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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Youth Market Hog Project

Livestock Update, June 2000

Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist, Swine, Tidewater AREC

There are new farm business arrangements in modern swine production. In the past most hog operations were one of several enterprises on small to medium sized independent farms. Independent swine farms still exist today but they are often larger and tend to specialize more in swine production. There are also some very large "company-type" hog farms that operate a centralized feed mill and hog farms at several locations in the region near the mill. An increasing trend is a business arrangement in which independent farmers sign a contract with company hog farms to produce feeder pigs or feed out market hogs for a fixed payment per pig. In this arrangement, which is called contract swine production, the farmer provides the land, facilities and equipment and daily care or the pigs and the company provides the breeding stock or pigs, the feed, veterinary supplies, and transportation of the pigs to the farm and to market.

For young people who are interested, there will be future opportunities in modern swine production. One of the best ways to gain experience and learn about raising pigs is to conduct 4-H or FFA swine projects. The market hog project is usually the best way to start. In subsequent projects the junior member may want to expand into production of more market pigs or a breeding gilt project. An advantage of the market hog project is that it does not require an extremely large amount of land area or expensive equipment. However, since most town and city codes do not allow keeping livestock within municipal boundaries, the project should be conducted at a rural or farm location.

Adults that can assist youngsters in starting and conducting a market hog project include parents, extension agents, 4-H leaders, FFA advisors and hog farmers. With help and advice from these people and hard work on the part of the participant, the market hog project can be a very rewarding experience. The overall objectives of the market hog project are to:

  1. Develop knowledge and skill in swine selection, production and marketing.
  2. Learn to employ sound swine feeding, management and welfare practices.
  3. Learn about important market hog production and carcass traits and about cuts of pork and pork nutritional value as a human food product.
  4. Gain understanding of the business aspects of a swine project including expenses, revenues, and the potential for profits or losses.
  5. Develop a sense of responsibility and confidence in one's ability to initiate and complete a project.

Potential Costs and Revenues
To some extent, a market hog project is a scale model of a livestock business. There will be a variety of project expenses starting with when the pigs are purchased and project revenues when the finished market hogs are sold. However, like any business enterprise, there is no guarantee that the revenues from the sale of hogs will exceed expenses and result in a net profit. Actually, this is one of the key lessons learned in a market hog project. By making informed purchasing and management decision, the chances of making a net profit on the project are enhanced and the chances of incurring a loss are reduced. Table 1 shows theoretical financial outcomes with the market hog project.

Table 1. Theoretical Financial Results In a Market Hog Project


Example A

Example B
Purchase cost per 80 lb feeder pig$60 ($0.75/lb.)$60 ($0.75/lb)__________
Feed cost for 520 lbs feed per pig$39 ($0.075/lb)$52 ($0.10/lb)__________
Equipment repair per pig$5$5__________
Veterinary supplies per pig$5$5__________
Total costs per pig:$109.00$122.00__________
Sale revenue per 250 lb. market hog$125.00 ($0.50/lb)$115.00 ($0.46/lb)__________
Net profit or (loss) per pig$16.00-($7.00)__________
*Revenues can be considerably higher if prize monies are awarded at youth market hog show events.

Youth Market Hog Shows
Most youth market hog projects conclude with a local or regional market hog show and sale. The advantage of participating in a youth show is the opportunity to exhibit the project hogs that resulted from the participant's care and hard work. The participant also benefits from the opportunity for friendly competition with other project members and the potential for monetary prizes if their hogs place well in the show. While participation in shows is recommended, it is certainly not a requirement for participation in the market hog project.

The First Step -- Have Your Hog Confinement Facility Ready
Before project pigs are obtained, it is recommended that all facilities and equipment for housing the pigs be in a good state of preparation. Elaborate facilities are not essential for a successful project, but some basics are required to confine the pigs and to provide them with a healthy environment for good growth. On commercial farms, finishing hogs are often housed in mechanically ventilated barns in pens equipped with concrete slatted floors, nipple waterers, and steel feeders that are filled mechanically. The slatted flooring allows manure and wastewater to drain through to a manure collection pit, keeping the pen and pigs clean and dry. Pen floor space needs for finishing market hogs raised in pens with slatted flooring is 7-1/2 to 8 square feet for each pig kept within the pen. Other open flooring materials for finisher pens constructed over manure collection pits include wooden slats, woven wire grated flooring or steel rods welded to steel framing.

Less expensive housing can be just as effective for raising pigs in the market hog project. In some situations existing barns or sheds may be adapted to house project pigs. When considering new construction for market hog projects, an open front shelter with a single slope roof and an outside lot is simple and reasonably inexpensive to build. The sleeping and loafing area of this type of facility provides shade during hot weather and protection from cold drafts during cold weather. The building is most effective if it is constructed over a solid concrete or heavy wooden floor. Ideally, the open front is oriented to face south. During cold seasons the building should be enclosed on three sides but in the summer, the upper solid portion of the rear wall should be removed to allow natural ventilation air to flow through the rear wall and open front of the building. A fenced enclosure may be attached to extend out from the shelter. This enclosure may have a concrete pad or earthen base, but in either case it should slope away from the sleeping quarters for good drainage. A concrete lot base should slope about 3/4 inch per foot of length away from the enclosed shelter. Fencing around the lot may be welded hog fencing panels, woven wire or board fencing. It is important to recognize that hog's have natural rooting behavior. To prevent hogs from rooting out of the lot, the fencing at ground level must be strong and secure. Minimum recommended space allowance for these types of facilities are 6 to 8 square feet of floor space per pig under roof and 8 to 12 square feet per pig in the attached lot. More lot space will facilitate manure drying.

Under any housing condition, it will be important for the project participant to scrape and remove manure and soiled bedding from the pens. Manure should be properly disposed of by periodically spreading on crop or grassland such that surface run-off does not occur. Manure mixed with bedding material and piled can produce rich compost that makes excellent fertilizer for gardens and other plantings.

Environmental Temperature and Air Quality. One point to consider with housing management is that hogs and pigs are sensitive to environmental temperature and air quality (ventilation). Growing-finishing market hogs (45 lbs. to market weight) can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. However, excessively cold or excessively hot temperatures will cause stress, poor growth and more health problems. As the market hog grows it becomes less sensitive to colder temperatures but more sensitive to hotter temperatures. Hogs stressed by cold temperatures grow slower and convert feed to body weight less efficiently. Exposure to very cold temperatures for extended periods of time may weaken the hog's immunity, making it more likely to develop respiratory or intestinal health problems.

Preventing cold stress in the market hog project may involve supplying supplemental gas heat if the hogs are housed in a totally enclosed facility. However, this can be costly and is not practical in cases where lower-cost open-front housing is used for the project animals. In this situation providing wind protection for the hogs on three sides, a roof overhead and clean, dry bedding in the sleeping area are adequate to prevent exposure to cold stress. Dry bedding on top of a solid concrete or wooden floor in the sleeping and loafing area does an excellent job keeping growing hogs warm in cold seasons. Good bedding materials include straw, wood shavings, peanut hulls or similar materials. Removing damp, soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh dry material is an important practice during cold seasons. Damp bedding has poor insulation value and does not protect hogs from cold temperatures.

On the other extreme is heat stress. When hogs are exposed to temperatures progressively higher than 80 degrees F, they become lethargic and eat less feed. As a result, the hog's growth is much slower during very hot weather. In cases of extended periods of high heat stress, hog's may stop eating and growing entirely. Because hogs have a very limited ability to sweat, providing water for wet skin cooling can be very effective. Mister nozzles, sprinklers and drip nozzles are used on commercial farms to allow the hog to wet its skin. Similar devices can be set up for small-scale market hog projects. Only a very small amount of water needs to be applied to the pig or pen floor. It is the not water directly, but the evaporation of the water that cools the hog. Good ventilation improves the evaporation process and removes gases and odors such as ammonia that can build-up in the facility. Summer shade is critical too because hogs sunburn quite easily.

Feeding and Watering Equipment. Some basic feeding and watering equipment will be needed to conduct the project. A variety of self-feeder types and sizes for hogs are available from livestock supply dealers. Feed is placed into the feeder from the top and flows by gravity and agitation by the hogs into a trough at the base. When using self-feeders, the growing hogs have voluntary access to feed at all times. This is referred to as "full feeding" and most commercial hog farms feed growing market hogs in this manner. A small self-feeder with two feeding spaces at the trough works quite well for a market hog project with up to 10 pigs in the pen. To save money, an old self-feeder may be obtained and repaired for use in the project. It is important that self-feeders are checked daily and feed flow adjusted regularly. Feeders not kept in proper adjustment may result in restricted feed flow and reduced feed consumption or excessive feed flow leading to excessive feed waste by the hogs.

Homemade wooden or metal troughs or large heavy pans may also be used to feed project pigs. With this kind of equipment, the participant hand feeds the project pigs each day according to appetite. If there are many pigs within the pen, it may be necessary to feed in several containers or the dominant pigs may consume more than their share of daily ration.

The most popular water dispensers on commercial hog farms are nipple waterers. These are plumbed onto water lines and secured in the pen so that a pig can drink at any time. Cup and bowl type waterers are also available. A less elaborate method is use of troughs that are filled daily with fresh water. A barrel may also be fitted with a cup or nipple waterer to allow pigs to drink as needed. Whatever system is used, it is very important that pigs have access to clean drinking water at all times. It is natural behavior for pigs to play and root in the water source, especially during hot weather. For this reason, the water source should be located in the pen for proper drainage of spilled water.

Project Pig Selection and Procurement
Selection of pigs to conduct a youth market hog project should begin with an understanding of the type and kind of finished market hog that is most desired by the commercial pork industry. At the conclusion of the project, a finished market hog should weigh about 235 to 270 lbs. and produce a carcass that weighs within a range of 175 to 205 lbs. The muscling in the finished hog should be deep and thick but the external fat depth should be moderate to thin. The muscling and fat traits of hog carcasses are often determined by measuring the depth or cross-section area of the loin muscle and the depth of backfat over the loin muscle. In fact, at many pork packing plants, these traits are measured and used to determine the price that commercial farms receive for hogs.

In addition to producing a lean, deep muscled carcass, good market pigs are expected to perform well in the finishing pen. That is they are expected to grow fast and reach market weight at a young age. For good profitability, market pigs should covert feed to body weight efficiently. This trait is measured as the "feed-to-gain ratio." A lower feed-to-gain ratio indicates a more efficient pig because it requires less total feed to reach market weight. For example a pig that consumes 600 lbs. of feed to gain 200 lbs. of weight has a feed-to-gain ratio of 3 (3 lbs. of feed per 1 lb. of pig gain).

Project participants may select gilt pigs, which are young females, or barrow pigs, which are castrated males, as their project pigs. Boars (intact male pigs) are not fed as market hogs because meat from mature boars can produce objectionable odors during cooking. Having a mixture of gilts and barrows in the project is acceptable but there are usually differences in the performance of gilts and barrows. On a full-feeding program, gilts will eat slightly less feed on a daily basis than barrows. As a result, gilts have a slightly slower rate of growth so it takes a few more days on feed for gilts to reach a desired market weight than barrows. A positive advantage that gilts have over barrows is that they tend to remain leaner throughout the feeding period. At market weight, gilts usually produce carcasses with that are deeper muscled with less backfat depth than barrows.

The breed of pig selected for the market hog project is mainly a matter of personal preference and availability. Traditional breeds of hogs in the U.S. that are typically used as breeding stock on hog farms today include Yorkshires (white in color with erect ears), Landrace (white in color with drooping ears), Hampshire (black in color with a white "belt around the shoulder and front legs), and Durocs (red in color with semi-erect ears). White breeds tend to excel in maternal traits such as production of large litters of piglets and good milk production. The color breeds tend to excel in growth and carcass traits such as fast growth, good feed-to-gain ratio, deep muscling and low backfat depth. Project participants can obtain additional information on these four major breeds by writing the National Swine Registry, P. O. Box 2417, West Lafayette, Indiana (e-mail:

Another important source of breeding stock for commercial hog farms are selected lines of composite breeds or hybrid lines that are produced at swine breeding stock companies. Examples of swine breeding companies in the U.S. include National Pig Development Company (NPD) and Pig Improvement Company (PIC). These businesses manage farms that produce specialized breeding stock that is sold to commercial hog farms for the production of market hogs. The breeding stock company usually produces several breeding lines that have a specific use on commercial farms. "Maternal" breeding lines are usually selected from white colored breeding lines and the young females are sold to commercial farms as replacement breeding gilts. Replacement gilts are selected from maternal line breeding stock because it is important that these animals excel in reproduction and good mothering to produce piglets on commercial hog farms. Replacement breeding boars are usually selected from "terminal sire" breeding lines that excel in growth and carcass traits and sold to commercial farms. At commercial farms the terminal line boars are mated to maternal line gilts and sows to produce good quality crossbred market gilts and barrows.

On commercial hog farms most of the hogs produced for market are terminal crossbreds. This means that their dam or mother was a maternal type purebred or crossbred sow and their sire or father was a terminal type purebred or crossbred boar. Once they reach market weight, all gilt and barrow pigs produced from terminal crossbreeding systems are sold as market hogs. Usually crossbred pigs tend to perform a little better than purebreds. This is referred to as heterosis. Heterosis is a term indicating that crossbred animals tend to have slightly better performance than the average performance of the individual sire and dam breeds that produced the offspring.

Obtaining the Project Pigs. Most market hog project participants today do not live on or work at a hog farm. Consequently, locating pigs to purchase for the market hog project can be a challenge. However, many operators of commercial hog farms are willing to sell a limited number of feeder pigs to young people interested in learning more about pigs by conducting the market hog project. Local 4-H and Agricultural Extension Agents or livestock market operators may be able to suggest farms that are potential sources of pigs. With the guidance of parents or adult leaders, project participants should contact commercial pork producers and explain their interest in purchasing young market pigs to conduct the market hog project. If the producer is interested and has pigs available, an invitation to come visit the farm to evaluate the pigs may be extended. In some cases groups of participants from the same livestock club or area may cooperate in a group purchase of project pigs from a commercial hog farm.

Another possible source of project pigs are small breeder farms that specialize in breeding and selling market pigs as potential show pigs. In fact such farms may hold special "club pig" sales for participants to purchase project pigs with the intention of exhibiting them in a show at the conclusion of the project. Organized feeder pig sales may also offer a potential source project pigs for individuals or groups.

Regardless of the source, careful consideration should be given to the purchase price of the project pigs. Feeder pig purchase represents the single highest variable cost component of the market hog project (see Table 1). Emphasis should be placed on negotiation of a fair price based on current commercial feeder pig and market hog prices.

Size of Pigs Purchased. In commercial production, a typical feeder pig weighs about 40 to 60 pounds. Pigs of this weight are certainly appropriate to start a market hog project. However, there are other considerations if participation in a show or exhibition is planned as the conclusion of the project. In this case the proper beginning weight depends on the show date when the pigs should be at proper market weight (usually about 235 to 270 lbs.). Table 2 provides suggested beginning project pig weights for different time periods before the date of a market hog show.

Table 2. Beginning Pig Weight Guide For Youth Hog Shows*

Days before market
hog show
Desired beginning
project pig weight
Desired pig weight for
market hog show
120 days40 to 55 lbs.235 to 270 lbs.
105 days65 to 80 lbs.235 to 270 lbs.
90 days90 to 105 lbs.235 to 270 lbs.
75 days115 to 130 lbs.235 to 270 lbs.
60 days140 to 160 lbs.235 to 270 lbs.
*Guide assumes healthy pigs on full-feed with an average growth rate of about 1.7 lbs. per day.
Pigs with health problems or exposure to prolonged heat stress will grow at a slower rate.

Choosing Healthy Project Pigs. It is important to begin the market hog project with pigs that are in a good health and condition. Healthy pigs handle the stress of moving to a new environment and get off to a better start in the finishing pen. Although there is no guarantee that any pig is free of disease or health problems, careful observation can indicate unhealthy pigs that should be avoided when selecting project pigs.

Healthy pigs have bright, clear eyes. They are alert and can move about the pen freely and quickly. The feet and leg joints of healthy pigs are smooth and do not show signs of swelling or severe abrasions. And, their skin and hair coats are smooth and sleek. Healthy pigs can consume feed and water aggressively, are full bodied and do not show any signs of being undernourished. The stools of healthy pigs will appear semi-soft to firm.

Unhealthy pigs may have a dull appearance to the eyes and there may be dark tearstains along the inside corners of the eyes. These stains could indicate drainage and tearing that is associated with respiratory disease problems. Other signs of respiratory problems include frequent sneezing, coughing or wheezing. The hair coat of an unhealthy pig is often course and rough. The joints may be swollen or enlarged indicating inflammation or arthritis in the joints. Unhealthy pigs tend to be sluggish, do not feed aggressively and may appear thin and undernourished. Pigs that have watery or bloody fecal stains below the anus are exhibiting diarrhea associated with gastrointestinal disease and should be avoided when selecting project pigs.

These tips are presented to help market hog project participants and their advisors get off to a good start with the project. In the next issue of "Livestock Update," health care, feeding and showmanship for the youth market hog project will be covered.

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