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.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Butcher Pigs - Step by Step

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.
Today we have a re-post of my friend, Bourbon Red's, spectacular step by step instructions. This is the only reference we use when we get out there to get 'er done. This method has worked on smallish and huge hogs
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? Ready?
Harvesting 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.

The first 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.
The 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.
What 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 enough though.

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.

Next step. 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 aside.

Now you have a headless hog laying on his back.

Starting 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.

Now 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 careful.

Continue to 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.

You 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!

Now, 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.
Now you're 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.

Now - 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.

Go 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!


Mark said...

Thanks for this post! We processed chickens for the first time this year and have thought about pigs...you're giving me thoughts that we could actually do it!

buddeshepherd said...

No I can't do it! Unless they are mean pigs and have eaten grandpa! Most pigs that I have met in people's backyards like to have their ears scratched and be fed apples.
Here you go. You feed your pig or cow by hand to the point that it comes when it is called and leans against the fence to be scratched. It sees you and says "Hi" in some funny animal way. It trusts you...
I'm going to be a vegetarian...
Unless I could possibly hide behind a tree and shoot them from 100 yards.
Or drop an anvil on them...Which would instantly turn the pig into cut and wrapped chunks of meat. (I saw that in a cartoon once)

Lynda said...

Great post! We have the mobile butcher do our home raised livestock...but I think we should try our hand at butchering this year. Your post let me realize it's something we could and should do. Thanks!

Vera said...

We use a stun gun to the forehead when killing a pig. It is quiet and fast and accurate, and easier than an actual gun.

Interesting info about how you skin and gut the carcass. We burn the hair off, but I am not sure that we actually need to do that because the skin is cut off anyway during butchering. Getting the hair off takes ages, and is a messy and wet business, so will try and convince Lester to try skinning instead!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Mark- you can TOTALLY do this! Do you have a buddy who hunts? If yes then you are golden. And if not - I know that you and your lovely wife can totally do this. Get pigz! :-)

Budd, I'm going to give that anvil thing I try. That would be awesome. Also, you are not going to be a vegetarian. Now get back on your tractor.

Lynda - you should totally give this a try. All you need is a little courage and some confidence. You got this!

Vera - we used a propane torch when we tried burning the hair off... but then we thought... why are we doing this if we are going to skin them anyway? I think some folks like to keep the skin on for the hams but we just think skinning is so much easier. We put the hides in the hen yard and the chickens pick them clean. The stun gun is a good tip.... but you know how we Americans love our guns.

Cat Eye Cottage said...

What a great post! I don't have pigs, but it makes me believe I could tackle processing such a big animal if I did.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

WeekendH - you could TOTALLY do this. really. all you need is some helpers and confidence. then you'll be all, "WOW I did it!" Really - you can do it. :-)

The Paisley Butterfly said...

I love this post! As someone who hopes to homestead someday (I should say WILL homestead someday) this is information I need. My husband hopes to, scratch that - WILL, learn how to butcher all of our meat :)

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Yes you WILL, PaisleyB, yes you will! Honest, if we can do it - so can you. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm in!

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