At the beginning of September, over the course of 3 very long days, we butchered our first pig on the farm. I’ve been struggling to write this story because I couldn’t think of a way to make it engaging or funny. But Josh helpfully pointed out that wit and narrative aren’t always necessary. Until 70 years ago, killing and butchering a pig was an ordinary day on the farm. It was a very long day, and very hard work, but it wasn’t exceptional or even interesting. It was food for the family. This post is about that, in all its unexceptional non-narrative glory.
Day 1: Killing and evisceration
Our friend Audrey came over to help us. She’s a seasoned huntress and knows how to field dress animals, and her calm presence and positive attitude were exactly the antidote to the jitters that Josh and I needed.
The first step of butchering a pig is killing it (maybe obvious). Most small-time farmers do this with a gunshot to the head. I spent hours researching just this first step, because if it goes wrong, it can be very traumatic for the farmer (not to mention the pig). I could probably write a whole blog post just on gun and bullet options for shooting a pig, and correct angle against the skull, but I don’t feel like an expert on this topic and will save it until we’ve had more experience. Audrey took the shot for us, and she did great. The pig went down immediately.
After the shot, it’s necessary to “stick” the pig, which means cutting the arteries in the neck, making as small a hole as possible, and letting the pig bleed out. It’s important to get as much blood out as possible, because if any blood remains in the femoral artery (by the rear leg) it can spoil an aged prosciutto.
Once this emotionally difficult part was over, the pig had become pork in my mind. We hauled it back to the barn for evisceration.
When you butcher a pig, you have to make a decision about what to do with the skin. Commercial butchers will skin the pig and dispose of the skin, but home butchers often choose to scald the pig and scrape off the hair, leaving the skin on the carcass. There are a lot of good reasons to scald and scrape when doing home butchery. First, warm fresh fat is SO slippery. Keeping the skin on gives you something to hold onto while cutting the meat. Also, some cuts of meat really benefit from cooking under a layer of skin. For example, a pork shoulder roast or ham with the skin left on are juicier and more flavorful because the fat layer is sealed against the meat during cooking, which lets the cut of meat self-baste. And finally, some charcuterie preparations—like prosciutto—actually require that the skin be left on.
In the barn, we had set up a 55 gallon drum on top of a 210k BTU burner to use as a scalding tank. Audrey showed us how to set up a double-pulley block and tackle (which we conveniently found laying around our barn from a previous owner).
We scalded the bottom half of the pig first in 145° water, then scraped off as much fur as possible using canning jar lids, which have a nice scraping edge. We then had to flip the pig over and re-hoist it to scald the top half.
Once the whole pig was scraped, Audrey taught us how to eviscerate, which is basically the same for any quadruped. I’ll need a lot more experience to feel confident about this part, which felt and looked like a warm squishy mess to me. During this stage, we pulled out the leaf lard (which is any fat on the inside of the abdominal cavity), the edible organs (heart, liver, kidneys), the caul (a spidery fat membrane that is wrapped around the stomach), and the tenderloin. You can also save the intestines to use as sausage casings, but we didn’t have the time or inclination for all of the cleaning that’s involved.
Once all the guts were removed, we cut the carcass into halves for easier handling and chilled it for a few days.
Day 2: Butchery
After 3 days chilling in the refrigerator at 34 degrees, it was time to turn our two sides of pork into (semi)recognizable cuts. We learned how to do this entirely from YouTube.
We wanted to try some aged salami and charcuterie, so we prioritized our cuts for those purposes. The shoulders went mostly to ground meat for salami and sausage, and one rear leg was cured into a ham, and the other was cured and aged for prosciutto.
American Guinea Hogs are lard pigs, and this was the lardiest of pigs we have yet raised. You can see that there’s a 2.5-inch thick layer of back fat on the pork chops in the photo above! We estimated that we ended up with at least 40 pounds of leaf lard and back fat from this ~200 lb pig.
Day 3: Grinding and Stuffing Sausage
On the third day, we made sausage. I’ll do a separate post about making sausage, because it’s fun, and it’s nice to be able to control the seasonings and salt levels in the recipe, and you don’t need to raise and kill your own pig to make sausage at home. Anyone can do it. This day was spent chopping fat and pork, chilling it, grinding it, seasoning it, then stuffing it into casings. We made bratwurst, pepperoni, landjaeger, and soppressata.
- Moving around a 200-lb carcass is really difficult, even with carts and pulleys. There wasn’t much to hold onto, and it was as much as the 3 of us could handle. If the pig had weighed 50 lbs more, I don’t think we could have managed it.
- The butchery (day 2) was exhausting. My hands and forearms ached for days from so many hours gripping the knife and saw.
- Sharp knives are crucial (see #2)
- Butcher fees seem really reasonable.