Snakes alive! (and pigs, too) as county fair hits midway pointAug 4, 2016 By Andrea Novotny, Staff Writer
Modern-day fair pigs are bigger and leaner, says longtime judge
The Fremont County Fair has changed a lot over last 40 years -- from the scope of the exhibits, to the layout of the fairgrounds, right down to the appearance of the animals.
Fair manager Barney Cosner compared the evolution of livestock standards to the evolution of the auto industry.
"Everybody changes a little bit to stay ahead of the curve and try to improve traits," he said.
Galen McCune has been involved in swine production for around 40 years. He is a vocational agriculture teacher who came from Oklahoma to judge the Fremont County Fair this year.
When he started judging in FFA and 4-H, hogs were primarily used to render lard.
"They were selected for the ability to put on fat," McCune said. "We weren't as concerned with muscle content and leanness."
At that time, a 220-pound hog might have had an inch to two inches of back fat, he said.
When McCune started judging fairs, that started to shift.
"We went into a time period there where the consumer became fat-conscious," he said. "Of course with those times we started to select for leaner hogs, hogs that had a higher degree of muscling and less fat and consequently the frame size in those hogs got larger."
Hogs are about 100 punds larger, on average, than they were 35 years ago. While an acceptable market weight at the end of the 1970s to the mid-1980s was close to 200 pounds, many of today's hogs range from 280 to 300 pounds or more, with less fat and a lot more muscle.
Today's hogs might have around .6 inch of back fat.
While hogs are leaner now than they were used to be, McCune remembers a period where the were they may have even been too lean, with as little as .3 inch of back fat.
"Those hogs were extremely heavy muscle and extremely lean, but what we found out was to produce hogs that were that lean was not necessarily beneficial. When the consumer cooked it it just got tough," McCune said.
Now, desirable pigs are "moderate in back fat," with a focus on higher marbling quality.
Judges like McCune look for indicators of intramuscular fat, which causes marbling. Things like body shape and shoulder blade movement can indicate intramuscular fat quality.
Another major change McCune has seen over the years is in the management of the animals.
"How the kids actually take care of the pigs has changed over the years. It's become highly managed animal," he said. The kids actually spend more time with the pigs. The pigs are kept in a cleaner environment."
He added that training for shows also plays a larger role today, which requires a lot of time and dedication.
"They're highly trained. They can actually walk them and control them and just about do anything they want to them."