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My First Pig Slaughter (warning: graphic)

 
Michael Newby
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So we finally got to slaughter/butcher our pigs this last weekend and I have to say it was a great learning experience for me. This was by far the largest animal I had ever harvested, chickens and a couple geese being the only other things I had personally dealt with up to now.

Since nobody involved had ever done pigs before but quite a few had large game animal experience (elk, deer, bear, etc.) we decided to forgo scalding and scraping this first time around and just skin them. Luckily my dear wife documented the whole process so I thought I would share our (total novice) experience. I guess the main reason I'm sharing it to help reassure others who are thinking about raising pigs but aren't sure - I'm sure we made plenty of mistakes but we have a good amount of meat in our freezer now as well as a foundation to build our knowledge from. As long as we pay attention the mistakes can be our best teachers.

Now for the pics:

We coaxed the two pigs that weren't being slaughtered into the pig shelter then screwed a few boards up to keep them out of the way. The pigs hadn't been fed for about 20 hours so any food will get them to follow you wherever you want.

Once the other pigs were out of the way we put a few chestnuts on the ground in front of our best access for the Bobcat skidsteer. I highly recommend getting access to some sort of tractor that can lift the pigs if you don't have one already, at least if you let them get to almost 400 lbs like we did.

Once the pigs are happily munching on the chestnuts we used a .22lr to put them down.
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Michael Newby
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Unfortunately this is where a few of our mistakes made themselves glaringly obvious. In hindsight the mistakes are easy to spot/fix but they were looked over in everyone's anticipation of our first slaughter. Mainly, it involves not being so naive as to think that the pig will always go down smoothly with the first attempt. If it doesn't go smoothly the pig is very unlikely to stick around where you wanted it; in fact, I'd say Murphy's Law pretty much requires that the pig will do whatever it is that you mentioned would be the worst case scenario.

That was really what I would call our one big rookie mistake, the rest I would say were just things that would have made the process go a little smoother/faster as we overcome our inefficiencies.

Now we will be making a small chute to bring the pigs into that will be tight enough that they can't move much once we've closed off the entrance. For the next two pigs since we don't have time to build the chute we'll just be lassoing them and tying them off to a post.

Needless to say one of the pigs didn't go down that smoothly although the other dropped right where it was standing. It's much harder to get that clean shot again once the pig is trying to run. I believe that having a pistol would have made this part a lot easier because the main problem I encountered was trying to line the relatively long rifle up with both hands while the pig was not facing me where I could have reached around with a pistol much easier. It took a couple more shots to get the second pig down but even with the difficulties it was less than 2 minutes total. I must admit that it made what was just a respectfully somber moment into a slightly traumatic one that we all vowed to learn from - we all feel that a humane finish is a major responsibility of ours in taking on this lifestyle.

Once the pigs were down we hoisted them by the hind legs and made a vertical incision the length of the neck to bleed the pigs out. When the cut was made the knife was also thrust up at a 45 degree angle (picture going from the base of the neck towards the tail) being careful not to go so deep as to enter the chest cavity, then twisted and withdrawn. This is supposed to open up the arteries the best and allow for the fastest draining of the blood. While I don't have anything to compare it to others with big game experience made multiple comments later about how little blood we encountered while processing the carcasses.

We collected the blood to use as blood meal fertilizer.
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Michael Newby
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Once the pigs had bled out sufficiently we brought them to the area we had prepared for skinning. We probably should have just set one of the carcasses down while we skinned the other, but what can I say, we were like a bunch of exuberant kids who can't be bothered with the mundane - we wanted to get started! Besides, we had enough hands that it wasn't a big deal to tie the one carcass out of the was while we worked on the other.

Since we weren't saving the hides we basically split the hide down the center of the back and down the belly and worked those two pieces down until we reached the neck. We had a nice big plastic tub to collect the hide and head in that we just placed right underneath the carcass.
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Michael Newby
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Once we had the carcass skinned to the neck we used a sawzall with a bare metal blade to sever the head from the body - this worked great. We had a heavy duty plug in one at first that had plenty of power but someone broke the plug so we had to use a cheapo cordless craftsman model which was noticeably under powered.

Once the head was removed it was time to open up the body cavity and get the internals out. This went pretty smoothly on the first pig and with a few tweaks it went really smoothly. The changes we made from the first pig to the second pig was to make sure the sphincter was cut free before you open up the front (when you open up the belly the guts start to come out and they'll hang from the colon/sphincter where you risk tearing it and making a much bigger mess to clean up) and we used large bypass pruners (the ones with about two foot long handles) to split the breastbone without worrying about puncturing any of the organs behind. We just forced the anvil (that's the skinny not sharp part opposite the blade) into a small hole at the base of the breastbone then just cut our way along to the throat. If you do it this way you can put a big trashcan under the carcass and all the offal just falls into the can when you open up the body cavity.
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Michael Newby
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We then used the sawzall to split the carcass up the middle so we could transport it to where we were butchering them. We were lucky enough that one of the people involved happens to be the head of the meat department at our local small town grocer so we have access to a large cooler and full basic butcher shop!

This is where another mistake we made popped up - don't forget to put the carcass up on a gambrel or otherwise spread the legs, it makes it much easier to get an even cut up spine. We did take a knife and cut ourselves a guide line along the spine to follow with the saw as we cut. We cut from the bottom up because even though it was a little more awkward working the saw that way it meant we didn't have to support the weight of the half-carcass until the last bit of cutting.
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Michael Newby
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It took about 2 hours for the carcasses to cool enough for working but our resident butcher did say that it would have been easier if they had cooled more, as well as mentioning that it's much easier working the carcass with the skin on. We had a 5 person team in the meat shop, the main butcher/cutter, the trim man and then 3 people wrapping like crazy.

The picture of the cuts is an entire half pig laid out ready for wrapping.

What a luxury it was having access to all the large equipment, it would have been much more of a chore breaking everything down by hand.
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Michael Newby
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Now the pig is resting happily in the bottom of our freezer and our families have gained a much deeper appreciation for the processes involved in bringing food to our tables. I can truthfully say that the experience changed me for the better. The sense of pride and I would have to say honor that you develop is hard to describe - knowing that you have not only provided for your family in a very real, basic way, but you provided the best you could for the animals that were in your care before they made that sacrifice for your family. It is not guilt that I feel, this was not a bad thing, but it did develop a somber appreciation for the creatures that give their lives in support of ours.

I'll wrap it up with a picture showing my son's initial reaction - quite a bit if ewwwww mixed with healthy doses of curiosity

and then one showing the group of people that were involved. This brought a few families together and helped to create some new bonds, a great thing in itself!
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Joe Camarena
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Thank you.
 
Leila Rich
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Michael, did you save the liver and kidneys? They are really delicious! (although I know lots of people aren't into offal)
 
Michael Newby
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I personally am not a big enough fan of either to have really wanted it and Jacob (guy with the thumbs up) really wanted them so it was a win-win.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Thank you for this excellent post of processing pigs. The wife and I are going to be adding some Guinea hogs to our list of animals on the homestead next year. We are going with Guinea's because of their being just the right size for our needs.
 
J Hampshire
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Great post. Commenting because it was highlighted in today's Dailyish.

I'm a meat cutter, and it's always great to see people providing their own animal protein from start to FINISH. It appears as though there was no major study done to pig slaughter, specifically. Now I totally understand; you mentioned there was some collective animal harvesting experience and the excitement/anxiousness level was at a maximum. However, for maximum future yield, I'd love to impart some information to make your next harvest be a banger. If you have that many people willing to help out, you could easily scald and scrape. Taking off that skin broke my heart!

I fervently recommend the following books:
The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat by Cole Ward. An excellent starter book for meat processing and foundational knowledge. It even comes with a CD containing an 800 page PDF with pictured instructions for butchering chicken, lamb, pork and beef!

Butchering by Adam Danforth. Superbly done. The layout and digestibility of this one are second to none. It's very clinical and to the point. The cutting methods aren't "retail based" which is good for showcasing home butchery, but may be lacking if you intend to sell your wares at retail. Overall, a must have for anyone processing their own meat. He also has an entire edition dedicated to beef.

Farmstead Meatsmith is a wealth of knowledge. The Butcher's Salt guides, their DVD entitled "How To Kill A Pig Nicely", etc. Anyone raising pork needs to spend time looking over all of Brandon's information; and/or attending one of his workshops.

Although it's from an Englishman's point of view and some of the terminology is different, the skills of Scott Rea are second to none. He's a little ham-fisted with some procedures, but the knowledge is there for the taking.

Last but not least, I'd also recommend you spend some time at the blog of a fellow Permie, Walter Jefferies of Sugar Mountain Farm.


edit: typos
 
João Carneiro
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J Hampshire wrote:Great post. Commenting because it was highlighted in today's Dailyish.

I'm a meat cutter, and it's always great to see people providing their own animal protein from start to FINISH. It appears as though there was no major study done to pig slaughter, specifically. Now I totally understand; you mentioned there was some collective animal harvesting experience and the excitement/anxiousness level was at a maximum. However, maximum future yield, I'd love to impart some information to make your next harvest be a banger. If you have that many people willing to help out, you could easily scald and scrape. Taking off that skin broke my heart!

I fervently recommend the following books:
The Gourmet Butcher's Guide to Meat by Cole Ward. An excellent starter book for meat processing and foundational knowledge. It even comes with a CD containing an 800 page PDF with pictured instructions for butchering chicken, lamb, pork and beef!

Butchering by Adam Danforth. Superbly done. The layout and digestibility of this one are second to none. It's very clinical and to the point. The cutting methods aren't "retail based" which is good for showcasing home butchery, but may be lacking if you intend to sell your wares at retail. Overall, a must have for anyone processing their own meat. He always has an entire edition dedicated to beef.

Farmstead Meatsmith is a wealth of knowledge. The Butcher's Salt guides, their DVD entitled "How To Kill A Pig Nicely", etc. Anyone raising pork needs to spend time looking over all of Brandon's information; and/or attending one of his workshops.

Although it's from an Englishman's point of view and some of the terminology is different, the skills of Scott Rea are second to none. He's a little ham-fisted with some procedures, but the knowledge is there for the taking.

Last but not least, I'd also recommend you spend some time at the blog of a fellow Permie, Walter Jefferies of Sugar Mountain Farm.


I have assisted an expert(a cousin of mine) doing it, and have even been introduced to the art of butchering. I think your post is very good, informative, well supported with good references.

They might have some use for the skin. I have tryed to persuade my people to collect the hyde, but they aren't keen on surrendering it as some regional delicassies depend on it beying attached to the meat.

Keep up the good work of sharing your activities and insight.

Best regards,

JC
 
Michael Newby
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Thanks for the info JC, those look like some great resources. 

While I still consider that first harvest an overall success one of the major benefits of it was learning what I wanted to do differently.  I had done quite a bit of internet research (including Walter's writing) about what to do but it's hard to completely prepare for everything just from reading/watching videos.

This year we have built a type of squeeze chute out of extra large pallets padded with old carpet that we can pretty much immobilize the pig in when we need to shoot it.  I'm still trying to find an old bath tub to do the scalding in but if I can't find one were going to try the hot towel method, I wan't chicharrones this year dang it!
 
nancy sutton
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Thanks, Michael of the Holy Mountain ;), for taking us along.  Veeeerrrryy educational... especially the value of...
".. I'm sure we made plenty of mistakes but we have a good amount of meat in our freezer now as well as a foundation to build our knowledge from. As long as we pay attention the mistakes can be our best teachers .... "
 
Aaron Althouse
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You might try a 55 gallon barrel - that's what we did with our 1st hog. Heated the water with a weed burner and hoisted it into the barrel with the excavator boom. Not the most elegant solution but it worked!

Whatever you do, DON'T overheat the water. Also - avoid any temptation to scald the hair off with flame. 

-AA
 
João Carneiro
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I think this translates pretty acurately my feelings on killing:



That beying said, i have an agreement with my wife. She calls the animals by name, i don't. I kill them. But in my country, certain animals(like pigs) are forbidden to be killed at home. People still do so. In fact, if you ever visit a slaughterhouse, you'll never eat supermarket meat again in your life. So i really can't blame people for not going there with their own animals.

The best traditional way that i have seen starts by tying one of the back legs of the animal to an anchor. Then with a rope, firmly hold the nose/mouth. With a swift thrust apply one single blow to the aorta artery. Collect the blood and support the animal until he bleeds out. It's important to miss the heart as it must continue to pump out the blood. If done right, it's a quick and decent kill(imho).

Then you take some straw or a gas burner and burn off the hair and nails. Then thoroughly wash and scrape the animal, remove the nails. String it up and let it sit overnight.
Chop it up in the next day beying extremely carefull to remove the digestive system, bladder, etc...

Thats about it. It takes two people to do this right. Someone with experience can even do it alone.

There really is no waste at all. All parts and organs have a role in our gastronomy. I can surely live without eating some delicassies, but others can't seem to live without them, lol

Best regards,

JC
 
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