WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES OF ANIMAL BUTCHERING. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.
Today we're talking about how to butcher pigs. Truthfully, I thought it would be harder to say goodbye to our pastured pigs – Wallace and Chester. And as Brandon Sheard (aka: The Farmstead Meatsmith) (aka: Super Awesome Advocate for Home Butchery and Old School Preservation Methods) was sharpening his knives on my kitchen counter last Tuesday morning, I'll admit – I was actually looking forward to it.
Perhaps it was the giddiness of having Brandon in our home (he's kind of a celebrity amongst us homesteaders) and sharing in wonderful conversation about pork products over a breakfast frittata and puff pancake. As people began to show up for our butchering seminar, hosted at our very own Beatha Fonn Farm, I felt ready and prepared for what was to come.
These pigs had been with us since early last Spring, when we picked them up from Farmer Steve's (just down the road from our own farm). Truthfully, I never grew too attached to the pigs. Sure, I enjoyed their company on occasion and appreciated the fact that they made cleaning out my garden and refrigerator very easy, but since I was pregnant for most of their stay on the farm, I was never the one to carry the giant bucket of slop up to their home on the mountain. I left that to my handsome farm-hand and baby daddy.
And then, of course, there was the occasion when they escaped into my neighbor's yard and I had to chase them around… in my pajamas… when I was nine months pregnant… by myself…. in the dark. I was pretty much ‘over-them' at that point. Read more about that here.
And, on top of all of that, they were here for one purpose: meat. And when harvest time comes, it's not time to get sentimental. It's time to busy.
Because this was our first year raising pigs, we elected to hire Brandon to come and teach a two-day seminar on how to properly kill and butcher the pigs. We wanted to ensure that our hard work in raising these delicious (and expensive!) pigs was not wasted. Sometimes, it's totally worth it to hire a professional. I know my strengths. This ain't one of 'em. And thus, Brandon came.
We began our first day with Chester, the less dominate of the two pigs. Brandon spent a good deal of time demonstrating and explaining how to properly shoot and stick the pig. A .22 caliber rifle was used and a single shot was placed between the eyes, two inches up. Here's a video of Brandon shooting Chester. Notice his incredibly calm demeanor and patience. Both pigs died perfectly calm and happy.
How To Butcher Pigs
(Sorry about the camera noise. It was too bright to see what I was shooting and manually focus. Also note: The videos are completely unedited.)
After a single shot killed the pig (the convulsions are involuntary and the pig's natural response to the damage done in the brain by the bullet), Brandon jumped into the pen and stuck the pig (with an incredibly sharp knife) in the artery that runs right behind their jowl. This causes the pig to bleed out while it's heart is still pumping.
After the blood was drained, Chester was drug from the pen and the tendons that run alongside the bottoms of the hooves were cut open. Man, these tendons are STRONG! Just one is enough to bear the entire weight of the pig. Incredible!
The drag down to the shop:
Chester was then hosed down to remove all of the mud and such:
And hooked up to a wench that made lifting him so easy, it was a dream. Sometimes, I really love technology.
Into a barrel filled with 145 degree water:
Much like butchering a chicken, the warm water helps to loosen the skin and hair. Half of the pig was dipped at a time, for roughly 5 minutes or until the hair was easily pulled out of the skin.
Brandon then had a method of ‘dancing' with the pig to encourage water circulation around the pig and make sure the pig didn't sit on the bottom of the barrel (over direct heat) for too long:
Post warm water bath, the pig was lifted and we got to work scraping the outer layer of skin from the pig. These are the super high-tech instruments we used:
But don't let the tool fool you. Much of the skin was removed by some good ‘ol fashioned elbow grease. Seriously, dude. This stage was by far the most time consuming – but a very important one, at that.
Now, here's where some real magic started to happen because Brandon let me use one of his knives. And that knife was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Never, ever, ever, ever can I use another knife again. And it wasn't a fancy knife – just an old carbon steel knife that he'd picked up at a thrift store but had wet-stoned sharpened the blazes out of. Must. Learn. How. To. Sharpen. Knives.
The process is simple: with super sharp knife, scrape against the grain of the hair to remove it. Essentially, you're giving the pig a straight razor shave. Every hair must go. Between the toes, around the nipples, ALL OF IT. One must be patient. One must be diligent. One must have a cold beer in hand (it just makes it a bit more fun that way).
9.183 hours later, the pig was flipped around and the process was repeated on the top half.
…and then 15.193 hours after that, we were done scalding and scraping! Whoop whoop! We all celebrated.
So far we've killed, scalded, and scraped. The last stage for the pig was to remove the innards. And the head, of course. I wish I could have captured this all step-by-step but I was trying to participate, carry a baby, and film and/or photograph. Whew. That was a lot. I did manage to snap a few videos of Brandon explaining the gutting process:
And, naturally, nothing went to waste:
The last stage of the process involved cutting the pig in half, which was done with a bone saw and instruction from Brandon:
5 hours. And then, it was time for a quick lunch break and the entire process was repeated with Wallace – our second pig.
The best part was the carcass storage. Because the pigs needed to be in a cooler overnight (and none of the local butchers would allow us to use their space because of ‘FDA regulations') I called in a favor of my old boss. The pigs spent their night in the flower cooler of a floral shop that I worked at for many, many years back in the day.
The next day, they smelt of roses. And bacon.
…but we'll cover the meat butchery in tomorrow's post!
Phew. Even recounting the butchering process left me tired! I think I need seventeen hired farm hands. And Amen.
More about raising Pigs:
- Pig Butchering
- How to Make Homemade Bacon
- How to Make Pork Rillette (and why you should!)
- Homemade Headcheese Recipe
- Homemade Ham Recipe
- Lessons in Raising Pigs