If there’s a pig in your barn or pasture, sooner or later it will happen. The freezer or the smokehouse will start looking kind of empty. And your pig, grown large from all the on-farm nutrients you feed, will start looking more and more like a walking pork chop!
But custom slaughterhouse butchering dates are hard to come by (especially in these uncertain days). Maybe it’s time to learn how to process your own animals.
Butchering large animals can be intimidating at first. Although there is a real art and science to breaking down a carcass, keep in mind that, however accurate (or inaccurate!) your cuts, the end product is going to taste delicious. Cutting big animals just takes more muscle than small ones. Invite some adventurous friends to help you and plan a butchering party.
Make Time to Take Your Time
First, leave yourself plenty of time.Back when we started our large-animal butchering adventure, we had to allow three days for processing four pigs. And that was with lots of help.
While it didn’t always take that long, we were glad not to have to hurry. Having plenty of time meant we could focus on care and cleanliness—always good things.
Opening up that long a space on the calendar also gave us time to assist and instruct the children and volunteers who helped and who had even less skills than we did! The fun of a harvest event with so many friends kept everyone’s attitude positive, even when we felt overwhelmed.
Nowadays, though, we can have two pigs cut and wrapped in a few hours. (And our children’s skills are greater than our own.) I guess you could call that a success!
To help everyone enjoy the process of learning and harvesting, and so that the final outcome—farm-raised food—is the best it can be, you’ll want to plan ahead. That way you can be pretty sure your butchering day (or days) will be as successful as your pig-raising has been.
So here are some tips for a good butchering experience.
No Fancy Tools Necessary
Even large-animal butchering (like cattle, pigs, sheep and deer) can be done with tools as simple as some really sharp knives and a meat saw (like a hack saw, but for bone). And if you own a good reciprocating saw, it can speed up the job of splitting the carcass!
But if you think you’ll be doing significant pig butchering in the future, some more specialized tools may be in order.
Remember that any power tools you choose to buy should be built so you can easily disassemble and clean them. You don’t want bits of meat and bone dust clinging to inaccessible parts of your machine.
And be sure to buy quality—but don’t assume you need commercial-grade equipment. A small meat grinder, if it is well-built, can be perfectly adequate. The chunks you feed it will just have to be a little smaller.
While it’s nice to have access to a walk-in refrigerator or chilling room, it’s not necessary. Folks who live in areas with seasonally cool weather can wait until winter to do their butchering. In fact, it’s traditional.
For those of us who raise our animals’ feed, winter pig butchering usually coincides with a shortage of spare calories anyway.And who will miss hauling water to the barn in freezing weather?
A Weighty Matter
Hoisting an animal that weighs hundreds of pounds may pose a challenge, too. Make sure, if you try it, that the structure you intend to hang it from is actually strong enough for the job!
Folks with a tractor that features a bucket loader may do their lifting with this mechanical aid. But in any case, hanging the carcass is not indispensable. A butchering ‘cradle’ is easy to build and store, and allows you to do your gutting and skinning in a horizontal position.
Even very large animals can be managed in this way.
Other items you’ll certainly want on hand include:
- sharpening stone or steel for regularly honing the edges of your knives as you work
- a ready source of hot water
- lots of clean food-grade buckets and clean-up rags
- butcher’s paper, freezer tape and indelible markers
- a clean table for wrapping and labeling
- aprons for all your helpers
You’ll find many good websites and videos for the beginning butcher, and these can be a great assist during an uncertain moment! You might want to locate one that you feel comfortable with and have it queued up on your phone or computer. Similarly, a break-down chart like the ones in a good cookbook can offer guidance for getting basic cuts right.
And do have a good first aid kit well-stocked with adhesive bandages. While you may not need it, better safe than sorry!
Better Than the Best
Home pig butchering is a natural next step for those who are raising their own meat, keeping costs down and stray nutrients on the farm.
So what if some of your cuts look, well … original? There’s no butchering error a grinder can’t hide! So keep your thinking positive and remember that, no matter what shape the pieces end up being, this is your own fabulous, home-raised meat. It is going to be delicious.
Adding home butchering to your skills just means your food sources are getting more secure every day. Enjoy!