Thursday, February 5, 2015

Homestead Skills - How to Butcher a Pig

One of the most important parts of homesteading is raising food. It is a romantic notion to picture a homestead with animals, a productive garden, and a table rich in foods without considering how that food actually ended up on the table. Gardens are work. Gardens are work in the hottest months of the year, outside in the humidity, hot sun, and with the bugs. Animals are alive and interact with you. You raise them from that cute baby stage up to a harvest time, building a bond, feeling a connection. Like babies, our farm animals depend on us to be fed and cared for, therefore we build a bond whether we wish to or not. When it comes time to harvest the animals it can be a bag of mixed emotions for the homesteader. Before I invest in livestock, I decided I needed to witness and even participate in butchering process so I would fully understand what I was getting myself into. I decided to start with a hot butchering because I cannot have hogs on my property due to code. It was a good place to start and a good friend of mine allowed me to come to witness the butchering of their next hog.

January 24th was a gorgeous day to spend outside, so I couldn't have asked for a better day for a butchering since it would be a long day spent outside in elements. The first thing I took from this occasion was not butchering an animal on a day that is very hot or one of foul weather. The process took close to 7 hours. Hot weather and bugs would have made the day unbearable and possibly unsanitary. Butchering on a day of high wind or rain again could possibly affect how sanitary the environment would remain and would make the already physically demanding process frustratingly difficult.

Ok, now, before we go any further, this post has LOTS of pictures. They are unpleasant for some to view, so if you don’t want to look, don’t. Go listen to the podcast HERE where there are no photos and the descriptions of the process are not as graphic. If you can’t stomach either, stick to growing crops and purchase your meat from a coop or market.

The pig butchered today was purchased in Texas from a known source used before. The pig was not raised by the folks butchering it. The pig was transported in a horse trailer with solid sides, so it could not see the people or environment around it. This helped to keep the pig calm. An animal that is scared or agitated just prior to it dying has been flooded with hormones that affect the taste of the meat. You will want the animal to be calm and relaxed and not see death coming. Death must be quick and humane. In this case the animal was shot in the head. The man shooting the pig simply stepped up on the back of the trailer, leaned in, and quickly dispatched the pig. The pig died instantly in a painless death.

Animals will twitch for a few moments after being shot in the head. This is not them fighting death, but a natural reaction of the nervous system when the brain stops sending and receiving signals. This is off-putting to some. It will be less disturbing if you keep in mind it is part of the natural death process. After the pig stopped twitching, the doors to the horse trailer were opened and ropes were tied to the front legs. Two grown men pulled the pig from the trailer onto two large, clean wood pallets where the butchering would take place.

Using a long, sharp knife, the pig was stabbed in the heart to stop the hard from pumping. It is a muscle and often will continue to contract. This ensured the circulation of blood ceased. The pig was allowed some time to rest while water was boiled.

Burlap bag and towels were then laid across the pig covering the exposed sides flesh. Boiling water was then poured over the fabric to scald the pig. Allowing the towels to cool, the hair on the pick was checked to see if it would pull of easily. If it didn't more water was poured on, but if it did it was time to scrape the hair off the pig. Scraping was done with knives and it removed hair and the first layer of skin off the pig. Hair was scraped off the body, legs, and face. Once one side was done, the pallet and pig were rinsed off, and the pig was flipped over. The same process was done on the other side of the pig.

After the scraping, it was time to scrub the pig. There are many types of scrubbers you can use for this process such as the green ones designed for Teflon dishes, or metal scrubbies, but the one chosen for today was a chunk of cement sump block. Antibacterial dish soap was squirted across the pig and then the pig was scrubbed with the chunk of cement block. This was labor intensive, but the skin of the pig was pink and clean when finished. The pig was rinsed well of all soap residue and the pallets again checked to make sure all hair, skin, and blood was rinsed off. It was now time to being cutting the pig up.

A table was set up in anticipation of butchering and knives were sharpened to razor sharp. The pig was rolled on its back and the skin was cut from the throat all the way down to penis area, skirted around the penis, and on down to the incision made on the inside of the back legs. These incisions formed a large Y.

The ribs were cracked using a variety of knives including a cleaver. The pig’s abdominal cavity was then cut open very carefully to avoid cutting the intestines. The penis and testicles were removed up to the rump of the animal and then stopped. They would be removed as one unit with the internal organs. If the intestines are cut, the meat would be tainted and it would all go to waste. Once the incision was large enough, the larynx on down to the anus were removed as one unit. The anus was cut around. The intestinal tract from throat through the anus and reproductive organs were removed as one large unit, uncompromised.  The dogs got to enjoy all the internals except the liver and kidneys.

The next step was to rinse out the cavity were the internals had been. Water was allowed to remain in the cavity to help cool down the meat. Meanwhile the pig was quartered, the head removed, and the feet removed. The feet were not preserved and the dogs got to enjoy them as well. The legs were the first to be processed.

Skin was removed first including the white fat that would ultimately be processed as lard. The white fat was then cut off the skin fillet style. You might think it would slice like a hot knife through butter, but this fat was thick and hard. It took effort to separate the skin from it. More than one nicked their knuckles in this process.  Skin was then sliced into sections to be used to make pork rinds and the lard was cubed to be used to make lard. These were bagged and full bags tied shut. The assembly line style processing made short work of the process.

Next meat was cut off the bones and then cubed. This meat was being harvested for Tamales and Posole. Even the head would be used. The meat was a deep pink with fat here and there. There were no foul odors either.

At this time, my friend Veronica and I headed inside. Veronica explained she was going to cook up some of the meat to feed everyone. She showed me how to cook up the meat and how to make genuine Mexican rice. Her mother had brought over homemade flour tortillas. Veronica melted some cheese her husband picked up locally and made Queso.  It was a feast to be sure and absolutely 

I didn't witness the tail-end of the process, but I am told some bones were conserved to use for the marrow and for soup. The other bones went to the dogs. When all was said and done, there was almost zero waste. The ground absorbed the blood, the hair will dry and blow away in the wind to be used by birds to line their nests, the organs were enjoyed by the dogs, and the rest of the pig will be consumed by humans. This pig died with dignity and was treated with the utmost respect. This pig’s life was given up to nourish humans and animal alike.

It would be ideal if we didn't need to end the life of an animal to harvest meat, but it is what it is. I don’t know about how large processing plants treat the animals they are butchering, but I do now that this pig did not suffer and was treated with reverence. That pig was delicious! Oh, and in case you were curious, over 400 lbs. of meat was harvested from that pig.