Guest Post: The Homestead Hog – Husbandry and “Getting it Done” Butchery

 

The Homestead Hog: Husbandry and “Getting it Done” Butchery

by Bev

 

When I was a little girl visiting my great-grandfather’s farm, I remember watching out the upstairs window from the straw mattress that I was bedded down on and seeing my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother standing around a fire on which a great black cauldron was set, stirring, stirring, and talking. They were stirring pig’s blood in the cauldron to make blood pudding and blood sausage.  Perhaps this is where we get the popular Halloween image of witches around a pot because hog butchering on the farm is almost always done in late October or November when the weather is cool and the flies have died off.

 

We had come from the town to help with the hog butchering. Nothing was wasted. After sticking the hog and collecting the blood in pots, they would first scald the hog by draining the cow watering tank and lifting the body into it, spreading some powder over them (can’t remember what it was) then carrying boiling water from the cauldron to the tank, working the hog back and forth with ropes, then scraping the hair from the hide. The fat was cut into chunks then rendered into lard. The kids got to scoop the cracklins from the lard for cracklin bread.

 

I learned to butcher from my mother-in-law out in Idaho—mostly elk. The men folk would hunt, shoot, castrate, bleed and gut the elk—in that order. They would drag it out of the timber, often skinned and field quartered because elk are very large animals, and the rest was up to us. Mule deer were brought in whole and they would hang them. If we were lucky they would also skin the deer, if not, well that was up to the women folk also J

 

Whether you are butchering an elk, squirrel or hog, butchering is basically the same. On August 12th, Modern Survival posted the video of the week:

On The Anatomy Of Thrift: Side Butchery from farmrun on Vimeo.

 

I learned a lot from this video, but it had no similarity to my experience of butchering on the homestead…

 

Hog Husbandry

Hogs are best raised in pairs; they simply do better and gain more weight quickly—they are happier. Purchase a pair of barrows (castrated male pigs) in the spring. They will be around 30 lbs. as feeder pigs.  There are lots of different breeds of pigs and I have found no appreciable difference in taste of meat or gaining if they are of basic feeder stock.

 

HOWEVER, if you have children DO NOT NAME the cute little piglets! Our first were Arnold and Wilber, BIG MISTAKE! The kids made friends with them and rode them all summer. Although I sent the kids to grandma’s for the butchering, I did label the packages “Arnold” and “Wilber” to see if there was a taste difference (Arnold was white and Wilber was black and white). Worse yet, I served them both at the same time and asked the family which one tasted better… Dumb, dumb, dumb… After that, all pigs were named Pork and Chops!

 

Fencing and Shelter

Fencing is best done with hog panels. Hog panels (16 feet long and about 32 inches high) in a square are enough to raise two hogs. A post at each corner and wire them on real good. You do not need a gate if you position your waterer and feeder near a corner. You can break them to electric fencing set about a foot high, but have the pen in first to start them. Feeder pigs are fast! They are not easy to catch and will run away if they can, so be sure they are  broke to the electric fence before you put your winter’s meat on the line. Place the pen near water and easy access to feeding. The backyard or near the garden is usually a good place. Shade is important! At least put a tarp up to create shade for them.

 

Housing is pretty easy. You can make a three sided “building” with straw bales with just tin laid over the top with rocks on that to keep it from blowing away. That may last all summer, depends on the hogs. Most people will build a triangular hut out of left over tin. A tarp over a corner is the least you can do for summer. Old dog houses, old calf hutches, all of these work. Bed the floor with straw, sawdust, leaves, grass: hogs are very clean animals.

 

Water and Feed

A water container in the beginning can be as simple as a dishpan, but you will soon want to graduate to something more stable and larger. I have had good luck with a fifty gallon plastic drum (food grade) with a water cup that is operated by pushing a valve to open it. Just keep it filled with the garden hose (or they will start tossing it around). You can buy these cups at many farm supply stores. Remember that the cheapest feed is water. Always be sure they have plenty of water.

 

A feed trough at the beginning can be about anything that will hold feed. But in a week or two they will tear ordinary plastic apart. I have had good luck with the old time gravity feed metal feeders about 4 foot high and two foot around. Put an old kid’s flying saucer over it or a larger piece of tin with a rock on it to keep rain out of the feed. The larger they get, the faster you will go through water and feed.

 

You can feed your pigs a lot of different things. I always had my pig pen close to the garden. All waste from the garden goes to the chickens and pigs. Any leftovers from the kitchen go to the chickens and pigs. Do not be shocked if your pigs catch the occasional chicken and eat it. WARNING: PIGS ARE OMNIVORS AND WILL EAT EACH OTHER AND HUMANS, ESPECIALLY IF THEY SMELL BLOOD!  Ladies, heads up around pigs, bulls, stallions, etc. during that time of the month! If you can make an arrangement with a local market to take all their leftover breads, produce, etc. you can save yourself a lot of money on feed. Otherwise there is always the feed store. Five months should give you two 230 to 300 lb. hogs. They are now ready to butcher.

 

Butchering

If you sell one hog at market or to friends, you can usually pay for having the other butchered. If you butcher the other one yourself, you will have free pork for the winter J

 

I don’t know what they do in the south, but in the northern states we butcher just as winter is approaching—usually late October into early December. You want several good hard frosts to kill the flies and most other insects and a temperature just above freezing if possible. We usually shot the remaining pig in its pen with a .22 between the eyes. The .22 bullet does not kill it, it stuns it.  Then stick a sharp knife into the jugular. Keep the kids away as it thrashes and bleeds out (I do not catch the blood, nor do I make blood sausage, or pickle the brains or feet or tongue—but you can,) as this is rather gruesome and the blood can spurt up to 40 feet around. However, it is the most effective way to bleed a hog—stunned, it is questionably humane. However, done in their pen and not hauled there are no stress hormones released and the meat is much better tasting.

 

Gut the hog in its pen. The chickens will take care of the guts and entrails. Open one end of the pen and use your horse or truck, or two people can grab the back feet and pull it along, flip it onto a sled or tarp for easier hauling, to pull it to where you will hang it.  You can skin it on the ground, but it is much harder and dirtier. Definitely use a tarp if you are going to skin it on the ground. And perhaps during a bit warmer weather, so you can comfortably also use the water hose to keep things cleaner. If you have strong men around, they can lift it onto a table if you have one that will hold that weight.

 

Hunters’ seem to really stress over how to hang a critter. You can spend upwards of a hundred dollars buying fancy hangers. Really, all you need is a stout branch, or 2×4 plus, about 30 inches long. Tie a rope in the middle to pull over a tree branch or rafter and two ropes on the end to tie to two legs to keep them spread. You can drill holes to slip wire through tendons, carve it with V notches, etc. Boy, hang it head up or head down, I’ve heard the arguments for both…

 

From my perspective the only purpose to hanging is for cooling the meat down and skinning. Unless we were pressed for time, we usually let it cool for a day or two. And by the way, if the kids are complaining because they are cold, DO NOT STUFF THEM INTO THE HANGING CARCASS! Yes, it is warm in there. BUT they will never forgive you for trying to keep them warm that way J And they may have nightmares…

 

Not frugal, but I just always skinned the hog and cut the thick chunks of fat off to render. I always cut the tenderloin out after I skin. If I had electricity available, I used a reciprocating saw to halve than quarter the hog (or deer). I have used a chainsaw! You can just use a sharp knife if you are patient about getting between the bones.

 

I am a “down and dirty” butcher. No patience and I don’t care if it is pretty J I just want it cut up and in the freezer! I don’t bother with bone saws, hand saws, jig saws, or band saws all of which can be very effective especially if the meat is partially frozen. No, not me! I have one very sharp knife and cut the meat from the bone, across the grain if possible, and do “roasts” aka large hunks of meat, “chops” aka smaller hunks of meat, stew meat, and smaller hunks of meat into five gallon pails to be ground into burger. If you season the burger with, say Italian Seasoning, it becomes sausage. You can blend it into hamburger and the beef will become much more flavorful. Thin strips of pork can be seasoned or marinated then dried for jerky. You can can pork. My ribs usually looked like something on the Flintstones plate!

 

Bacon and ham take processing and smoking. I have not found a butcher who can legally take meat he hasn’t butchered himself or acquired from another butcher facility. I did find a farmer with a home butcher shop who would grind the meat I brought him.

 

Wrap, DATE, and throw it in the freezer. If I really was strapped for time, I would cool the meat in laundry tubs of ice.

 

And, by the way, horse is excellent red meat—even better than beef. I had a yearling filly break a leg. She suddenly became 800 lbs. of prime meat. We were shy on meat that winter, so I shot her, butchered her and fed her to the family.  About six months later as we were eating the last of the horse, sitting at the dinner table I smiled sweetly and and asked, “So, how do you like Blaze?” Oh, oh, my son still won’t eat here unless he sees the package! Moral of the story: Do  NOT tell them what they are eating, whether that be BBQed raccoon or stewed woodchuck! Just let them enjoy!
 

 


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9 Comments

  1. Great post – very informative.

    When I was growing up, my grnadfather had a small vegetable farm at which my cousins and I spent long summer days working – hoeing, weeding, moving irrigation pipe, and harvesting. The food certainly tasted better seasoned with our sweat than the stuff I see in the grocery stores today.

    One of his neighbors had a small dairy. We traded vegetables for milk. My grandmother would skim the cream from the milk for butter. If you want a great workout try placing fresh cream in a mason jar with a rubber ball and shaking it into cream – I didn’t know cream came in square bars until I was in high school, and ours certainly wasn’t yellow. We took the skimmed milk and traded it to the pig farmer some miles down the road for bacon, ham, offal, and skin. Sometimes, we helped with the slaughter (mostly, just the skinning and cutting up – the grown ups did the shooting and venting). The skim milk was used for thinning the slops. We didn’t drink slim milk – that was pig food. I suppose the pigs were healthier than the people (now my wife makes me drink 2% – just not the same).

    We fried most of the pig skin for snacks and dog treats. Some of it my grandmother used to teach the kids how to sew up cuts. Pig skin is fairly similar to human and provides a cheap canvas to practice the art of wound closure. I can’t say my stitches are very even and they certainly won’t win any beauty contests (knots tend to be a little ragged), but they get the job done.

    I’ve killed a lot of pigs, cows, goats, deer, rabbits, and, yes, even a few horses since then. Bev did a great job of putting years of on the job training (with quite a few uh ohs) into a solid how to reference. Kudos.

    BTW – I bet Bev’s mother and grandmothers wouldn’t take kindly to the “witches stirring the kettle” reference (my mom would probably skin me and spray the left overs with alcohol). It was funny, though.

  2. Can’t say I’ve ever butchered anything myself. Sadly, it’s not something I can just “wing” if I had to. Thanks for the detailed info. Perhaps someday I’ll put it to good use.

  3. When we lived in New Hampshire we raised winter pigs from September to March, no bugs but changing the water 3 to 4 times a day to keep it from freezing. We fed them feed for lactating cows as it had more protien, vegtables scraps, and bakery left overs, they loved pumpkins. Bev is right about naming them, ours were the usual Pork and Chops but also Ham and Eggs. A local farmer picked up our pigs, killed, butchered, and packaged them and sent off the hams and bacon to a local smoke house for a very resonable price. thge meat was also better than anything you could buy in a store or butcher shop. I will soon be trying to raise them in Florida.

  4. “So, how do you like blaze?” Laughed out loud when I heard that. My wife loved cow tongue before I told her what it was. It is funny how perception can change taste. Thanks for the post.

  5. My grandma always said, “You don’t waste nothing but the squeal. And, if you’re a good shot, you won’t waste that.” I can remember eating cracklins, chittlins, hog head cheese, pickled pigs feet, pig ears, and the tail was used as soup meat; however, I could never get a taste for blood pudding. If you didn’t clean it good enough, you might get some corn in your chittlins, but even that was better than blood pudding. What did it taste like to you, Bev? I can’t even think of something to compare it to.

  6. Thank you for this great post. I am also a just get it done butcher, especially when it comes to lamb chops. Too little meat and too much bone. If you have time for follow up, I would love to hear how you scrape the skin and how long that takes, what you are actually doing…trying to get all the hair off? But then you skin it too? I don’t get that part. Just seems to me that you wouldn’t bother scraping the parts where the skin is to come off, but I haven’t ever done a hog. I would also love to hear about raising a litter, what it takes to keep a sow and a boar.

  7. Hi Pam,

    I have never kept a sow and boar. I just raised feeder pigs every year. In Minnesota, I just don’t have the facilities to keep pigs year around. Plus, boars are dangerous. Most farmers artificially inseminate now days.

    You don’t scrape and skin. If you are wanting to get every bit of fat from the hog you can, you scrape. Then all the fat is useable. I just wasn’t set up and wasn’t interested in the fat enough to go through the hassle of building a trough, etc. to scrape. I wanted the meat more than the fat:)

    I think taste is what you are raised on. Blood pudding is very ethnic and I’m okay with it. Kind of like BBQed raccoon and chicken gizzards and livers with gravey over egg noodles–ymmmmmmmmmm 🙂

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