Farm Talk

Area Farm & Ranch News

March 24, 2010

Simple steps for selecting show pigs

Parson, Kansas — Blue ribbons begin at the beginning. And for show pig exhibitors, it all starts when they select the animal they hope will take them to the grand drive.

First, Labette County K-State Extension Ag Agent Keith Martin suggests, get an idea of what you want to spend before going show pig shopping and keep your facilities in mind when you make your pick.

“If the hog is going to be outside and exposed to the sun and the mud, a colored hog like a Duroc might be a better choice than a white pig because it will be a lot easier keeping him looking good for the fair,” he told 4-Hers at a recent show pig management meeting in Altamont, Kan. “Your goal is to have a fresh hog at the fair. That means one with fine hair that lays down and skin that’s shiny and clean as well as a pig that’s full and looks like he’s been gaining well.”

One of the most important factors, Martin said, is to identify a prospect that’s the right size and age. He told the 4-H members that a pig’s rate-of-gain changes as he grows. A 50-lb. pig, for example, can be expected to grow at a clip of about 1.4 lbs. per day while an 80-pounder would gain 1.7 lbs. and a 100-lb. pig should gain at a rate of 2.0.

By figuring starting weight and days to the fair, you can estimate what a pig will weigh. A pig that weighs 50 lbs. on April 10, for instance, would have a July 26 fair weight of approximately 244 lbs. while a pig weighing 90 lbs. on April 10 would likely tip the scales at over 300 lbs.

Generally, Martin said, you want a pig to be about 6-6.5 months old for a market show.

Optimum weight depends on the hog’s makeup, he added, but 280 lbs. is a pretty good target.

“We can help pigs grow faster or we can slow them down if we need to but the best thing is to select a pig that’s the right weight and age for your fair,” he suggested.

Show pig owners have a lot of good feed brands to choose from, Martin said, adding that the important thing is to use a high-quality feed. Hand-feeding, he said, is a good idea because it not only gives the pig’s owner a better idea of what the pig is eating and how he’s doing, it also presents the opportunity to get to know the pig and to gentle him.

“It’s also a good chance to evaluate the pig’s health,” Martin pointed out. “If he’s not eating, you know he’s not well. And while you’re checking, don’t just check to see if he has feed. Check the freshness of the feed and clean out the feeders every day or, at least, every other day. Pigs will waste feed so adjust the feeder so that only about half of the bottom of the pan is covered.”

Water, the county agent said, is the most important nutrient for the pig.

Nipple waterers should be checked regularly to ensure adequate flow. Other waterer types should be cleaned frequently, particularly if they are near feeders.

Feed quality is especially important early in the project.

“Don’t skimp when you start out,” Martin warned. “That’s when the pig is under stress as well as the fact that the protein requirements of a 50-lb. pig are much greater than those of a 150-lb. pig.”

A starter feed should be 18-20 percent protein, 1.3 percent lysine and five percent fat and should be fed until the pig gets to a weight of 100-125 lbs.

When the pig is in the 125-150-lb. range, that’s the time to develop a feeding strategy to make sure he’s on target for finish weight by show time.

“If you’re going to slow a hog down, 150 lbs. is the time to do it,” Martin recommended, “because you want him positioned to be growing and gaining well the final 35 days so he’ll look fresh in the show ring.”

Feeding strategy also might involve adjusting the type of feed to fit the hog’s needs. If at 150 lbs. he appears to need to put on fat, protein content should be lowered and energy and fat increased to “soften the pig up.” If he’s a pudgy 150-pounder, it’s a good idea to keep him on a higher protein ration.

Weighing the pig, he added, can help market pig project members keep their animal on track.

Martin also addressed the issue of Paylean, explaining that the additive causes more of the energy in the pig’s diet to go toward increasing muscle and growth. It will, however, also make the pig more irritable and tighter in the way he moves.

Martin’s criteria for Paylean use is that four conditions must to be present: the pig needs more muscle; he has a “soft” look; he is sound; and he needs more weight.

It should be fed the last 14-21 days on feed at a labeled rate of 4.5-18 grams/ton of feed. And while it is effective at promoting muscle development, it’s not a miracle product.

“Paylean will not make a poor hog good,” Martin asserted. “In fact, it probably would hurt more hogs than it would help. It’s just another tool and you should be sure it’s something that your pig needs. Remember, the good ones are good when they start so don’t think Paylean will make any pig better—it won’t.”

Regarding health, Martin said that if scours persist, the pig should be checked for coccidiosis and whip worms.

As for the all-important handling of pigs, there’s no substitute to spending time with them, he said.

“Probably one of the best things you can do is to let your hogs out while you clean the pen,” Martin suggested. “That way you’ll be herding them back in on a regular basis and you’ll be amazed how much better they’ll handle at the fair.”

Martin also pointed out to the 4-Hers that, at the fair, their pigs will have to spend a fair amount of time walking. Be sensitive to hot temperatures, he said, but walking pigs regularly in the morning or evening will help get them in shape for the fair.

“It’s like most things in life,” the county agent concluded. “The more you put into the project, the greater the likelihood that you’ll do well.”

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