If you have ever raised pigs, you likely know how stubborn these charismatic creatures can be. While their personalities are an absolute delight (and major source of entertainment!) a majority of the time, this tenacious behavior can be a detriment when you’re trying to engage in simple tasks.
If you’ve ever tried to pick up a pig – even a small piglet – you likely know how much they hate it. They will squirm and squeal and will rarely hold still long enough for you to get an accurate weight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier as your pigs age.
For example, when it comes close to the time at which you are preparing to butcher, it’s important for you to know exactly when your hogs will be ready for slaughter.
Without knowing their approximate weight and measurements, you won’t be able to determine whether they are ready for the knife, or whether they can stand to put on a few more pounds.
Why Do I Need to Know the Weight of My Hogs?
Being able to estimate the weight of a hog is an important skill on any homestead, and without this ability you’ll be forced to rely on a specialist pig weigh. These can be expensive, and if you only have a few pigs to weigh (like if you are raising pigs just for your own family’s sustenance), you don’t necessarily need to be one hundred percent accurate.
The importance of pig weight cannot be understated. It will help you, as a hog farmer, make better decisions in regard to marketing, breeding, dietary changes, and more. Without an official hog scale, there are limited options to capture your pigs’ weight.
Luckily, that’s where the art of estimation comes in. You can easily estimate the weight of your pig with just a measuring tape and a calculator.
Estimating Live Weight With A Measuring Tape
Unless you are the hog whisperer, you probably aren’t going to be able to convince your pigs to step on a scale in order to be weighed. This is where a simple formula can truly save the day, providing you with a pig weight calculator without needing to do any fancy calculations.
There are two measurements you will need to take. Ideally, you should try to take your pigs’ measurements every few weeks after they are born. This will allow you to determine the feed conversion rates of your pigs, as well as to acclimate them to the process of being measured.
Handling twenty-pound piglets is much easier than handling two-hundred pound hogs, so good behavior is essential and must be taught at an early age.
The easiest time to measure your pig is during feeding time. This will ensure that your hogs come right up to you and will stand still while they are being measured.
Whenever possible, save some special treats for measuring day, so that your pigs will be right at attention and won’t mind you invading their personal space. Your pigs must be totally calm when you are measuring it. It should also be restrained or standing still, which will allow you to measure more easily and also gain a more accurate reading.
Approach them calmly, and gently wrap the measuring tape around the heart girth. This is the area just behind their front shoulder blades. This will serve as a circumference measurement, showing you how much girth the pig has in relation to the location of its heart.
Then, measure your pig from the base of the tail to the spot between the ears.
Once you have those numbers, you will need to apply a formula. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have someone with you while you are measuring. They can write down the numbers you read from your measurements and you won’t have to worry about forgetting them when you get back to your calculator.
The formula you need to use is the heart girth measurement squared (or the heart girth times two) times the length, divided by four hundred. This measurement is relatively accurate and determines the live weight of the pig (which includes organs, bones, etc).
An easy way to remember the formula is:
Heart girth x heart girth x length/400
This method works best with a tape measurer, preferably one used for measuring fabric. If you don’t have a tape measure, you can use a string and mark dimension on the string, then measure the dimensions using a steel or wooden ruler.
The formula works in almost all circumstances, with a typical discrepancy of just a few pounds in most cases. The only exception to this is if you are weighing a pig that is less than 150 pounds. If your pig is smaller than this, you will need to add seven pounds to your final answer. This accounts for disproportionate growth that is common earlier in life.
If you’re not interested in calculating your own final numbers, just make sure you jot them down somewhere. Later, when you go back inside, there are hundreds of calculators you can use to plug in your pig’s measurements and determine its approximate weight. These calculators utilize the same formula we have already discussed.
Again, the most accurate way to determine your live pig’s weight is to use a specialist pig weigh. However, these are expensive, and unless the success of your operation depends on perfect accuracy, you really don’t need to invest in one.
Estimating Hanging Weight
While the method described above works well with live pigs (who likely won’t be willing to step on a scale), you can be more precise when measuring your slaughtered pigs. Greater accuracy is of somewhat higher importance after the pigs have been killed, particularly if you plan on selling the meat.
You need to know exactly how many pounds or in the hanging animal, so investing in a hanging scale is a good idea. A hanging scale will allow you to obtain a more accurate hanging weight for your records, or for sales and marketing purposes.
A live pig will be far different in weight than one that has been butchered. Live weight translates to hanging weight, then cut weight, then finally the portions that your customers receive. A small bit comes out to account for the loss of bones, blood, cartilage, and other inedible tissues, meaning that if your pig weighs 350 pounds, you won’t get 350 pounds of meat.
Hanging weight generally includes the head, tongue, trotters, and other pieces that aren’t usually sold as commercial cuts. You can often use these for other purposes (such as head cheese or lard) but they won’t be quite as saleable.
Removing these pieces generally takes about fifty percent of your live weight off. Therefore, if your live pig weighs 350 pounds, you can expect 175 pounds of that to come out as meat. This varies, however, depending on the feed conversion and makeup of your pig.
Knowing the weight of your pigs, either approximate or exact, is vital for successful homesteading. If you raise your pigs for too long before slaughter, they will begin to put on weight more slowly, consuming more feed than necessary and growing at a sluggish pace.
If you don’t wait long enough before slaughtering your pigs, you lose out on the potential of producing more meat and cutting the pig’s growth potential short.
The next time you’re eyeballing your hogs and wondering whether they’re ready for market, try these simple calculations. You may not have an exact number down to the decimal point, but you’ll be able to make an education estimation about your pigs’ growth and freezer readiness.