Ultrasound has been used to measure backfat on live hogs, but Canadian researchers are testing its ability to measure pork marbling while the hog is still alive. 

Scientists at the Swine Research and Development Corporation, in Brandon, Manitoba, report that ultrasound can show a pattern of marbling in the meat. Now they want to see if it can quantify how much marbling exists.

The researchers are using ultrasound to scan the live animal just before shipping the hogs to market. Carcasses are re-scanned within 45 minutes of slaughter, and after an 18-hour chill period.

The carcass is split, with half of the loin scanned into a computer for evaluation. It also is set up for a chemical-fat evaluation. The goal is to tie the live animal to the carcass scan and compare the visual and chemical-fat evaluations.

Knowing more about marbling content in the live animal would be most beneficial to genetic selection programs, especially for producers targeting specific markets.

Looking deeper into the chain, using ultrasound to scan marbling could expedite carcass sorting at the packing plant. It could route carcasses to markets where they fit best, thereby making the cutting lines more efficient.