There are several forks in the road that lead to producing high-quality pork. If you take the wrong turn, you can wind up with an inferior product. David Meisinger, National Pork Board's assistant vice president of pork quality, has put together a list of critical-control points, which can serve as a map directing you to producing a high-quality pork product.

Meisinger outlined nine quality-control points, four of which are important to pork producers. The other five pertain to the packer's influence on pork quality. All contain several keys that ensure high-quality pork.

1. Genetic Inputs
Regardless of management and animal handling, if the hog's genetics are programmed for poor pork quality traits, you will fight an uphill battle. There are a couple things to consider when choosing your genetics. There is a great amount of variation within breeds, so choosing the right sire is important.

  • Choice of breeds: The National Pork Board's Maternal Line Study showed that Berkshires had the best pork quality traits, with Durocs also showing favorable quality traits. Breeds that tended to show lower pork quality traits include Landrace, and Hampshires that possess the Napole gene.
  • Choice of sires within a breed: Meisinger suggests that you request pork-quality information or the expected progeny differences (EPD) for all sires that you intend to purchase, as well as for semen used in artificial insemination.
  • Stress gene and Napole gene: All breeding stock purchases should be stress-gene free. You also should avoid the Napole gene.
  • Loin intramuscular fat: Meisinger recommends that you use sires that will contribute positively to marbling without increasing other fat depositions.

2. Nutritional Inputs
What you feed your hogs can impact several pork-quality traits, such as intramuscular fat.

  • Vitamin and mineral supplementation: Adding magnesium to finishing-pig diets five days prior to slaughter has been shown to benefit pork quality, but it may not be cost effective. Vitamin E is in the same boat – it's beneficial, but may not be economical.
  • Amino acid levels pre-market: A diet deficient in lysine (0.48 percent) fed for five weeks before slaughter can result in a 2 percentage-point increase in intramuscular fat in the lean muscle. Restricting amino acid levels is not recommended, however, due to other negative effects, such as greatly increased muscle drip loss.
  • Dietary fat sources and levels: You should moderate the use of fat in the diet, controlling the amount of unsaturated fat because it can add unwanted fat to the carcass. Also, consider using conjugated linoleic acid.
  • Nutritional repartitioning agents: Porcine somatatropin and beta agonists can result in improved growth performance and carcass composition. However, they have not shown to improve pork quality. Some research shows PST to have negative effects on pork quality.
  • Feed withdrawal: Meisinger says you must ensure that total feed withdrawal time from last consumption until slaughter is 12 to 18 hours. Naturally, the animal must still have access to water.

3. On-Farm Hog Handling
Stressed pigs equal poor quality pork, and there are several things you can do on your farm to minimize your pigs' stress.

  • Health/stress management: Eliminate or severely curtail the use of electric prods. Instead, get pigs used to human activity during the finishing phase by walking among them each day. Separate health-stressed pigs from healthy pigs. Meisinger also suggests viewing NPB's "Handling" videos.
  • Facility construction: Design your facilities for easy animal handling. Finishing buildings should have three-foot-wide alleys – level floors are recommended. Ramps should have slopes of less than 20 degrees, a non-slip surface, solid outside walls and a transparent middle partition.

4. Transporting Hogs
Once you've finished your hogs out, your responsibilities aren't over. Many things can affect pork quality after the hogs leave your farm. Once delivered, they are the packers' responsibility, but until that point there are some guidelines to follow.

  • Generally speaking, producers are responsible for the proper handling of their hogs. Meisinger suggests having your truckers watch the NPB video on "Handling for Transporters" and requiring your truckers to be certified in NPB's Trucker Quality Assurance Program (see "Strengthening the Forgotten Quality Link" in the November 2001 issue of Pork.)
  • Electric prods: "Studies have shown the negative effects that electric prods have on pork quality," says Meisinger. "All electric prods should be eliminated from loading and unloading hogs."
  • Truck/trailer type: Pot-belly trailers are popular, but are questionable for loading and unloading hogs, especially in certain types of weather. These trailers often require the use of electric prods. Meisinger recommends using only flat-floor trailers to transport your hogs.
  • Load size: Space allowances should be such that they allow all hogs to stand up and lay down. Stocking density should be 4.2 square feet per 250-pound pig. This equates to 183 pigs per standard double-deck, flat-floored trailer. Hauling 200 pigs per trailer will result in twice as many "DOAs."
  • Weather Extremes: During hot or humid weather, pigs should have a cooling wind and should be unloaded immediately. Water sprays should be considered. During extremely cold weather, the trailer should be enclosed and you should use bedding.

By knowing where the key pork-quality influencers lie, you can avoid falling into traps that can hurt the outcome. By using Meisinger's tips you can chose the right road, leading you to produce high-quality pork.

For More Information
Most of the information in this article was derived from the National Pork Board's publication, "A System for Assuring Pork Quality." You may obtain free copies by calling NPB at (515) 223-2600.