24 May 2002

Heavier pig slaughter weights now essential

By Marianne Curtis

MOVING to higher slaughter weights will be necessary if the UK pig industry is to compete with Europe, speakers told the Press on the eve of the Pig and Poultry Fair.

But the British Pig Executive says careful research is needed to find out whether such weights are suitable for the UK market.

A move away from paying for pigs based on absence of fat to paying based on lean meat percentage would be necessary to encourage producers to market heavier pigs, said Mark Haighton, pig development manager for processor George Adams.

"Payment for most pigs in the UK is based on whether they have a P2 measurement of 12. Currently, heavy pigs are downgraded because they are usually fatter. Taking pigs to heavier weights would increase unit efficiency and returns, and pigs grading 13-15mm on P2 are not necessarily poor pigs."

Such pigs may have a higher lean meat percentage than their 12 probe counterparts, he said. "We need a more sophisticated system of measuring lean meat to match carcasses more specifically to customer orders."

Devices are already used widely on the Continent to measure lean meat percentage. One such device is the Automatic Fat-O-Meter (AutoFOM). George Adams had applied for a European Rural Development Plan processing and marketing grant to buy one, said Mr Haighton. The system costs £300,000.

"We should know by May 20 whether our grant application has been successful. If it is, we plan to trial an AutoFOM in our plant at Spalding, Lincs."

AutoFOMs work by taking 3200 individual measurements from the shoulder to legs. This provides a three-dimensional image of lean and fat around the carcass. The system is approved for use as a payment tool in some European countries, but it is not yet approved in the UK. "Installing the machine would be the first step towards gaining approval," said Mr Haighton.

Assuming the system was approved, to maximise returns, producers may need to change their breeding goals and nutrition, said Mr Haighton. "The right genetics will be crucial. These will come from meaty sire lines such at Pietrain."

One such boar, the Cotswold Titan is aimed at this market. Launching the boar, JSR Genetics geneticist Tony Hall said the sire was the result of 12 years development work. "Pigs produced from this sire line will have a high lean meat percentage and a greater proportion of this extra lean in the high-value cuts.

"Independent trials carried out by Bristol University showed that, at 85kg, carcasses of Titan-sired pigs had 1.5% better killing out percentage, 2% more ham and 3% greater eye-muscle area than conventional genotypes."

But care was needed before we rush ahead from the UK average slaughter weight of 72.1kg to 85kg, warned BPEX strategy co-ordinator Andrew Knowles. "Unlike the Continental market, where most pork is processed into products, such as salami andmeat, most UK pigs are destined for fresh pork. Retailers, such as Tesco, are unlikely to be happy if they end up with huge pork chops no one wants.

"Pushing slaughter weights above 75kg can lead to problems with boar taint, but British farm assurance schemes forbid castration."

However, BPEX was researching taking pigs to higher slaughter weights, as it had potential to cut production costs, he added. &#42

HEAVIER PIGS

&#8226 Spreads costs.

&#8226 Is there a market?

&#8226 Need to measure lean meat.

Destination of UK pigs

Fresh pork 43%.

Bacon 35%

Processed 22%

Source: MLC.

The Cotswold Titan boar will help produce pigs which can be taken to heavier weights, says Tony Hall.

&#8226 Spreads costs.

&#8226 Is there a market?

&#8226 Need to measure lean meat.

Fresh pork 43%.

Bacon 35%

Processed 22%

Source: MLC.