The pork at Hog Days 2019 earned a “much improved” status, and judge Bob McKay couldn’t be happier.
McKay praised entrants to this year’s pork quality competition, having noted low scores in several categories during the previous show two years ago.
“I’m happy to see the improvement, because if we had gone the reverse and gone downhill again, that would have been a bad thing,” he said.
Why it matters: Entrants had some gaps to fill the last time the Brandon Hog and Livestock Show pork quality competition hit the Keystone Centre in 2017, but improvement in colour and marbling earned kudos from the judges this year.
McKay noted major improvements in loin premium points, colour points and colour value compared to 2017. McKay raised the warning flag on colour two years ago after noting that average scores were “borderline PSE.”
The acronym, standing for “pale, soft and exudative,” indicates low-quality pork considered visually unappealing to the consumer.
Colour points jumped from an average 1.3 out of 10 in 2017 to 4.2 out of 10 this year, while colour value, as measured by a standard colour meter, dropped from 51.66 to 47.63.
The improvement brought entrants back into the normal range for export meat, according to McKay.
“Which is good,” he said, “and marbling is up, which is also important. Now, producers will say, ‘We don’t get paid for colour; we don’t get paid for marbling, so why should we give a darn?’ We export most of our pork and a lot of the countries that we ship the pork to, they look at colour; they look at marbling, and if they don’t buy it, we don’t have an industry and nobody has a job, so it’s important to look at this stuff. It’s important to focus on quality.”
McKay also noted slight improvement in carcass index and carcass index points (up from 9.9 out of 13 to an even 10), belly points (up to 9.8 out of 15 compared to 9.3 two years ago) and marbling (1.8 out of 10 compared to 1.5 in 2017).
Two years ago, McKay urged producers to take a hard look at their genetics in order to improve pork quality. He suggested that bottom competitors look at those who scored better and source breeding stock from the same place as those better-ranked competitors.
There is still room for improvement, McKay said. While loin premiums improved from 3.6 to 4.9 out of 10, those scores still come in at less than half the potential score. Similarly, while colour is no longer critically low, point scores also averaged below five out of 10 and could improve, he noted.
“This is an ongoing process. It’s not going to be cured overnight,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication and you keep plodding along.”
Properly called the Brandon Hog and Livestock Show, organizers host the event in western Manitoba every two years. Alternating years move the show to Winnipeg.
This year’s competition saw a record 42 entries from across the province, committee member Ron Bazylo said.
The show saw 34 entries in 2017, up from 30 in 2015.
“We’re way up in numbers and we’ve got a good selection of pork this year to pick from,” Bazylo said.
The winner’s circle
Deerboine Colony was among those celebrating the boost in pork quality. The Hutterite colony from nearby Alexander, Man., took a hometown win this year.
The win was a marked improvement for the colony, which has typically placed within the top 10 at similar competitions, but has rarely breached the top three. The colony had a near miss during the last Hog Days event in 2017, splitting a fourth-place ranking with Elkhorn’s Plainview Colony.
Michael Wurtz of Deerboine Colony greeted the win with pleasant surprise.
“(We) didn’t expect to get into the top three, honestly,” he said.
The colony usually enters the competition, “for the fun, mainly,” he added.
The local colony edged ahead of Barickman Colony of Cartier, Man., to take the top spot. Barickman Colony came one point shy of Deerboine Colony’s 74 points to take second, an echo of 2017, when it also came in second to Waldheim Colony of Elie, Man.
Both Deerboine and Barickman pulled ahead of Aspenheim Colony from Bagot, Man. Aspenheim earned 69 points for third place.
The win earned Deerboine Colony the tallest trophy on the table, along with a $5,000 prize. Second and third place were awarded $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.
More than half of that money will be headed to charity. The show has historically slated half of all prize money to a charity of the winner’s choice, a tradition that returned again this year.
Half of Deerboine Colony’s prize money will be donated to Riverdale Health Centre in Rivers.
“We have our family doctor there in that place and it’s nice and local,” Wurtz said. “It’s the first thing that came to mind.”
All three winners chose hospitals as their charity of choice. Barickman Colony assigned half their prize money to Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital. Aspenheim Colony, meanwhile, opted to donate its entire prize. Third-place money will be split between Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital and the Portage District General Hospital, show organizers said.
The prize-winning pork is also on its way to charity. Top carcasses will be donated to Samaritan House in Brandon. The non-profit runs several shelters and a food hamper program for homeless and low-income residents in Brandon.