Want to start a lively discussion at your county or state fair this summer? Try this — lean confidently on the showring fence, point to your favorite pig in the championship drive and say: “Now there's the perfect pig!”

If even the mildest of hog enthusiasts are within earshot, you'll soon be in a discussion that could last well into the evening.

Pictured here is Symbol III, unveiled at World Pork Expo to portray “an ideal market hog that symbolizes profitability for every segment of the industry.” A brochure declares: “This hog has correctness of structure, production, performance, function, livability, attitude, health, optimum lean yield, and produces the best quality, safest pork that provides the optimum nutrients for human nutrition.” That's quite a job description.

Now, before anyone gets all lathered up about this depiction of an “ideal market hog,” it might help to know that the design and specifications are the collaborative efforts of about 100 pork producers, educators, industry professionals and swine judges.

Additionally, the Pork Checkoff spokespeople noted, the design and specifications incorporate science-based standards and practices adopted in modern-day pork production systems. And, they acknowledged, the shape of the package may not always match Symbol III exactly. It's intended to be “an example” based on current knowledge about pig growth and development.

Some may argue that modern-day pork producers shouldn't get bogged down with visual attributes, that shape and eye appeal have little to do with efficient pork production.

I beg to differ because fewer and fewer of our “pig people” have a visual image of what a good pig looks like.

As our 2005 survey of the U.S. pork production workforce shows, only about half of the employees were raised around pigs. Before being hired, many had not seen a litter of pigs born and watched them grow to market weight. They've not seen pigs develop structural problems that make their knees buckle over or their rear legs slide underneath them. They don't have a “model” of what a good pig looks like in their minds, nor do they know the terminology, which would enable them to seek out solutions. Most have probably never been to a competitive hog show.

Hog shows! What good are they?

Again, I believe they serve a purpose when managed to reflect “real-life” production. Whether the youth show at World Pork Expo does that, I can't say because I didn't make it over to the junior barn. However, I do know that over 300 boys and girls from 23 states came to Des Moines with a passion for their pig projects. Most were undoubtedly standing at ringside as the champion was named. Each turned and walked away with a picture of that hog in their mind — a picture they will use to set a new goal or to compare to their barrow or gilt prospects back home. Whether the champion reflects real-life production is the judge's responsibility.

Like those youngsters, many new employees struggle to understand why some pigs walk freely on slotted floors while penmates struggle to get to the feeder, why some pigs get sick while others stay healthy.

Symbol III, with the list of production, carcass and meat quality characteristics, serves as a good reference.

An added benefit of youth pig projects is they often provide young boys and girls with the only contact they will ever have with livestock production for food. As they mature, take jobs, start a family, they will have a practical perspective on raising animals as a meat protein source. How do you put a value on that?

Does everyone agree that Symbol III is the perfect hog? I doubt it.

Will all hogs meeting the specifications look like this illustration? Probably not, but striving to attain the production, carcass and meat quality traits will lead you and your employees toward greater understanding and, hopefully, profitability. Ultimately, it will help you produce a quality product that consumers prefer, and that's something you can bank on.

Symbol III — Job Specifications

Production characteristics:

  • Live weight feed efficiency of 2.4 (2.4);*
  • Fat-free lean gain efficiency of 5.9 (5.8);
  • Fat-free lean gain of 0.95 lb./day;
  • Marketed at 156 days of age (164);
  • Market weight, 270 lb.;
  • Reared on a corn-soy equivalent diet from 60 lb.;
  • Free of all internal and external parasites;
  • Immune to, or free of, all economically important swine diseases;
  • Free of the stress gene (Halothane 1843 mutation) and all other genetic mutations that have detrimental effect on pork quality;
  • Result of a systematic crossbreeding system emphasizing a maternal dam line and a terminal sire selected for growth, efficiency and superior muscle quality;
  • From a maternal line weaning more than 25 pigs/year after multiple parities;
  • Free of all abscesses, injection site blemishes, arthritis, bruises and carcass trim;
  • Structurally correct and sound with proper angulations and cushion of the feet and legs and a phenotype design perfectly matched to the production environment;
  • Produced with Environmental Assurance;
  • Produced under Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) and Trucker Quality Assurance (TQA) guidelines;
  • Produced in an operation that has been Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAP) assessed;
  • Produced in a system that ensures the opportunity for stakeholder profitability, from producer to retailer, while providing a cost-competitive retail price in all domestic and export markets;
  • Produced from genetic lines that have utilized genomic technology to support maximum improvements in genetic profitability and efficiency;

Carcass characteristics:

  • Hot carcass weight of 205 lb.;
  • Loin muscle area of 6.5 sq. in. (7.1 sq. in.);
  • Belly thickness of 1.0 in.;
  • 10th-rib backfat of 0.7 in. (0.6 in.);
  • Fat-free lean index of 53.0 (54.7);

Meat quality characteristics:

  • Muscle color score of 4.0, (scale of 1.0 to 6.0), described as “dark reddish pink” in the fresh pork color standards.
  • 24-hour pH of 5.9;
  • Maximum drip loss of 2.5%;
  • Intramuscular fat level of 3%;
  • Free of within-muscle color variation;
  • Free of coarse muscle texture;
  • Free of ecchymosis (blood splash);
  • Provides an optimum balance of nutrients important for human nutrition and health;
  • Provides a safe, wholesome product free of all violative residues and produced and processed in a system that ensures elimination of all foodborne pathogens.

*All numbers in parentheses represent specifications for gilts as they correspond to barrow specifications.