Sunday, January 30, 2011

a winter pork harvest

This morning I had to go check the freezer to make sure the meat was still there. I wasn't entirely sure if this was a dream or not. I wanted to see proof that yesterday's work party had actually happened and it wasn't some crystal-mushroom induced frenzy triggered by a movie marathon of Babe, Witness, and Mystic Pizza (I'll explain later). But when I cracked open the chest it was all there and accounted for. Over a hundred and twenty pounds of roasts, ribs, hams, pork belly, sausage fixings, loins and chops. I realized I had never been in possession of this much meat before in my entire life. I was lousy with pork. I got a little dizzy and shut the lid.

Yesterday was quite the day. Eleven people, six dogs, and one swine made up the work crew that descended on Cold Antler. The mission: to turn a living Yorkshire Pig into food. The pork patrol was mostly limited to myself, my good friend Steve Hemkens, and Vicki Frost the traveling butcher. But other friends of the farm stopped by during the day to help with various aspects of a winter animal harvest, and their effort was greatly appreciated. Two families, the Daughtons and the McEnenys, arrived with their young children and did everything from help pick out a butchering location to climb on the roof to push off snow. It takes a village, darling. This post is the story of one farm's winter pork harvest. The entire day. Welcome to the table.

The rest of this post will explain the work, the emotion, and the images of a day making meat out of a living animal. Be aware that the content is graphic. Out of respect for the animal, there is no images of her slaughter, but much of the work of butchering. If this makes you uncomfortable, please govern yourself accordingly.

Yesterday morning I woke up to snow. Outside thick flakes were coming down, snow-globe style all over the farm. It was beautiful. I stoked the wood stove, put a pot of coffee on, and pulled a wool sweater over my braids and headed outside to see to morning chores. I thought about the Tschorns hosting dog sled rides today in Bennington, and my friend Tim's photography show I still had not seen. There was so much I could be doing with my winter Saturday. But today I wasn't going to be riding in a dogsled or looking at pictures on a cafe wall. I went into the barn to have some words with Pig.

It was warmer than I was used to. The day was already in the high twenties, and the comfortable atmosphere paired with the gentle snow seemed to soften the work ahead. Pig was just inside the old red door, standing up, looking at me curiously. She let out a few gentle snorts and I realized how quiet she had been this whole time. She never really made any noise unless something in her evening meal made her snort with glee. Despite eating a hen that flew into her pen, she was never vulgar. She didn't smell bad. She wasn't violent, or jumpy, and never complained—though her world was never one to cause much complaint. She had lived a peaceful and comfortable life in this barn. Her nests of hay, pan of grain, and red water bucket served her well. Compared to most of the pork in this world, she was living the life of royalty. Her little curled tail wagged as I scratched her ears.

I looked down at her eyes and told her Thank You.
I had never meant those words more than at that very moment.
I walked out of the barn.
The next time I would go in would be with the butcher.

Inside the house I was preparing for the day. I baked an apple pie that morning, and put on more strong coffee for the crew. Steve arrived first with his bird dog, Cayenne. All four dogs played while we enjoyed a breakfast of pie and coffee, and caught up with each other. Soon the other families and the butcher arrived, and before long everyone was helping set up the work station and gathering supplies. I liked Vicki instantly. She carried herself with the authority of an expert in her field. She has been raising and harvesting hogs since she was nine-years-old. I was grateful she traveled all the way down here (over two hours) to serve the farm.

Even the children got in on the action. Ian Daughton (10) scoped out trees around the farm to use as our butchering hoist (I was silently hoping we could spare the neighbors the site of a bloody hog operation in the front yard) and his brother Seth (6) helped fetch cameras and bleach. Later during the day, little Eli McEneny (2) walked around the job site as uninterested in the carnage as he would be dry leaves in the fall. These were the children of sporting families. Kids that grew up learning where their food came from and helping with the process—they hunted, made sausage, had cows in the backyard. I however, grew up in gentrified Suburbia, and I couldn't imagine helping one of my parents' friends locate a slaughtering tree in second grade. They amazed me with their gumption.

As it turned out the only proper place to work was the giant Maple right on the front lawn. It was strong enough to hoist the animal, close to power sources for the electric saws, and had a flat area to set up the water and bleach stations, knives, and wrapping workshop. People who would drive by would see a carcass hanging from a limb. They'd see blood and guts and all sorts of things you don't plan on seeing when you drive into town to pick up a movie and Chinese food. "Oh well," said Steve with an air of stoic amusement, "This is the country. This is a farm. They'll just have to deal with it." I agreed. Goodbye Suburbia.

When the abattoir, butchering table, and supplies were all lined up and ready it was time to slaughter. Vicki had a 30-30 deer rifle, and explained that she would wait as long as it took to get her perfect shot on a calm animal. She had stood in pig pens for two hours before. She had no interest in a frenzy or chasing a wounded animal through the snow. I trusted her, and only the two of us went into the barn.

I stood just outside the pig pen while the butcher climbed in with the now loaded rifle. I had been asked to stand behind her and act as calm as possible. Pig seemed confused by the sudden roommate, but not in the throes of any existential crisis. Vicki spoke to her in a calm voice, explaining to her perfectly what was going to happen. "Your farmer has been taking care of you and feeding you for a long time, and now it's your turn to feed her." she said as she scratched the little girl's head. I was a little shocked at how okay I felt about all this so far. I was told it would rattle me. I was steady at the helm. 100% present and aware. And I felt lucky to have someone as experienced as Mrs. Frost on the job. The woman has been raising and butchering hogs for forty years and her mind was entirely focused. Her expertise and steady hand were all the affirmation I needed. This woman butchered over 500 swine a year, on farms all over New England. Both me and Pig were in good hands today.

If Pig did know what was coming, it wasn't jarring enough to stop her from eating the pan of sugar-soaked apples and grain that would be her last meal. I watched the scene with curiosity, but not remorse. Guilt and sadness wasn't on my mind at all, (but then again, she hadn't pulled the trigger yet). I had no idea how I would feel about the slaughter of my first hog. I was less than four feet away from the event. Slowly and gently, Vicki aimed her muzzle right behind the porcine ear and the shot rang out. Pig dropped instantly to the ground. Just like that, it was over. I did not cry.

Within a moment of the drop Vicki sit her neck and the pig bled out right where she had slept the night before. I watched her final moments of twitching and said a prayer quietly to myself. I was assured that she was already gone. The bullet had gone directly through her brain and that instant drop to the ground was the certainty we needed. Within moments Vicki's husband and Steve had walked in the barn door. They slid hooks through her back hock tendons and dragged her out to the giant maple. The work of making food would begin.

Vicki set to skinning first. She cut off the skin around the pig's feet and head, and gently pulled off the hide with the expert of a surgeon. It was many, shallow cuts, and took half an hour. Feet were removed, so was the head. What remained hanging was no longer anything like a pig at all. It looked like the hanging meat you've seen in movies and television your whole life. But you know, in your front yard.

While we worked with Pig, the Daughtons headed out to help a friend move and Scott McEneny became a homeowner's super hero and climbed on the roof of the house to push off snow. I had been so worried about the barns and animals I didn't realize my own attic roof was swelling. I told him I could rake it down, but he insisted that he had to do something, and was stunned at his kindness. His wife and their little boy talked to the sheep, and their two hunting spaniels in their Volvo sang back-up. I kept thanking them like an idiot. Not many of my friends in my previous life would come help gut a pig and shovel my roof. I decided right then and there, he was getting meat on Monday once we wrapped it all up. All who helped that day would leave with some. It was the least I could do.

We breaked around 2PM for pizza. I wasn't sure what Emily Post had written about the etiquette of hosting traveling hog butchers, but I decided in that mine would be well fed and have all the coffee or tea she could drink. We came inside and washed up before enjoying a thick-crusted pizza loaded with cheese. It tasted amazing. I had been fasting all morning, and we had been working non-stop. We talked for over and hour in there. About farming, our dogs, relationships, sustainability. Vicki seemed comfortable at Cold Antler, and I was pleased at that.

The next round of work was gutting and splitting the carcass. Vicki estimated the weight of Pig to be around 180 pounds. A third of that would become waste, and the rest would become food. The "waste" was mostly entrails and things like the head, fat, and feet. On future animals I might render my own lard and make scrapple: but this was not my intention with this first pig. I would take the hams and bacon to be smoked, but that was the extent of my adventures beyond basic pork. So entrails went to compost and the head went far into the woods for the birds. The skin was laid out for the chickens to pick the fat off and enjoy. The soil, the crows, the poultry, and several people would be fed by this one animal. How humbling.

Vicki explained the anatomy to me, and said that the inside of Pig was as healthy looking as the outside. The only thing we needed to be mindful was that she did eat raw meat (the errant hen) and that meant the meat would have to be frozen for twenty days or cooked to 160 degrees, well done, in case of any possible trichinosis. The chances were rare, being so few meals she acquired that way, but no reason to play it safe. I was so upset. Did I mess this up? Was the pork dangerous? Vicki assured me it was fine, that she would eat it and feed it to her grandchildren, just not rare.

We set the sides on the table and went to work. We cut up the liver, heart, some fat, and all the scrap cuts into a giant bowl for sausage making. We wrapped up the roasts, loins, ribs, and chops in cling wrap and freezer paper and stacked them on the table. Mounds of wrapped meat piled up, cuts I could never imagine seeing in a grocery store. Jowl steaks, Blade roasts, and stir-fry cuts would be in the freezer along with the hams, belly, and chops. The whole time we worked Vicki explained how to cook things, how to prepare them, and stories of past hogs and farm adventures. It might sound like a bloody mess, and it was, but it was also a happy practice. A bunch of kind people getting together, working side-by-side to achieve this goal.

Time went fast as Steve showed me how to wrap and mark the packages. As it got colder out we worked even faster to get everything in the freezer. I looked over at Vicki, in just a light sweater, snow pants, and a garbage bag apron and how cold she was among the knives and flesh and decided she was getting a tip. How could a four-hour round trip to dress one hog be profitable for her? I offered her pork as well (stupidly, she had plenty) but decided this was the best way to show my appreciation, and entice her back for the next pig. When you find help this good, at so good a price ($200 was her fee for the travel, slaughter, butchering, wrapping and bringing all her own supplies. Not to mention, over five hours of work...) you hope they'll like you enough to return.

A one point worked stopped to take in a scene. We all were stunned to see a group of robins in the well, just down the hill. I saw them splash at the stream and saw hints of green grass the water had washed the ice clean from. I felt as uplifted, better than I had in days. I took it as a sign that the worst of this winter was over. That spring, and lambs, and good things were going to come my way. Robins on slaughter day: a new folk saying was born.

Eventually, everything was wrapped up and cleaned. Knives were put away, the meat in the freezer, the station torn down, and all that was left was our footprints and the red pile of blood under the maple tree. Steve left with a hug, told me he was proud. I was proud too. That was the overriding feeling of the day. I had no regret or guilt for taking the life, and realized this would carry over to the lambs in the fall as well. This was my work, creating healthy meat, the food of the ages. I was proud that I completed this project, the first I executed alone. I needed help of course to do all the work, but the planning, the pen building, the finding cheap feed, the labor, the raising, the setting up the butcher date and the day's work...I did it. I felt like carpenter that finished her first house. This was a life to live in.

My life has changed from one that coveted material things and experiences to one that savors hand-made comfort. I used to want everything I saw at Crate and Barrel and dreamed of weekends in London. Now I am planning how to install a bread-baking wood stove and filling a chest freezer with yard pork. I still enjoy the Crate and Barrel catalog, I still imagine weekends in London, but they aren't what they were. They are distractions now from a better world. Amusements. When I realized the only reason people were shopping or vacationing was because someone else was making their food: it lost much of it's appeal. You can be the most strident anarchist and own your own indie gallery but you're as dependent as a suckling child if you can't fill your own fridge from time to time. I'll trade in my plane tickets for a weekend like this any day.



This morning when I was outside fetching water from the well for the sheep, I walked past the giant tree that was yesterday's scene. The new snow had all but covered the blood.

A farm exhales.

89 Comments:

Blogger Stephanie said...

Respectfully and beautifully done - both the harvesting and the writing. Brava Jenna!

January 30, 2011 at 10:49 AM  
Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

Fantastic post Jenna,I felt I was there with you all!
I say thankyou to my lambs before they get shot,its all part of it.
I bet that meat tastes divine. I get pork from the farm across the lane,hes a young lad and has set up a so far superb enterprise,the pigs run around woodland and taste fantastic.
Spring is nearly here :o)
GTM x x

January 30, 2011 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger E said...

Why not save entrails (lungs, heart etc) & feet for dog food?

January 30, 2011 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger kayxyz said...

A heartfelt thank you, Jenna, for sharing. As I waver, teeter, and totter between clinging to a corporate paycheck versus sustainability dream, thank you for the simple steps. photos, and hope.

January 30, 2011 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger chesapeake said...

Wow.

Just...wow.

You may have awoken something in me. Good writing makes you both think and feel. You've done both here.

Thank you.

January 30, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thank you, all.

E - In a winter like this, with a 40+ hour day job, and a farm to care for alone - cooking pig entrails was a job I didn't want to take on. And Vicki said i could only feed a little at a time or they would get explosive diahrea. So I would have to have a stash of guts in my fridge for weeks. I'm just not there yet.

If I worked from home, I'd be up for it, but I decided to turn it into soil instead. The dogs can have kibble.

January 30, 2011 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Bee said...

Well done, indeed, Jenna, well done indeed.
My hat's off to your lady butcher...she did a fine job and to your firneds as well...true friends are certainly worth their weight in gold!
Enjoy them all!

January 30, 2011 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger Rhonda Hoffman said...

It sounds like pig AND you were in the best of hands...now to see if Splendid Table and you are on;) I'm proud of you.

January 30, 2011 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Great post; I'm impressed. I have to say, I teared up a bit when I read about you saying "thank you" to Pig. Perhaps a sign I shouldn't raise my own meat? :) But I am a bit jealous you got to thank your meat while it could still hear you.

January 30, 2011 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Oxray Farm said...

Stephanie said it all...

Respectfully and beautifully done.

January 30, 2011 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Nancy McKinnon said...

I shed a single tear for Pig, but I would still definitely eat her. I'm looking forward to buying a half hog from a buddy of a buddy this spring. Congratulations!

January 30, 2011 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

You will definetely enjoy that meat. All the more because you raised it. I also had tears in my eyes as I read your goodbye and thank yous. But that's why you did it all. And now I am wondering if my 2 pigs have gotten a few of my chickens that have dissapeared the last few weeks. I didn't know that about the raw meat. Good to know. But great post. I felt like I was there. I wish I had been. But sounds like you had great help. Are friend's the best?

January 30, 2011 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Great post. Thank you.

January 30, 2011 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

This was a wonderful journal Jenna and the experience will help you as you plan for the next one. Thank you for allowing us to follow along.
Odie

January 30, 2011 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I hope that my comments may deflect any which may come from other vegetarians who may not be able to see the respect with which you raised and, I will say it, killed and butchered Pig. I do not eat meat for many reasons but I have always advocated for the responsible and compassionate raising of animals by people who do. It's easy for vegetarians or vegans to demonize what you did on your farm yesterday but, once you get past the reality that some people do eat animals I think anyone who is honest has to feel that yours was the honorable way to do so. There are worse things in life than death. To die surrounded by respect and gratitude with the last words you hear being "Thank you" is more than most of us humans can hope for. I make different choices than you do, Jenna, but very much respect the way you are carrying out your life on the farm. Thanks for continuing to enlighten and challenge your readers.

January 30, 2011 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger TaosJohn said...

The pig is one of the few animals obviously designed by the Creator to be EATEN, in and of itself a solid argument against vegetarianism.

Good for you, good luck, and good eating!

January 30, 2011 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

You had best be checking your freezer on a regular basis, should it lose power, the cord come unplugged, you will not believe the stinking bloody mess of meat you will own.

Some sort of alarm, a loud insistent alarm, would be good.

Back up power would be good, maybe a small generator.

January 30, 2011 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

We have a powerful generator here purely to run the freezers in power cuts for that reason.One is entirely meat and thats too priceless to have ruined.The other homegrown veg and thats priceless too!
Its good to be in the habit of checking freezers daily to see they are still running ok when you hold bulk food :o)
GTM x

January 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM  
Blogger DarcC said...

Tremendous accomplishment Jennna, savor it in every way! Your respect for Pig and the process shines through the entire narrative.

January 30, 2011 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger 6512 and growing said...

Congratulations. Enjoy that meat, Jenna.

January 30, 2011 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Reason's Whore said...

It all sounds grand. Me, I doubt I could eat Pig. I had one of my lambs butchered this year when I couldn't sell him fast enough. I didn't know how important wethering male lambs was, and when fall breeding season came around, he had to go. I didn't have any remorse when I saw him killed, just relief. Anyway, the meat was beautiful and when a friend who likes lamb was here, I ate some, but frankly it was a disturbing experience to eat another sentient being that I had known personally. For Solstice, I cooked the legs but couldn't eat it myself. I do eat meat, so I guess I'm a hypocrite, but I find it too personal to do it again. Perhaps if I had a flock of identical animals that I didn't think of as individuals... Certainly if I were starving. Otherwise, I'd just as soon stick to milk, cheese and eggs, or pay someone else to do it.

$200 seems awfully high, though granted you got a lesson - many lessons - along with the butchering, and that's worth many times what you paid. I think my butcher charges $60 or so to come to the farm and do the kill plus $.30 a pound for the butchering and wrapping.

January 30, 2011 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Would anyone here be willing to share a contact for a reputable travelling butcher in the Hudson Valley or Catskill region that works with goats?

January 30, 2011 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Zoe Tilley Poster said...

Very nice detailing of the day, Jenna. And what a good feeling that freezerful must be. My partner helped to slaughter and process a pig into sausage a couple weeks ago - an annual tradition amongst friends at a nearby farm. We've got a nice batch of chorizo, breakfast and Italian sausage for the winter, along with salami still curing (details at my blog if you're interested).

I've really enjoyed following along with Pig since she arrived at your farm. Well done - both in providing for Pig and providing for yourself.

January 30, 2011 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Well written and moving. Thank you.

The harvesting of animals you raise is a time of thanks and respect for them being there to nourish you in the future. I find I am so careful with that gift and not wasteful of any of the meat I have raised.

Congratulations, on another lesson shared with all of us.

January 30, 2011 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger leafonatree said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story. Your blog is an education for me, and I admire the love and respect that you radiate for everything you tend to at Cold Antler. Well done.

January 30, 2011 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Marlies said...

I am glad that you told Pig thank you. The Native people do it every time they kill an animal for food as a way of honoring their life and the sacrifice to us. The blog and the details were respectfully done- I almost felt like I was there watching the whole thing happen. Thank you for the expierence. Don't forget to say your blessing for a good meal when you sit down to eat.

January 30, 2011 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger GirlSavorsLife said...

Nicely done. You had the vision and you saw it to fruition. Enjoy!

January 30, 2011 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

This post helps, I think, for those of us who aren't sure about eating their own animals. I don't even own any yet, but they're in the plans. Yours is the best way possible to eat meat, which our bodies are meant to do: respectfully and gratefully. I will try to remember everything you wrote here when some day I plan to take an animal's life for my own sustenance. Thanks Jenna.

January 30, 2011 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Great post Jenna! I am jealous I want a wonderful traveling butcher like Mrs. Frost to come and visit us. The experience of her showing your the cuts and anatomy is just awesome!

January 30, 2011 at 5:07 PM  
Blogger Joleen said...

Beautifully done Jenna. It couldn't have been easy.
I enjoyed hearing you on The Splendid Table today)

January 30, 2011 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Mimi's Tapawingo said...

Welcome to the greatest show on Mother Earth!

January 30, 2011 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger farmgirljen said...

Congratulations on a job well done. I am so glad you thanked Pig. It just seemed so right that you did that. I have butchered chickens, but don't think I could a pig. I am glad you shared this with us. I think it really helps others to understand where our food comes from and that it can be done in a dignified, respectful way. Again, congratulations!

January 30, 2011 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

Jenna, A beautiful post. I was touch by your descriptions, I loved that you thanked her also. Two lines from your post were so beautiful and poignant "this was a life to live in" and "The new snow had all but covered the blood" How beautiful to see that the place of sacrifice becomes a place of beauty again, just as Pig will give you strength in the months ahead! Thanks for letting us see inside the workings of Cold Antler yesterday :)

January 30, 2011 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger miss lady*cakes said...

so inspiring.
truly beautiful.

thank you.

January 30, 2011 at 7:00 PM  
Blogger Jason...etc said...

I was right with you until this comment, "You can be the most strident anarchist and own your own indie gallery but you're as dependent as a suckling child if you can't fill your own fridge from time to time." I'm not sure if that plug was quite necessary. We're all dependent. This dependency actually makes the interplay and exchange of free people's in a society a marvelous and natural thing. I also would be careful not to equate anarchy with a self-perceived sense of independence. Your critique is probably better merited towards the uber-mensch Howard Roark crowd of “I” people. Instead, look up Food Not Bombs and maybe send some of your meat to those indie anarchists out there working to help make sure anyone, everywhere can eat….I guess they probably won’t want the meat though, maybe just the cheese pizzas :)

January 30, 2011 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Jenna,

One word: Congratulation!!

Three more words: You've made it!!

Well done - and BEAUTIFULLY written!

January 30, 2011 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Isabelle said...

Beautifully grounding. Thank you for writing of your experience. It is inspiring to read of your journey on the farm...Makes me think of my grandmother, and she would be happy.

January 30, 2011 at 7:50 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

thanks for sharing this, it was awesome to see.enjoy Pig,

January 30, 2011 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Ellen Rathbone said...

Excellent post. Thank you for sharing.

January 30, 2011 at 8:42 PM  
Blogger Mare said...

Jenna i am the biggest softie in the world, and i have to say i am very proud of you and amazed at how strong and respectful you were to pig. i bet that meat tastes fantastic, just because of the love you raised it with and showed it right up till the end.

January 30, 2011 at 8:43 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Beautifully written.

January 30, 2011 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Hayley said...

Congratulations.

January 31, 2011 at 12:10 AM  
Blogger Reese said...

Not passing any judgement but I just couldn't do it. I'm a meat eater but also a city girl. Just can't eat something I have met.

January 31, 2011 at 1:33 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

that's the difference, I guess - I can't eat anything I haven't met.
I cannot bring myself to eat something unless I know beyond all dout that its life was full, happy and out of doors.
Takes all sorts :)

January 31, 2011 at 2:56 AM  
Blogger Damn The Broccoli said...

You wasted the head? Not without at least removing the cheeks I hope, there is a couple of pounds of very tender meat there! By no means waste. In the UK there are some expensive restaurants serving them as delicacies at the moment.

Also pig head stew is a fantastic feed and a full head will probably comfortably feed 8 people.

January 31, 2011 at 3:41 AM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

That is a fantastic story. It sounds like it all went really well. We had a pig raised by our local farm for us and were unable to help with the butchering as we'd planned due to work. We visited the pig lots and said our thanks to it.

She is some of the best meat I have ever had and to avoid waste as much as possible I've learnt some interesting things about cooking. I reccomend Pigs head stew for your next one. The only thing I removed was the brain, that just wigged me out some.

January 31, 2011 at 4:54 AM  
Blogger Odd Ducks Farm said...

It's a beautiful thing, seeing a life lived fully and to one's purpose. Pig had no occasion to complain and lived a charmed life. Now she gets to feed you and yours, like you fed and cared for her. Nothing more wonderful than that.

I only wish more pigs could live the life of Pig. I think we would all be better for it.

Way to go, Jenna. SO PROUD of you!

January 31, 2011 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

sounds like pig #1 was a great experience for you and seemingly painless for her. with the winter weather you must also be glad to have one less animal to tend to.

for those of you looking for traveling butchers, ask your friends and/or family that hunt to help you out. if they kill/butcher their own deer/wild hogs etc. they might be willing to assist with your livestock for some extra cash...i know several of my buddies would jump at the opportunity. they might even be willing to bring a grinder or smoker for an extra fee if they have the equipment.

think locally!

January 31, 2011 at 9:44 AM  
Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

Wow. Beautiful. Amazing. Learning. Gracious. Respectful. Wonderful. Thank you.

January 31, 2011 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger greendria said...

Amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

January 31, 2011 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger hlbrack said...

This was wonderful! Thanks for the beautiful play-by-play of the day. And enjoy all of that pork! Pig would've wanted it that way :) Great work, Jenna.

January 31, 2011 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

This gives me hope that I can follow in your footsteps. Just curious, how much did Pig eventually cost?

January 31, 2011 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

total cost of pen, pig, feed, and slaughter was 347 for 120 pounds of meat.

January 31, 2011 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Rae said...

"Lousy with pork." I love it. Wonder how many times those words have been used together. :)

Beautifully written. It is obvious that you will appreciate that meat for more than just its food value.

January 31, 2011 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

Fantastic post! Thank you for sharing such an intimate experience with the rest of us - I'm so glad it went so well. I look forward to the day that I can do the same with my own pig.

@Dawn, I know your comment was for Jenna, but as someone else who raises and butchers my own meat, please know that your remarks were deeply comforting to me as well. Thank you. :)

January 31, 2011 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Sherry Sutherby http://russ-stickacres.blogspot.com/ said...

As Farmer Hoggett would say..."That'll do, Pig. That'll do."

January 31, 2011 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Well done. Very nicely carried out and beautifully written.

January 31, 2011 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger Sue Steeves said...

Well done girl! Pround of ya :)

January 31, 2011 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger google@westvon.com said...

Well at less than $3 a pound for farm raised, humane pork, that's a good deal. And next year you won't have to buy the pen and perhaps even you and your friends will consider your own butchering/slaughter and then you will really be saving some coin and doing it yourself in a gentler manner than the hog factories and the feedlots. Say what some naysayers say about doing it your own and all, I would rather see more people do this at home, and take good, gentle, humane care of their animals then to have to go through the factory farm experience for all animals.

Pig had a nice safe and comfy life, and she got cakes and sugared apples and didn't have to be stressed and shipped and butchered in some huge facility. She was snug as a bug and had a nice stress free life. I doubt that a single bite of that little piggy will go to waste, without a nod to her contribution. Even the "waste" parts will feed some of the forest critters and ultimately the rich soil to grow more crops and feed for other pigs.

I know that ever since we started to buy local grass fed beef and humanely raised local chicken and pork, we don't eat as much and we don't waste it, and it tastes great and feels good to support local farmers... if everyone would slowly start to wean off the factory farms... they would start to go away. Of course, it will take years, but hey, change has to start somewhere.

Good Job, Jenna! We're proud of ya!

Sherri

January 31, 2011 at 5:33 PM  
Blogger Lara Katherine Mountain Colley said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us! If only everyone could get back to establishing this sort of connection with their food, I think the world would be a much better place. About all that fat from Pig, I know you've got a full plate right now between work and the farm, but for the next time around, rendering your own lard is so easy! I just melt down the fat in a pot all day on very low heat while I'm doing farm chores outside, and then skim off the cracklings and freeze. It's the cheapest, most local cooking and baking oil you'll ever find.

January 31, 2011 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Lara Katherine Mountain Colley said...

I meant to say keep a jar fresh in the fridge and freeze the extra. It will keep that way a good while.

January 31, 2011 at 6:02 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

Have you read "Cleaved" by Julie Powell? (Same authour as Julie & Julia)

After Julie/Julia was optioned and her life exploded, she went to work as an apprentice at Fleshers (sp?)

Maybe this is a silly question because it's all so close to where you live, for all I know you've met Julie already at a writers convention.

Anyway, I mention her because her second book had a lot of interesting description of the butchering process, and she attended a live hog butchering as well, though she describes a different process that included de-hairing.

She's a foodie, and describes beef heart with mouth-watering adjectives. The book includes recipes on what to do with parts of the animal we of the supermarket-raised generation seldom see or think about as food - hearts, liver, feet, heads.

If you can skip over the obnoxious parts (you'll know 'em when you see them) there is really a lot of good information to be gleaned from that book.

Actually, I think a lot of CAF readers would enjoy the book for that reason. Just skip over all the bad drama. I've re-read the book several times, going back to the butchering info and the recipes.

It's the only non-cookbook book that I've used as a cookbook other than yours. The recipes are good.

January 31, 2011 at 7:23 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

Have you read "Cleaved" by Julie Powell? (Same authour as Julie & Julia)

After Julie/Julia was optioned and her life exploded, she went to work as an apprentice at Fleshers (sp?)

Maybe this is a silly question because it's all so close to where you live, for all I know you've met Julie already at a writers convention.

Anyway, I mention her because her second book had a lot of interesting description of the butchering process, and she attended a live hog butchering as well, though she describes a different process that included de-hairing.

She's a foodie, and describes beef heart with mouth-watering adjectives. The book includes recipes on what to do with parts of the animal we of the supermarket-raised generation seldom see or think about as food - hearts, liver, feet, heads.

If you can skip over the obnoxious parts (you'll know 'em when you see them) there is really a lot of good information to be gleaned from that book.

Actually, I think a lot of CAF readers would enjoy the book for that reason. Just skip over all the bad drama. I've re-read the book several times, going back to the butchering info and the recipes.

It's the only non-cookbook book that I've used as a cookbook other than yours. The recipes are good.

January 31, 2011 at 7:23 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

Sorry for the double-post, I don't know why that keeps happening. Correction, the book is called "Cleaving" not "Cleaved"

January 31, 2011 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger Feminist Farmer's Wife said...

This is an outstanding piece of writing. My husband leaned over to see what the look on my face was about as I was reading. We raised 4 pigs on our farm a couple of years back and I can't bring myself to do it again because I couldn't bring myself to witness the death and do the cutting - I'm afraid I couldn't even eat the meat. Tomorrow I am headed to help with a calf that we raised - somehow this is easier. Chickens were also no problem. Something about the pigs...
What you say about the value of what you are doing - I wholeheartedly agree! Keep up the important work and thank you for the inspiration. I hope one day I can get there too.
Julie

January 31, 2011 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

Great post Jenna! I'm so glad it went the way it did. I am looking for my slaughter-teacher here in TN. Will be my turn next year.

Enjoy your meat, and keep checking on that freezer!

January 31, 2011 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Back in the day, we always scalded a hog in a wash pot full of boiling water, then scraped the hair off with a piece of broken glass.

Saved the blood and made blood pudding.

The head made "head cheese" or "souse" meat.

Never put pork in a deep freeze though.

January 31, 2011 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger kara d said...

Wonderful, beautiful, and moving. I have yet to raise my own meat, but reading Cold Antler Farm makes me believe it is possible.
Thanks for the hope.

January 31, 2011 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

Obscene, obscene, obscene. I don't know what is worse--your utter inability to comprehend difficult agricultural and ethical ideas or the throng of blind yapping that supports your destructive and selfish choice. Your cycle of life bullshit is so offensive--when do you take your own turn under the butcher's knife? Yeah, I didn't think so. Rot in hell, you nasty, worthless human being.

January 31, 2011 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Jenna, I absolutely enjoyed reading your post. Absolutely beautiful.

Louise, your comments are just plain mean. One of the things I hate about the internet is that people forget that they are speaking to a REAL person. We don't have to all agree, but we should all strive to be respectful. Shame on you.

February 1, 2011 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

it seems that this pig was slaughtered in a ceremonious event.

a question i have (and feel free to not address it if you'd prefer not to)
what about the hen she was able to kill? it seems that the death of that animal was a sidenote in the story of how important it is to respect the animals on the farm that are raised to die.

i recall reading various comments not to allow chickens access to the pig because pigs can and will kill and eat chickens. it appears this is what happened.

this is NOT being asked in a judgemental tone, but simply curious as to why the life and death of one species appears to be more important than the life and death of others?

you could have prevented the chickens access to the pig, closer guaged fence and covering the top of her pen would have done the trick.

...or the hole in your barn you allowed to remain open which is how several other chickens have died? their deaths were preventable and unless the meat was used they lived to die in vain.

as i reader i don't understand your point of view or mindset towards life and death on your property.

February 1, 2011 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

My animals are not all equal, not by a long shot. My dogs are the most important to me. Their well being comes before all other animals on the farm. The sheep are second. Pig was third. Poultry and rabbits are in fourth place.

February 1, 2011 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Toni aka irishlas said...

Nothing left to say except, well done.

February 1, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

i think you misunderstood the question.

if you are raising and slaughtering your own animals because you want to ensure they have a relatively good life and quick painless death, why have species that are not thanked for their death? are not protected from predators, the elements, or other farm animals? are not provided a humane end (freezing to death and being killed by a pig), and whose meat perhaps was not even eaten?

i find it odd you thank one species before you kill it while others die preventable deaths, unthanked and uneaten. it seems like a very callous approach.

I suppose maybe i assumed the "all creatures great and small" mindset was shared with most in the homesteading community.

February 1, 2011 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I do my best, Meredith.

I'm not there to thank them before they die (if I was, I would be preventing them from dying instead of thanking them) and I'm not going to eat a mangled, frozen, half-crow pecked animal just because it died on my watch.

Shit happens. Make it into compost and move on.

February 1, 2011 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Pat Woginrich said...

It's not the life I wanted or you

February 1, 2011 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Pat Woginrich said...

It's not he life I wanted for you.
correction

February 1, 2011 at 12:05 PM  
Blogger Ohiofarmgirl said...

Great job, Jenna! I have some yard pork simmering on the wood stove right now - in a lovely stew. We ended with 79 pounds of ham after we dressed our pigs... we'll be working our way thru and I can't wait. Hope the dogs got some good bones too - I made stock just for our pups.

Nothing but good eating here from our pigs. You'll find your cost per pound will go down, especially if you raise pigs on pasture in the summer when you can really feed 'em from the garden and such.

Keep up the good work!

February 1, 2011 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

Carolyn, you're right that we don't all have to agree, but I see no reason to respect a choice that is, from my view, ungrounded, selfish, and thoroughly unethical. In fact, the real danger with the internet is the opportunity to disseminate such unadulterated and irresponsible mindlessness, which only fuels the irresponsibility of others by making them comfortable in their own similar choices.

February 1, 2011 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

"Shit happens. Make it into compost and move on."

this attitude towards a life, no less or more important than another is seriously disheartening.

i follow your blog as a "what not to do" while taking in all the readers comments, wisdom, and insight you appear to overlook.

keep up the good work Jenna, thank pigs and compost chickens.

February 1, 2011 at 3:53 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

Wow, Louise. You're vegan. Do you really want to be reading the pig slaughter post?

Is everyone who eats meat a nasty, worthless human being, or just Jenna.

How on earth was this post irresponsible and selfish? Is it just the fact that she's eating meat that bothers you?

Jenna did warn on the topic of the post and to govern yourself accordingly.

I hope you consider that this sort of judgmental, superior behaviour gives all vegans a bad rap.

February 1, 2011 at 6:05 PM  
OpenID thatsthelife said...

@Dawn, well said. I hope Louise takes a page from your book.

February 1, 2011 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger jen said...

I loved this post. Just found your blog and I'm so glad I did.

February 1, 2011 at 7:45 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

We harvested our first pigs this past November. While we didn't have them butchered on site, I felt many of the things you wrote of when we saw them off to the processing place. So I felt I shared a great deal with you, with this post of yours. Congrats on a huge milestone. We'll make farmers out of our suburban gal selves in no time!

My one comment would be that it was a shame the pig head and guts didn't go to Gibson. Not trying to promote the prey-model raw diet here, but in your list of creatures that benefitted from Pig, that would have added one more. ;-)

February 2, 2011 at 2:13 AM  
Blogger George Luker said...

Amazing blog Jenna, I love the way you write about your experiences and process.
Livestock-ID, Animal Identification Resources.

February 3, 2011 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Knit Picky Knitter said...

sorry, couldn't look at the pictures or read your post about butchering pig. I think anything that wags its tail at you in greeting while you scratch between its ears is a pet not a feast.

February 4, 2011 at 3:07 PM  
Blogger Knit Picky Knitter said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 4, 2011 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger George Luker said...

Jenna, Again my hat is off to you... wonderful blog. I see you have people that like to write negative comments as well... These people make me laugh, If you don't like the content, just don't read it. There is no need to post a negative response, also this is a blog with farming content, what else would you expect>??? Anyways just me rambling...

February 4, 2011 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger Jacquelyn said...

Sorry, Jenna, I have to leave your blog. I was hopeful you would change your mind about eating Pig after caring for her so tenderly and giving her loving head scritches. I was sad to hear that a pork sandwich was more important than her life.

By the way, Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell) became a vegan after working with the pigs in Babe (he had been vegetarian for many years).

Good luck to you in the future.

February 5, 2011 at 11:42 PM  

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