The Homestead Hog: Husbandry and “Getting it Done” Butchery
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:
I learned a lot from this video, but it had no similarity to my experience of butchering on the homestead…
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.
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!