WARNING: Graphic hog-killing photos below!
With Sean’s arrival at Red Gate, the time had come to say “goodbye” to our first hogs. Here is their “goodbye” photo (unbeknownst to them):
It was quite simple and stress free. I opened their gate in the far end of the pasture, rattled their feed bucket, and called them. Maple and Honey came running and grunting. We jogged all the way across the main pasture, down the hill to the barn together (with me praying I wouldn’t stumble on the way, lest those hogs think I was for dinner!). We got them to follow us into one of the barn stalls, where we awaited a career professional butcher who was coming to show S a new way to do the hogs. S has slaughtered a couple hogs before, but he loves learning new techniques. As soon as the hogs were in the stall, they immediately began rooting around in the bedding to find the now-fermented corn I had tossed in several months prior. The butcher arrived while S was setting up the equipment. I ran inside to get the kiddos situated and grab the camera, and before I could get back, they had shot the hogs with a rifle and were dragging them to the eviscerating cradles. I LOVE knowing that our hogs never stressed through this process. They were literally rooting around when he shot them. In fact, he even used special, quieter, sub-sonic bullets to reduce the noise level. That way, the shot for the first hog did not frighten the second hog. She simply looked up, then went back to rooting. That’s the last thing she remembered. No worry, no fear, no stress. Just the way we like it!
They quickly bled the hogs and cut off the heads, then drug them out to the cradle. For the record, in the past, S hung the hogs to eviscerate, but this teacher preferred “cradles” to make it easier. S is now a huge fan of the cradles. Apparently it made the task much simpler, since it prevents the guts from falling out before you are ready.
Also, in the past, S learned to scald and scrape the hide, but this time, he learned to skin. He says it was significantly more difficult that any other animal he has ever skinned–except for maybe the old rooster a couple years ago. It was still a faster method than the scald and scrape, though. Obviously, both have their place.
Another new technique he learned this time was to hang the sides for a couple of days to equalize the temperatures of the meat. Temperatures were perfect in our garage, where we hung them and, by opening or closing the garage doors, we maintained pretty consistent temps around 38* F for 48 hours. Then, the butcher returned to show S some professional ways to cut the meat.
My job was to collect the cuts and wrap them in the freezer paper, weigh and record them, and get them into the freezer in single, spaced layers so they could freeze as fast as possible.
Just for the record, my last live weight calculation of each hog was 220 lbs, give or take a few. We weren’t able to get a hanging weight on the sides, but the final in-the-freezer weight of everything was 154 lbs. (about 78 lbs per hog). This included about 46 lbs of hams, 2 of which we tried brining and the other 2 we cut into ham roasts, an assortment of chops, steaks, ribs, tenderloins, and misc. other cuts, and 28 lbs of ground pork for making into sausage. Not to shabby for our first forest hogs, I’d say. It supports the theory that the average hog hanging weight is about 60% of the live weight, and the average take home weight is about 60% of the hanging weight. In addition, we got a week’s worth of meaty bones and organ meats for the livestock guardian dogs’ dinners, a couple pounds of lard, and we boiled up several of the back ribs for shredded BBQ pork the first evening. It was delicious!
We learned a lot from the experience. First, the pigs absolutely thrive out in the forest glen environment, rooting, rolling, nesting, whatever. They are quite hardy, even in cold temperatures as long as they have shelter and wind breaks in the winter and shade and water to cool them in the summer. They do so well rooting and foraging for their food, in fact, that even though winter had thoroughly killed off all the forage as far as we could tell, despite the fact that we did not feed them any dinner or breakfast (S likes empty bellies for harvest time!), their stomachs and intestines were quite full of whatever they found out there. It surprised everyone. Secondly, we learned that heritage pigs on forage will not gain weight like other pigs. In fact, at 8 months of age, ours had only about 1/2-3/4 inch of back fat, as compared to 2-3 inches on a 6 month old commercial hog.
We have already reserved 4 pigs for this spring, but as a result of what we learned, we are going to try to do things a little differently this time. We are getting them in early April’ish for starters, so they can take advantage of the lush spring vegetation. Shortly thereafter, we will hopefully have a tremendous abundance of milk from 1, maybe 2 cows, and 4 goats, most of which will go to supplement the pigs forage diet. We also hope to have an abundance of eggs to supplement their diet with, and I may cook them up this time, as I’ve learned that cooking eggs doubles the amount of digestible protein available. Protein builds muscle (meat), while starch builds fat (marbling). Eggs are good protein, while milk contains plenty of both. We are still going to raise them until 8 months of age, but that will only take us to October this year, meaning they should have plenty of vegetation for their entire growth period this go around. It will be interesting to compare the results with this year.