We'll wrap up Pig Week with its logical conclusion... How to butcher pigs. The only future for pork is bacon, glorious bacon. You, friend, can butcher hogs at home - yes you! You don't particularly need special equipment or tools
. Just a couple strong people and the courage to march out there and take care of business. Remember, we are just regular people. We had no experience with this at all. If we can do it - so can you.
The only future for these hogs is bacon.
Ok folks... let's get to it. This is where
the rubber hits the road. The real McCoy. The business. The shizzle.... But first..the warning...
Gentle Readers, due to the mature content of today's post, the
very young, vegetarians, and folks who don't want to know where their
food comes from should look away. There are LOTS of pictures!
Detailed, up close pictures of pigs in various states of being
disassembled. This is a detailed, technical explanation of the hog butchering process .
There will be shooting, blood, guts, and meat flying everywhere. Don't
read it if you don't want to know. Honest. This separates the men from
the boys, the farm from the posers, the real from the detached. Got it?
your own hogs at home is much easier than you might think. You don't
need a lot of fancy tools or front end loaders or special facilities.
All you need is two moderately strong people, a few tools and a pig.
thing is, of course, to kill the pig. I was unable to get actual
pictures of this since it's a little hard to take photographs and plunge
a knife into 300 lbs of kicking, thrashing hog. You've all read about
making an 'x' from the pig's eyes to his ears and aiming for slightly
higher than the intercepts of the two lines. That's what you're aiming
for. The desired outcome is a stunned, but not totally blown away pig,
ready for the next step which is sticking. You want the pig to actually
die from loss of blood from the severed arteries in its neck. An
alternative is to shoot the pig from behind. Aim right behind the ear
towards the opposite eye. This is handy if you have a pig that for some
reason doesn't want to come right up and face you.
Pig's brains aren't all that large - so sometimes it can be pretty
tricky to get the shot placed correctly. We shot these pigs from the
front with a .410 shotgun at point blank range. We usually use a .22
long rifle with hollow points - the .410 did a nice job without being to
crazy. The .22 sometimes requires some back-up from a sledge hammer
kept handy to the kill pen. The angle of the shot is also critical.
tendency, when you're standing that close to the pig, is to want to
shoot down at the pig. At that angle, even if you hit in the 'x' there's
a very good chance that the bullet will go down through the pig's sinus
cavity missing the brain entirely. This is not a good thing. Number one, you've hurt your animal - which, of course, is something that we're trying to avoid at every stage of the game. Number two - now you have a hurt, angry
pig that you still have to finish off somehow (this is now not
something he's going to recover from and live out his days rooting
contentedly in the back pasture....). The important thing is to get down
and shoot 'into' the pig - so the bullet goes in towards the pig's back and not down through the roof of his mouth.
happens if you do just wound him? This happens. STAY CALM. If at all
possible - without endangering any human bystanders - carefully take
better aim and shoot again. If not - and this is not for the squeamish -
have a sledge hammer ready to deliver the coup de grace. Stand square
to the pig. DO NOT HESITATE. You've caused a problem you have to
solve - right now. Hit him with everything you've got right in the
forehead. Get ready to do it again if you have to - once should be
Make no mistake this is by far the worse part of the whole process. 99%
of the time the pig will go right down and there won't be any problems -
but if you do enough you'll have one that ain't so pretty. Getting
taken down by a pride of lions out on the plains probably ain't so
pretty either - but ...
So - you've shot your pig. With luck he's fallen right over on his side -
or kneeled down on his front knees. He'll still be moving - shaking -
maybe letting loose with a scream like all the demons of hell coming at
you whatever. This is fine. Immediately, you need to get in there with a
knife and stick the pig. Roll the pig onto his back and plunge the
knife in slightly forward of the collar bone as close to the center as
you can manage. Be careful - the pig may be kicking around by now. Stick
the knife in and work it back and forth a little until the blood gushes
out - not just bleeds but comes out in gouts. Usually you have 5-10
seconds after they're shot before they start the major flopping and
kicking. That's the time to stick - for your own sake so that you can
get out of the way. For this reason it's always best to have two people -
one to shoot and take care of the gun and one to get in and stick. You
can do both - just make sure you have someplace secure you can put the
gun right away and get in there (safely) and stick the pig.
There are hundreds of pictures and videos of this out there - try a
youtube search. It sounds much harder than it actually is. If you can't
go watch someone first - you'll be fine. Just do it - afterwards you'll
be amazed how easy (and fast) it really goes.
After you've stuck the pig and it's really bleeding well, step back. Get
outta the way and let it do its thing. It might take it a little while.
If it's still bleeding and kicking after a minute or so - try sticking
it again - you may not have cut well enough. Chances are you'll be fine
though. Go - right now and put the gun away. Have a little bourbon to
calm you nerves and catch your breath - you'll need it.
OK - you've done it - you've killed and bled a hog! Congratulations. The rest is child's play by comparison.
Drag that hog out on to a clean('ish) surface - gravel is nice - clean
concrete is nicer. Now grab a scrub brush and hose off the blood, mud
and poo that might have gotten smeared all over during the death-throes.
Go over the whole hog scrubbing and rinsing till you get him nice and
clean. This will help immensely keeping the meat clean when you skin -
why bother with all that nastyness when you can wash it all off in 5
minutes and know you've got a nice clean carcass to work with.
OK - now
you've got some options. Traditionally, pigs were scalded and scraped to
get the bristles and gunk off them. This left the hide on the pig -
which was helpful if you were going to salt it down and hang it up to
dry. Many traditional cultures would alternatively scorch the bristles
by mounding straw over the clean dry pig and setting the pile alight.
This works very well too and was preferred by many as they thought it
closed up the pores better and made the bacon keep better (see Cobbett's
Cottage Economy for example). A modernized form of this is to
use a propane roofer's torch to burn off the bristles. We do this in the
fall when we kill 7-10 pigs at a time simply because we don't have
anywhere to hang that many hogs. The skin still really helps keep the
meat clean - we scorch them, scrub them really well, gut and halve them
and lay them out on a sheet of plastic on a concrete floor which really
helps chill them down nicely. Either way you still have the skin on the
pig and have to cut it off when you got to butcher the next day. Some
like the 'cracklin' left on roasts, etc. I could never see the point
personally - but to each his own.
The best and
easiest thing (in my opinion) is to skin the pig right away. Then it's
ready to go when you're ready to cut it - no fuss - no muss. There are, I
am sure, a thousand ways to skin a pig. What we do is to make a
skinning cradle out of 5 2x4's set on a couple of saw horses. Cheap and
easy. Pigs skin most easily from the head back - rather than from the
hind-end forward like one would normally skin sheep or cattle or deer.
You can hang them by the jaw or by the back trotters - whatever. If
you're just doing a few though a cradle really make it nice.
Now, with your clean pig on his
back, take your knife and cut straight down through the throat just
behind the jaws until you get down to the bone. Saw through this and
continue to cut with the knife until you've severed the pig's head. Set
Now you have a headless hog laying on his back.
at the neck of the pig, cut down the centerline through the skin to the
breastbone. Cut through the skin, fat and muscle to the bone. Careful
when you get to the back end of the sternum - the guts start there.
After you've exposed the sternum take your saw and cut through it -
starting at the head-end of the pig. This will open the chest cavity
with the heart, lungs, etc.
stick your fingers under the meat/skin and start to cut towards the
back of the pig being very careful not to nick a gut. They're right
there and it's pretty easy to get one. Don't. Take your time - the pig
is dead now and it's a nice cold day. Relax.
On male pigs you'll need to
trim around the penis. Cut down on either side and locate the urethra.
Cut back till you've exposed enough to tie off. Tie it off with a bit of
twine and drape it over to one side - just in case - so as not to spill
urine on the meat. If some squirts out - wipe it off - it isn't the end
of the world. You might need to trip off any meat it got on - just be
cut down to the pelvis - the urethra runs down, around the pelvis and
back up through the hole where the colon is - watch out for it as you
cut down through there dissecting it loose and keeping it off to one
side. (Female pigs you can just cut down to the anus.) Now, carefully
cut down between the two back legs (hams) through the muscle and
connective tissue till you hit the pelvis. Immediately in front of the
pelvis you'll find the bladder - don't cut this. You can see the bladder
in these pictures - the whitish thing on the right-hand side. Take the
saw and holding you fingers as in the pictures, using tiny short
strokes, saw through the pelvis. It won't take long - don't tear open
the bladder - or the guts which may be poking out at you.
Once you've sawn through, push the legs apart to open up the back end of
the pig. On males, loosen the urethra from the ham and keep it out of
the way. Now, you can get your fingers down in around the colon, etc.
work it loose towards the back and then cut around the anus. Tie this
off to prevent spillage....
Now - back to the front end of the pig. Cut down through the neck to loosen up the windpipe and esophagus.
Also take a short knife and cut down the diaphragm on both sides.
Grasping the trachea and esophagus, pull towards the back of the pig.
should be able to pull the guts right out towards the back. Pull gently
but firmly - if you need to - flop them over the side and work free
with your fingers - or knife. Be careful - you can cut yourself pretty
badly on the ligaments, etc. that are holding the pieces parts in!
spread out your guts in a tub (or on the snow!) and pick out the caul
fat, liver, heart, spleen, kidneys - whatever you want to save from the
tasty bits. Carefully pull the gall bladder off the liver - rinse
everything off with cold water and set aside.
ready to skin your pig. With your helper, hoist the hog onto the
skinning cradle and set his back between the middle two 2x4's.
Saw off the back trotters halfway between the knee and the hoof. Don't
cut too closely to the knee (hock) because you won't be able to hang the
meat by the tendon.
Saw off (cut off) the front trotters at the knee.
Skin the pig. Skin from the head end towards the back end. Keep the skin
pulled tight and skim the knife down towards the skin leacing as much
fat, etc. on the carcass. Pig skins adhere rather firmly to the pig –
this isn’t like skinning deer, steers, sheep, etc. – you can’t just
shuck the hide off a pig. Skin down as far as you can on both sides.
Lay the skin over the outer two 2x4's and roll the pig to one side or
the other to finish skinning across the back.
starting at one end or the other start sawing the pig in half. Cut the
meaty bits as you go with a knife so you only have to 'saw' the bone.
Get someone ready to balance the two halves on the skinning cradle.
Poke a knife through the tendon on the back legs and run a length of rope/heavy twine through and tie in a loop.
Hang up the pig and rinse out the body cavity with cold water.
eat liver and onions. Make sure you fry apples with the onions and
serve with plenty of red wine and mashed potatoes! Enjoy. Leave your
pigs to chill well - overnight if you can. Over two nights won't hurt as
long as it’s cold-but-not-quite-freezing where you have them hung.
Don’t have someplace to hang
them? No problem – lay them on a clean table, sheep of plastic on the
floor – whatever. Just kind of stretch them out so that when the go into
rigor mortis they’re not all curled up in a heap – that makes cutting
them a little tricky.... (voice of experience....). How cold? Well- mid
thirties is nice. Frozen pigs are frozen pigs and will require a
chainsaw to cut. Warm pigs are rotten pigs. Use your common sense.
Thanks Bourbon Red! Now you know how to harvest hogs. What are you waiting for? Get out there and give them pigz the business!