about 5 cubic feet of cooler space and freezer space.
In the end, all numbers aside, you get a lot out of a pig, and it’s all really yummy! It’s hard to go wrong, and I’m really excited to get started this year.
For more information on raising pigs, these two books are both excellent sources – How to Raise Pigs and Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs. I used both of them when I was getting started. Whether you’re raising pigs for pets, getting started raising a 4H pig, or going purely for yummy pork, either of these books will help you out in getting started.