Value of the Ham
Live animal and pork carcass value impact profitability in the pork industry. The value of individual carcass components drives carcass value as pork carcasses are not sold intact, but are sold as pork primals or subprimals. The ham is one of the major primals of the pork carcass and changes in ham value can influence overall carcass value. The pork industry has moved toward heavier weight animals. Heavier live animals produce heavier carcasses and the subsequent hams from these carcasses are heavier. Heavier hams usually contain higher amounts of skin, bone and excess fat, but during this change in weight, the muscles also increase in weight. The question is: As the pork industry has moved to heavier weight live animals, has the value of the ham been impacted? Also, has quality in the meat from the ham of these heavier weight carcasses been affected?
Value of the Ham
The ham comprises about 9% of the live animal and about 12% of the pork carcass. As live hogs go from a 250 to 290 lb live weight, the ham primal, also called the rough ham (Figure 1), increases in weight from 23 to 27 lb per side or 47 to 54 lb for the whole hog (Table 1). However, the ham is not usually sold as a rough ham. The major bone-in ham sold is a bone-in, skin-on ham that is fabricated from the rough ham to a 401 Ham (Figure 2). The 401 Ham has the skin partially trimmed and some of the fat along the exterior surface of the ham is trimmed. These hams are used to produce bone-in cured hams. Approximately 2 lb of skin and external fat is removed from each rough ham or 4 lb based on two hams to make the 401 Ham. The 401 Ham from the 290 lb live pig still weighs about 3.5 lb more than the 401 Ham from the 250 lb pig.
Table 1. Pounds of ham components from a 250 and a 290 lb pig.
|Ham Cut||250 lb pig||290 lb pig|
|Ham External Fat||5.12||6.92|
|Ham Seam Fat||.26||.30|
|Outside Ham with semitendinosus||10.64||12.36|
|Ham Other Lean||6.80||7.52|
While bone-in hams are still traded, the majority of fresh ham meat is sold as boneless, trimmed cuts. Trimmed, fresh ham is used to produce a boneless cured ham. Most ham processors have found that it is more economical to purchase boneless fresh ham cuts directly from the packing plant. By purchasing boneless, trimmed fresh ham cuts, processors do not have to expend the time, labor and cost of boning hams. Also, consumers prefer less visible fat and low fat levels in hams. To meet these consumer demands, ham processors began making hams from specific muscles or engineering hams from specific muscles. Boneless hams can be made from individual muscles, but boneless fresh ham is commonly sold as either a four or five muscle ham. The four major muscle of the ham, the inside ham (Figure 3), the outside ham (Figure 4), the knuckle (Figure 5) and the semitendinosus or eye muscle (shown as part of the outside ham in Figure 4) make up the Four Muscle Ham. These cuts can be purchased individually.
As live pig weight moves from 250 to 290 lb, the weight of the inside ham, knuckle and outside ham with the semitendinosus increase (Table 1.). Ham skin, bone, external fat and seam fat are by-products of the manufacturing of boneless fresh ham muscles. Lean other than the major muscles usually is composited with other muscle and fat to be sold as 72% pork trim. As live pigs increase in weight, ham skin and seam fat increase slightly; however, external fat increases substantially. Bone also increased, but only slightly.
To understand if these changes in composition of the ham with increased live animal weight affect value of the pork carcass, the average price of hams for 2001 (Table 2) was used to compare the value of hams from the two weight levels of live pigs (Table 3).
Table 2. Ham dollar values based on weekly prices reported by USDA Market News Service for 2001, $/cwt.
|401 Ham, 17-20 lb||$64.78||$48.96||$86.59|
|401 Ham, 20-23 lb||$58.89||$45.08||$67.70|
|401 Ham, 23-27 lb||$56.22||$43.13||$67.38|
|Boneless Four Muscle Ham||$114.36||$91.00||$132.63|
|72% Fresh Ham Trim||$49.17||$36.07||$59.78|
The pork ham prices reported in Table 2 show that for bone-in hams, as the weight of the ham increases, the price per cwt decreases. Also, the price of the 17-20 lb 401 Ham has a larger price spread between the lowest and the highest price paid in 2001 than the heavier ham categories. The price for boneless Four Muscle Hams is higher than for bone-in hams. This price differential is due to the lighter weight of the boneless ham, the labor cost to bone the ham and to the separate out the muscles, and the yield lose due to removing the skin, external fat, seam fat and other lean. Some value is regained from the external fat, seam fat and other lean as these ham components are added to 72% fat pork lean trimmings and some value is regained. The skin and bone have some value, but their value will be discussed in the by-product article.
Even with the compositional differences reported in Table 1 between hams from 250 versus 290 lb pigs, the value of the ham from the 290 lb pig is higher for bone-in 401 hams, boneless Four Muscle Hams, and for the combined value of the boneless Four Muscle Ham and the 72% fresh ham trim (Table 3). Even when the value of the ham is low or when it is high, hams from 290 lb pigs has more value.
Table 3. Comparison of ham value from a 250 and a 290 lb pig, $/cwt.
|Ham Cut||250 lb pig||290 lb pig||Value Difference|
|Boneless Ham: Boneless Four Muscle Ham|
|72% Fresh Ham trim comprised of external fat, seam fat and other lean)|
|Boneless Ham Total Value (Boneless Four Muscle Ham + 72% trim)|
Ham prices, whether for bone-in or boneless hams, are subject to a high amount of seasonal variability. Prices averaged across four years, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001, are reported for bone-in hams (Figure 6) and for boneless hams and 72% lean ham trimmings (Figure 7). While this affects the overall value of the ham and the pork carcass, hams from 290 lb live animals still have more total value.
The previous data was calculated based on the mean composition of hams from pigs in the Quality Lean Growth Modeling project that was funded by the National Pork Board. While these values show the difference in value of hams from average live weight pigs, variation in live weight exists if live pigs are targeted to be marketed at either 250 or 290 average live weight. Obviously, not all pigs are going to weigh either 250 or 290 lb, but some pigs will be lighter or heavier than the average of the load. Therefore, a price prediction model was developed by Dr. Curt Lacy at the University of George to account for these effects. This model is being presented later in the symposium. The information from this model was used to assess the value of a 200 head load of market hogs that were 50% barrows and 50% gilts and that were marketed at either 250 or 290 lb. of finished live weight. Values were predicted for each of these weight classes where the live pigs yielded or had a dressing percentage of greater than 75% or less than 75%. As ham prices are segmented by weight classes, ham values were defined as $65/cwt for 17 to 20 lb hams, $59/cwt for 20-23 lb hams, $56/cwt for 23-37 lb and $56/cwt for hams that weigh greater than 27 lb. This information helps to assess how variation within a load of pigs impacted ham value (Table 4). While adjustments in the value of the ham was accounted for in the model, it is still apparent that hams from a load of average weight pigs of 290 lb are of greater value than the hams from a load of average weight 250 lb. pigs.
Table 4. Value of hams from 200 pigs that are 50% barrows and 50% gilts and that differ in yield or dressing percentage (Yield 1 = less than 75% yield; Yield 2 = greater than 75% yield) and based on prediction of lean yield using either a Fat-O-Meat’r ™ (FOM) or human measurement of fat thickness at the last rib using a ruler (RULER).
|250 lb pig|
|Yield 1, FOM|
|Pounds of Product||8,600.34||43.00||39.74||46.76|
|Yield 2, FOM|
|Pounds of Product||8,983.16||44.92||41.49||48.41|
|Yield 1, Ruler|
|Pounds of Product||8,621.303||43.10||39.54||46.93|
|Yield 2, Ruler|
|Pounds of Product||9,097.38||45.49||41.80||49.20|
|290 lb pig|
|Yield 1, FOM|
|Pounds of Product||9,896.14||49.48||47.00||52.15|
|Yield 2, FOM|
|Pounds of Product||10,284.55||51.52||58.87||54.30|
|Yield 1, Ruler|
|Pounds of Product||9,918.62||49.60||46.85||52.46|
|Yield 2, Ruler|
|Pounds of Product||10,380.38||51.90||49.20||54.73|
Quality of the Ham
It is apparent that increasing live weight has increased the value of the ham, however, increasing value of the ham does not benefit the pork industry if by increasing value the quality of the subsequent muscles is decreased. As ham muscles are used for further processing, their ability to hold brines and to have uniform, pinkish color is important. Quality measures of color, firmness and pH were evaluated on the ham face and in individual muscles of the ham (Figure 8). As live pigs increased in weight from 250 to 290 lb, ham quality in the ham face was not affected. The ham face was similar in color, muscle firmness and pH in hams from 250 and 290 lb pigs. However, when these same quality characteristics were measured in individual inside ham, outside ham and knuckle muscles from these same hams, muscles from the 290 lb pigs were slightly softer, but these muscles had slightly less drip loss. This indicates that as pigs are marketed at heavier weights, pork muscle quality in the ham is not significantly impacted and that ham muscles from heavier pigs may actually have greater ability to hold brines.
In conclusion, as the pork industry has moved to heavier weight hogs, while composition of the ham has been impacted, the total value of the ham has increased and the quality of the muscles from the ham have not decreased, but may have slightly improved.