Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.


Monday, October 1, 2012

The Real Battle... I mean.. Butcher Day

We had such a great weekend! Finally we found time to butcher the first of our four hogs. It was a great day and we learned alot about the good and the bad of non-winter butchering.

But first a disclaimer.....  OK tender hearted friends... we're gonna talk about butchering. That's right! There will be shootin' and guts and meat and blood and everything. Goats will be terrorized and pigz will die an honorable death. Then there will be meat, meat, meat and more meat! If you don't wanna know, don't read any further. I'm not kidding! There will NOT be pictures - but only because my camera is all wonkadoodle and I need a new one. If you think you're gonna cry, you should click here and look at The Bubby's adorable face! Otherwise, nut up and read on. 

Ready?

Hands down winter butchering is a million times better than butchering in summer. We knew this before we marched out there on Saturday, but by the end of the day we really knew it. So why did we butcher that pig now? Because we were scraping the bottom of the freezer. So we did it out of necessity as we were out of meat and we sure didn't want to buy any from the store.

That pig was probably about 180lbs but we'd prefer to butcher a hog at 320lbs. Conventional wisdom says 250lbs is pretty good. So this hog was "large hog roast size" and not really fully grown out. Did we think it was a waste? Nope.  We have 3 more hogs so we were fine with it.

As always the absolute best step by step directions are right here and were written by my pal and Farm Master, Bourbon Red. And incidentally its my most popular blog post of all time, especially since the Pinterest folks have gotten ahold of it. We printed out these instructions and marched out boldly at the crack of 11:00 in the morning. If I had my druthers we would have been out there at first light. However, the shooter needed his beauty sleep. But after a while I got irritated from waiting around and just sent Kai in to "find Daddy." Her wiggling and nose-booping finally roused The Big Man so we could get to work.

Our strategy was to get the appointed pig out of the hog yard and into the goat/henyard. Mostly to keep our work out of the mud. Remember when I whacked together that fence between the goats and the pigz earlier this summer? I kinda did a bad job, as fencing goes, but it turned out to be the best thing ever. We just turned off the electric fence, moved the hotwires, opened the field fence where it was patched together, and let them pigz walk themselves up the hill.

For us the hardest thing about hog butcher day is dragging the carcasses up the hill to our workspace. So we figured, let them do all the hard work. The upside is that there is less work and dragging for us. The downside is that pigz can be big, mean, and dangerous. The pigz from awhile ago were the meanest things this side of Satan himself. Not only did they require me to be armed with an axe and a dog, but they immediately started rooting up the goatyard. They did a tremendous amount of damage in a short time. But this little piggy just wandered up the hill and started looking around.

At this point me and Dog#1 left the goatyard for safety sake. The Big Man put some feed on the ground, the pigs rushed up to eat it, and then the next thing that pig knew.... it was in pig heaven. The other one just kinda moved off. And that was it. For the pig - The Big Man had to get in there and "stick" that pig so it would bleed out. And it did.

Our next task was to get the other pig back into the hogyard. We probably could have separated them before and only let the intended pig out... but it didn't work out that way. So we had one pig on the ground and one pig running around. After trying to get it into the yard ourselves I went and got the dog. I tell you the truth, my #1 dog is a vision. After one hot lap around the yard, Dog#1 realized it was time to get to business. And he got all over that pig. That pig ran for its life - right back into its pen. Titan strode masterfully back up the hill and we patched the fence back up. By that time the fallen pig was done bleeding out.

At this point I'll interject a little hilarity. First, we didn't let any of the barnyard out that morning as we knew they would just be in the way and in danger. So the goats were having a total breakdown. They were screaming and kicking at their door, "Let us out! Let us OOOOUUUUT!"  Until we shot that pig right in front of their eyes. Then they were silent as church mice. I think I heard Dahli ask Nibbles, "Is THAT what she means when she tells me to either stand still for milking or she's gonna "Fire up the grill and get her knives?"  We didn't hear a peep out of them for the rest of the day.

Also, you'll note I only had Dog#1 with me. I had considered bringing Kai out as well. But she's not as predictable as I need her to be. Not yet. And Zander is still in his wild, puppy-brain phase... so there was no way he was going to help. However, we let all the dogs out after the shooting so they could see what was going on. Kai and Zander thought it was the best thing ever. And to tell the truth, Zander's bloodlust has been up since Saturday. I think he's realized that the pigz are made of meat. And that they are delicious. He immediately claimed the carcass as his own by chewing on its snout. We gated the dogs up on the deck and let them watch us work. They loved it.

Anyway.

We used the water trolley to haul that pig out of the goatyard. Friends, I tell you the truth - that trolley has been one of our best tools. I urge you to check them out and get one for yourself, like this 1200lb garden cart . The best feature is that the sides release so you can have a sort of "flat bed." This made it easy to load up that pig, hose it down, and do most of the gutting. Not only was it up off the ground, but we could wheel the trolley around so that gravity was working for us. This made it so easy.

The gutting went like clockwork. Of course I made a mess of the skinning. We were really disappointed that there was no fat on this pig. And absolutely no bacon at all. Sure it was small but wow, we really prefer the old style breeds - like our Tamworths - than these commercial style pigz. The commercial style pigz are bred to be lean and more "ham like" and not lard-like. We both remarked that its no wonder there won't be any bacon if the commercial hog guys are selling off their herds so early. There was no bacon to speak of. At all. This made my mockery of skinning a little easier because I didn't have to be careful to save every precious morsel of fat.

The Big Man used a new blade in the sawsall to cut off the trotters and half the carcass. The sawsall made it so easy and fast which was what we needed. Since we didn't have the luxury of freezing temperatures we needed to get that pork cut into big chunks and shoved in our fridges as fast as possible. Normally we'd hang the halves in the garage overnight. But by 1pm it was already almost 70*.

Unlike beef, pork doesn't improve with hanging. You really just need the meat to cool as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage. The day before we cleared out both our fridges - the upstairs kitchen fridge and the downstairs beer fridge - and set them to their coldest, lowest level.

After we cut the pork in half we cut each half into thirds. That is, I removed the ham, then the shoulder leaving the center/loin/belly from each side. But first I took off the tenderloins from each side. Those went on a special plate for our victory dinner.  We used heavy duty baking trays that I got from the kitchen supply store to carry each third into the waiting fridges. Or check out my store page for other suppliers. These are much better for butchering than just cookie or baking sheets. The trick for cooling meat is to allow for as much air circulation as possible. You don't want the meat to hold any of the heat - it has to cool fast.

And that was it. We did a clean up of our work space, high fived each other, let the dogs smell our hands for all the porky goodness...and then let the rest of the barnyard out.

And now a quick Q&A.... Let me know if you have specific questions. Remember the detailed step by step guide is right here.

How is summer vs winter butchering different?
Summer butchering sucks. You don't have the advantage of taking your time because the rising temperatures work against you. We find that about 25* is perfect. Also, bugs and mud are bad. We'd rather have frozen ground to work on then slog around in the mud. And just as we were finishing the yellowjackets found our workspace and were helping. You'll remember I already had a run in with them earlier this summer and I was not looking forward to getting stung up again. Winter is much better.

What else did you learn?
That we could do this quickly. It only took about 2 hours from when we marched out there until we were cleaning up. Easy peasy. It also made me realize that if you can butcher turkeys or ducks you can do this - especially with a smaller pig like this one. A smaller hog is less dangerous, easier to handle, and quicker to skin. If you are hesitant about home hog butchering I'd suggest one under 200lbs to prove to yourself that yes you can do this. Then you'll have the confidence to take on a 320lbs hog.

What tools did you use?
This was the best part. Aside from the gun, a small meat saw, and the sawsall.... I used a small paring knife, a boning knife, and a large chef's knife. To be honest, I used the small paring knife for most of it... I'd say 95%. I think I use more knives for chicken butchering than for this work. Check out my "Butcher Day" page here for a full list of my recommended tools.

What about the guts and stuff - what did you do with those?
Double bagged and in a locking garbage can in the garage.

Did you lose the head again?
Ha! Nope. To make sure I didn't lose them again TBM put the head and trotters on ice in a cooler right next to my milkstand. I keep tripping over it so I'll remember exactly where they are.

Did you cry? Were you upset? Wasn't it horrible to kill that widdle-piggy-wiggy?
I only cried when I saw there wasn't any bacon or any fat on that pig. Otherwise no. It not upsetting at all. The work is interesting and I was very excited about having a full freezer again.

But... but.. pigz are too smart to eat! Aren't they as smart as dogs? Or a three year old?
No. If you dog is dumber than a pig then you either need a new dog or to train him better. My stupidest chicken is as smart as a pig and just as interactive. Neither pig nor chicken is even remotely smarter than any of the dogs. I read that someone is spreading the lie that pigz are as smart as toddlers. Friend, I do not know where people get this stuff. I guarantee you that pigz are not as smart as people - even the dumb ones. Sure I've seen the video of the pig rounding up the cows or whatever. The only plausible explanation is demonic possession. I say no more on this. If you love your pig than good on you. I only love them when they are resting comfortably in the freezer.

So now what?
Now I'm gonna have Meat Day! I've got the grinder fired up and have already planned meals of lovely meat meat meat and more meat for the rest of the season. Last nite we had the tenderloins fried in bacon grease with roasted root veggies. That's just the start.

As for the rest of those porkers, they are just biding their time until their lucky day comes. It will be a sunny, 25* day this winter... oh happy day!

Happy Monday everyone! Are you having meat day?


5 comments:

Heavens Door Acres said...

I bow to you and your strength for taking on that pig! What caliber gun did you use!? Head shot---between the eyes or back of the head? I SO want to try this...one day...

David said...

my hero(ine!)

farmer_liz said...

wow, butchering in snow would be so handy for chilling the carcass. We don't have snow, but from chicken butchering experience, its definitely best to work in the cool of the day and winter is easier because flies and ants are slower to find you :) This week we are looking fwd to receiving a freezer full of milk-raised pork from our dairy farmer friend, I can taste it already.... Everyone here in Aus seems to go to ridiculous effort to scald and shave the pig, I never eat the skin anyway, so I think your method is easier, did you consider the scalding/shaving method? Or is it just normal to skin it where you are? Love you description of the silent barnyard, this happens on chicken killing days are our place, every other chicken finds somewhere else to be as soon as the first head is chopped off. One day we will have pigs too, and I feel reassured that we could probably butcher them ourselves too.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Thanks HDA! we actually use a 9mm and a back of the head shot. You can do it!

Thanks Dave :-D

Hi FarmerLiz! Congrats on the upcoming pork. We feed ours a lot of milk too but wow having dairy cows would be the best. I don't know why everyone is hung up on scalding. We dont b/c it seems like a waste of time and effort. One year we torched them but.. you still have to skin them anyway...so we don't get it. And that much hot water just seems like a bad idea. Normally when we grow them out big there is no way we could find a tub that big anyway - not even a 50 gallon drum. When you get your pigz you can totally do your own butchering! Then you'll stand back and say "is that it?" Yep its that easy.

Anonymous said...

They used to scald pigs to leave the skin intact which helped when they cured the entire hog as 'bacon' - salted and dried. There are some folks who rave about the 'crackling' on pork roasts - I always kind of thought it tasted like fried spit - or cardboard soaked in lard - I never got it... Anyway - with freezers nowadays it's much easier and quicker to simply skiing the pig. When we roast whole hogs we do leave the skin on and singe off the bristles with a propane torch which is pretty quick and easy too. The skin is then discarded when we serve the pig (see the reasons above...)

BR

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