How to weigh a pig

Over the next few months, I’ll be posting weekly pig updates at The Washington Post, and cross-posting them here. This is the first of them. Over there, my editor Tim Carman called it “String Theory.” That’s the kind of thing that makes me happy to be writing for the Post.


It’s like that silly joke. What’s a henway? Oh, about four or five pounds.

What’s a pigway? I haven’t the foggiest idea.

We’ve had our three pigs for two months now, and we figured it was high time we checked on their progress. The way to go about doing that, however, wasn’t altogether clear.

For starters, it’s hard to check progress when you don’t have a baseline, and we didn’t weigh the pigs when they got here. All I can say for sure is that they were much smaller than they are right now. Our best guess is that Spot and Tiny each weighed about 20 pounds, and Doc about 30. We could be off, but probably not by more than five pounds either way.

We didn’t weigh them because it’s hard to weigh a pig. They don’t like to be picked up, and when they squirm and squeal and kick up a fuss, it’s hard to hold on to them long enough to stand on a scale and get a reading. Besides, what did it matter whether a pig was 18 or 22 pounds? We wouldn’t be doing anything differently.

So, weighing a pig seemed a lot like teaching it to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Weighing doesn’t get easier as the pigs grow, and I figured we’d just eyeball them until they seemed like they were 220 pounds. But it seems we’re not the only people who want to know how much their pigs weigh but don’t want to have to get them on a scale. And some clever pig farmer somewhere figured out a better way.

It turns out that you get a fairly accurate approximation of your pig’s weight if you know two of its measurements: length from ears to tail, and girth just behind the front legs. Then you multiply length x girth x girth (in inches) and divide by 400 to get weight in pounds.

No scale! No heavy lifting! No porcine outrage! All you need is a piece of string and a pig that’s willing to stand still long enough for you to measure it. Then you follow the directions of Sugar Mountain Farm’s Walter Jeffries.

The key to getting a pig to stand still is snacks, so we mixed up some fish scraps and basil stems (it actually looked pretty good) and headed down to the pen. Kevin spread the fish in the long trough we use for treats, and I took the string into the pen. Since the pigs are used to our invading their personal space, they didn’t mind me at all. I got the measurements and was out before they’d finished jousting for the last of the scraps.

Here’s how they came out:

Spot: length = 33.5, girth = 30.5, weight = 78 pounds
Tiny: length = 34.5, girth = 30.5, weight = 80 pounds
Doc: length = 38, girth = 33, weight = 103 pounds

That means that they’ve been gaining about a pound a day, which is at least in the ballpark of appropriate. Although our pigs have seemed happy and healthy since we got them, it was something of a relief to have a milestone that wasn’t quite so subjective.

It got us thinking, though. Would that formula work for people? We used the same string to measure each other, crown to tailbone and girth around the armpits. I weighed in at 90 pounds and Kevin was 147, which was about 50 pounds short for each of us. So, either the method doesn’t work for humans or we should lay off the … um … bacon.

11 people are having a conversation about “How to weigh a pig

  1. I have been keeping up with your livestock adventures because it was only a short time ago I was in the same sort of learning place as you are now. It’s been a wonderful experience for my family and measuring our pigs has always been a source of entertainment that tests our agility as well as the pig. I know of the string method but invested the $5 in a hog measuring tape from Blue Seal. I thought it was a good investment and more accurate as we have had access to a livestock scale before processing to compare weight estimates. My kids are in 4-H in Maine so my family has had a lot of great mentors to guide us along our learning curve of raising livestock for the first time. I have enjoyed your posts and look forward to reading more as your farm grows. We have some video of a pig measuring “session” the first year we raised pigs (4 years ago). It’s ridiculously entertaining to me to look back at how far we’ve come with our little backyard hobby farm. Good luck to you and your venture. Your pigs look great.

  2. Sadly, I still love the henway joke. Right up there with my other favorite: What’s yellow and dangerous? Shark-infested custard.

    I weigh my horses the same way, using a tape and some simple maths. I have a big (expensive) cage scale for the sheep. The tape method is about $750 cheaper.

    I hope you won’t mind me saying that, when I saw the picture of you with pigs my first thought (after “Ohhh, I like her dungarees…) was that you’ve lost lots of weight. Is your summer work regimen catching up with you too? Amazing what a 16 hour work day of fishing and pig care can do to your figure. I realised the other night that I can now take my smallest jeans off without undoing them.

    I think those chops and sides of bacon are going to come just in time! My envy is kicking in now, as I just realised you’ll have unlimitied access to oysters AND bacon together.

  3. I’m up to my eyeballs in tomatoes. Sure, tomatoes don’t put up a fuss when cut up for sauce, but I would so welcome measuring a pig right now. I love being a virtual farmer. Thanks Jill

  4. Jen — You know what I like best about the string/tape method? You get to have complete confidence in it because you don’t have any means to verify its accuracy.

    As for the weight, I’ve lost a little, but not a lot. Those overalls are just big on me.

    Rick — That made me laugh! I think it’s an excellent plan.

    Jill — Well, we’ll have to do it again soon, and we’d be delighted to let you have a go!

  5. The reason that humans don’t quite work is we have long arms and legs. My legs are nearly half my total weight. It would be interesting to work the formula a bit and come up with a version that works for humans… 🙂

    We use this string method every week to select pigs to take to market and have found it to be quite accurate, for the pigs.

    A funny side note is I think of pig weights in live weight, because I’m raising them. My wife thinks of them as hanging weight because she deals with that at the butcher. So I look at a pig and say, “hmm… 300 lbs” and she says, “I don’t think so, more like 200 lbs.” We’re both right.

  6. Tim Williams-Brown says:

    Greetings from across the Altantic ocean and then the other side of the North Sea (in the Netherlands)! Thank you so very much Tamar and Kevin for your joint endeavors to enjoy and participate in life as it pleases you both… and the courtesy to post your experiences for other’s (“us”) to live vicariously and learn from! As an American born and raised dude, some of the simple things I still miss more than 10 years later. The joy of being able to be self sufficient (if choosen) as well as the American methods of butchery and nose to tail utilization philosophy. I am still stumped by the Dutch tradition of slaughter. I think it is entirely influenced from the history of being invaded and ruled by the French (1795 – 1810). Anyway… I am looking forward to your continuued journey with your three pigs, various fowl (chickens and turkeys from what I understand) as well as your toils with earthbound eatable plants. Again, thank you both!

    • Tim! Glad to have you, all the way from the Netherlands. Thanks for your good wishes, and your enthusiasm. If you happen to read this, and get a chance, I’d like to hear more about the Dutch tradition of slaughter. It’s one of the many, many things about which I know absolutely nothing. And what good is a blog if you can’t coerce your readers into filling in the gaps in your education?

  7. I enjoy reading your experiences very much. It is interesting how hard it is to provide your own food. I have toiled for years hap hazardly to grow vegetables or fruit. I lose shocking amounts to deer, woodchuck,rabbits,pests, neglect, por site selection, and overall iincompetence.I am so proud that I actually harvested a small bowl of strawberries this spring. And evn more exciting, my grape plants are providing seedless delicious clumps of grapes. I am so thrilled I may plant a few rows of grapes next spring. I applaud your tenacity and appreciate the articles. I will live vicariously through you. I can’t be trusted to provide for myself!

  8. Tamar,
    Do you worry about worms when feeding fish scraps to your pigs? We fish Lake Champlain (in VT) and, for the first time, threw them some raw scraps. Now I’m worried that our pork will have encapsulated worms throughout.

    • Christine, we’ve only given them cooked scraps, so I’m assuming any worms are also cooked. Also, I don’t think the flesh and skin of bluefish and striped bass are likely to harbor worms (unlike, say, cod). It’s easy enough to throw the scraps in the microwave for a couple of minutes if you’re worried about it.

      And are fish worms transferrable to pigs? I have no idea. If you find out, and hopefully not the hard way, I hope you’ll let me know.

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