Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Big Pig Harvest

If I could label this last weekend, it would be "The Weekend of the Pig." I saw more pig in two days than in the entire rest of my life combined. I closed my eyes at night and saw piles of bacon. Not pristine prepackaged stacks on store shelves, but massive slabs of pork belly just waiting to be brined and smoked. It was tedious. It was exhausting. It was sometimes sad, but it was incredibly rewarding.


I highly recommend this book: Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game (Amazon link)

There were ten pigs ready for slaughter. All of them were of various heritage breeds and pasture raised on organic fermented feed and raw cow’s milk. They had the happiest life possible, and they were about to die the easiest death possible for an animal. One minute they would be eating feed, a split second later they would be gone.

Seeing the cost of our food firsthand in both life and labor definitely causes one to pause before a meal. A prayer of thanksgiving for sustenance provided by God becomes so much more meaningful after witnessing the price paid. The fact that animals die in order to sustain us is a harsh reality, but it is not a cruel reality. Pig life on an industrial farm—that may be considered cruelty.

While the pigs were all raised on one farm, they were owned by various people who assisted in the harvest. On Saturday, we all assembled and the process began. First, the pigs were shot in the head and stuck (their throat was slit to allow all the blood to drain out). Following this, they were dunked in scalding water and scraped to remove their hair. Unlike deer processing, the pig’s skin is left on the body. The pig was then hung and gutted, before being moved to a pole barn to hang overnight.
Scalding and gutting
Aren't we cute?
Photo credit: Cindy Caro

I stuck a pig and scraped a few before picking up little B from the babysitter. I spent the rest of the time sitting inside nursing and downing coffee, cheering on the occasional worker who came inside to use the restroom or regain feeling in their toes. The last pig was hung about eight hours after the process began, after which we raided the local barbeque place. We showed our waiter videos from our afternoon over heaping plates of pulled pork and chatted with the owner about hog farming. We were pretty cool.

On Sunday, a chef came out to teach us an entire course on butchering. A few of us had slaughtered pigs and processed deer before, but all of us were newbies when it came to pig butchering. We cut the pigs in half, and then each half was portioned out into four large cuts. These sections were then further broken down: picnic shoulders, St Louis ribs, baby back ribs, pork belly for bacon, chops, hams, and roasts. Bones were saved for stock, and scraps were saved for grinding.

Starting at 9 am, the last of it was cut and bagged by about 6 pm. Of course, by that point I had long since checked out of the process, leaving my husband to labor over the carcass while I drank coffee by the fire with a baby on my lap. (Can you spot a trend here?)

We immediately threw some chops on the grill, and—let me tell you—the fat was like butter. You could pretty much taste the wild herbage and cow milk seeping through the muscle fibers. Or, maybe we were all delirious from a ridiculously long weekend and the effect of one beer on our tired frames. To say it was satisfying would be a drastic understatement.

On Monday and Tuesday, I redeemed myself. I spent a total of seven hours washing, repacking, cutting, and grinding meat, and there is more yet to do. Our freezer is stocked with chickens, venison, and pork to last the better part of a year. I am thankful: thankful for the pigs, for amazing friends, and for another lesson learned on this homesteading journey.

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