Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happy Pigs, Good Deaths

There are a lot of sighs on a harvest day like today. You sigh when you hear the first shot of the .22 rifle and watch the animals you knew as piglets drop to the floor and spasm. You sigh when their throat is slit open, and the blood hits the hay like a child spilled a bucket of paint. It's intense, not enjoyable at all. You sigh those sighs and accept them. They are decision exhaled. You own them, and you move on. Better sighs are just around the corner.

Like I said, the sighs that follow are not sad. What happens next isn't delicate, but it is wonderful. You get to see the entire process from dead animal to hanging sides of perfectly split hogs. And when the work is done and the pigs are on their way to the butcher shop you let out the best sigh of all, happy gratitude and relief you pulled it off. Today was a dark day in the story of these pigs, but a bright one for this farmer. It could not have gone better and I'm very glad with the results.

This is my third year with pigs at Cold Antler. I'm proud to say it was my best ever. These pigs had the largest pen, the most sunlight, and well-rounded diet. They grew fast, fat, and true. The guys who were doing the bulk of the work said they were the cleanest, best-looking pigs they had seen in a while. They applauded the clean pen and the fact that the only grime and mud on my pair was on their trotters. They said my place was scrappy, but it was clean as all get out, and that counted for a lot more than sagging fences and visible garbage bins.

I did what I could to help but there wasn't much for me to do besides pile up the heads, skins, and offal I wasn't saving and remove it from the scene. I have lost any squeamishness around this sort of task, not thinking twice about picking up an intestine or lung and setting it aside. Blood is no longer horrific or confusing, but the living form of so many buckets of water I carried. I now know what the smell of a body cavity is like, and it has grown less obnoxious. Today it wasn't bad at all, since not a single piece of offal was pierced or torn. No unpleasant scents of digestion-in-progress wafted around and since the pigs were off feed 12 hours previous they didn't have any last spoils either.

I spent the afternoon puttering around collecting trotters, livers, tongues and hearts. The trotters went into a bucket of cold water and the organs I was saving piled up in a clean heap inside a baking dish. Most of the time we just chatted, and I asked a lot of questions about the knives they were using, skinning techniques, and recipe ideas. It was a lively bunch out there, and anyone who drove by saw not a sordid crime scene but a laughing foursome of friendly people doing some honest work. (Well, one woman drove by slow shaking her head in disgust, but just the one.) I was beaming though. I am really getting the hang of this. It was the cleanest, quickest, slaughter ever at this farm. I can't wait to split up the shares!

When all was done and the fellows were packed up with my porkers I waved them off, and brought the baking dish of saved organs inside. They were wrapped and frozen. I have plans to slow cook the hearts and tongues for Valentines Day as a special treat. (Seems fitting, no? It's inspired by a recipe from Beyond River Cottage!) The livers were sliced open by myself and inspected in detail. They were perfect, that brown/maroon of health. I sighed a long sigh of relief there, and then smiles. I did it. I saw them through.

Feel free to ask any questions about the process, or the deaths. I will answer them openly and honestly. If anyone was upset by the images or story, know that wasn't my intention. The point of this blog is to bring people into what my life is like here and all the goings-on that transpire. Today was about the death of some fine pigs. Soon you'll see baby goats and the first chèvre of spring and lambs running past the thistles on the mountain. But today was about death, and good deaths they were. I'm proud and grateful and very tired. It's one hell of a happy combination.

P.S. And a warm thank you to Mark Wesner, who not only helped me with the pig pen and wrapping up organs for the freezer, but cut me some firewood with his trusty chain saw and shared a Bunbaker pizza with me in the farmhouse! Good friends, good pigs, good help, and good spirits all around today.

33 Comments:

Blogger Cathy said...

Thanks for sharing. I wonder how the woman who shook her head would feel if she saw how wonderful those piggies were treated compared to the poor porkers on factory farms. ah well.

I am looking forward to the day we have our farm and have our first butchering. Like you, it will be a little sad but then joyful knowing that those animals I cared for and raised will become such healthy meals for my family and friends.

January 20, 2013 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger seagrrlz said...

to tell you the truth, I have never killed and cleaned anything larger than a fair sized cod fish.I have been there when rabbits were cleaned but I was a child (& a girl)and wasn't allowed to help.
I think it's amazing that you are able to raise and then harvest your own animals. I'm not entirely sure I could and right now, that is not something in the foreseeable future for me. I appreciate the pics though. As an omnivorve I think it is important to acknowledge that inorder for me to have the pork roast I just had for my supper( I really did have a pork roast lol)an animal had to die.

January 20, 2013 at 5:54 PM  
Blogger Chautauqua said...

My friend Chimene only eats "happy meat".... From animals that had happy lives. This would include pastured local animals, deer from the hunt, even deer from car collisions. I know she would.eat these pigs as they are truly happy meat. Blessings all around.

January 20, 2013 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Crisy said...

I think it is wonderful that you knew what went into those pigs and the care that they received - I went to a workshop @ CAF and was intrigued. I'm quite certain that any big biz agro/livestock giant would not want you touring let alone knowing what they stuff their piggys with. It's the whole reason I want this life...so I know what my children are eating, what I am eating and that there is a humanity to the process. Thank you for sharing this with me.

January 20, 2013 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Crisy said...

I think it is wonderful that you knew what went into those pigs and the care that they received - I went to a workshop @ CAF and was intrigued. I'm quite certain that any big biz agro/livestock giant would not want you touring let alone knowing what they stuff their piggys with. It's the whole reason I want this life...so I know what my children are eating, what I am eating and that there is a humanity to the process. Thank you for sharing this with me.

January 20, 2013 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger TransFarmer said...

good for you Jenna, glad everything worked out for you today. A banner day on the farm

January 20, 2013 at 6:16 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

What will you do with the trotters?

Have you ever eaten pig heart or tongue before? I'm curious as to how it tastes. I LOVE chicken/turkey hearts and gizzards.

January 20, 2013 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

I'm glad butcher day turned out better than last year. A job well done, farmer.

January 20, 2013 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 20, 2013 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Rois said...

Do you like pig liver? I find it to be overly strong for myself.

January 20, 2013 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Well done and well said, Jenna!
It's been awhile since we've harvested pig and it is a lot of work but its the satisfying work that gives great rewards!
Have I got a delicious liverwaust I'll share with you if you'd like...my mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Hmmm...I DO have some Polska kielbasa in the freeze....!

January 20, 2013 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Robin Follette said...

Good job, Jenna.

Will you use the feet? I'm working past thinking about them walking in mud so that I can use them, but I don't yet know what I want to do with them.

January 20, 2013 at 8:13 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I think that perhaps if more people knew where their food came from and how it came to be on their dining table, the world would be a better place. It is important for everyone to understand that meat does not come saran-wrapped on the shelf, fallen from the sky. I commend you for being brave, for writing about this honestly and helping to educate people in this way. And hey, no matter what you do, someone will always be pissed off, but you can safely ignore those people as you enjoy the fresh, healthy delicious roast that you raised yourself!! Great stuff. Anyone who says otherwise is a total hypocrite. : )

January 20, 2013 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger crazymimi said...

This is the way that I grew up, my Grandparents had a smokehouse and they salted the meat to cure it and the best thing is a smoked ham. I do not take offense with the way this process goes, especially because they lived the best life possible. God gave us animals to survive. It's in the structure of nature. It is never easy but it is a swift death, which is one that any human would want if you had a dreaded disease. I hope that this has not offended any of your readers.

January 20, 2013 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger Joshua Tolley said...

I'll second the "what do you do with the trotters" question, along with a few others, if you don't mind. What other stuff did you keep (heart, tongue, and liver... anything else?) and was there anything you had a hard time deciding to keep or discard? How long does a recently shot pig spasm for, provided of course the shot did its work as intended (I expect to be involved in this process myself shortly)? Thanks.

January 20, 2013 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Trotters! They are still in a bucket of frozen water, and will be frozen until they washed clean in a sink with mild detergent and then boiled for 15 minutes until "clean clean". Then I NEED to get out my River Cottage Meat Book and get crackin with some recipes. I feel somewhat obliged to at least try it. If you take an animal it feels better to use all of what you took, or at least a little more each time.

January 20, 2013 at 10:23 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

That is an electric butcher's saw and it was badass.

January 20, 2013 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

So I didn't keep the kidneys, because I can't get past the idea of eating an animals urine filtration system just yet.... and i didn't keep the lungs, stomach, or intestines, both of which could have been cleaned up and used for eating or sausage casing. I am new to nose-to-tail eating and trying a few new things with each set of pigs. I saw the River Cottage episode where Hugh made a slow-cooked meal of lamb tongue and hearts and I thought I could at least try it. If it tastes bad then the dogs will plotz!

January 20, 2013 at 10:26 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I would say from shot to totally-still death you're looking at 2 minutes. These guys shoot to stun and knock the animal out, it isn't technically dead until it is bled out though. They cut the main artery in the throat and it happens fast.

January 20, 2013 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

Did you save the blood? If not have you ever thought of saving it? I have heard of blood sausage and the like but I am not sure if that would be feasible. I am looking to find out more about it as we will be getting some meat animals soon too.

January 20, 2013 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Jenna,
Well done congrats! Just returned from my Beginning Farmer and Rancher class. (awesome program in Oklahoma) I am taking the livestock track this year.
They mentioned that pigs are the most profitable. What breed did you choose and why? Have you considered pasture raising in the spring? How much feed did they go through? Any idea of the yield from on the hoof weigh to dressed out weight?

January 20, 2013 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

Jenna, any ideas on total cost per pound? I know this may not be an easy number to come up with. Initial cost o the piglet, cost raising (food etc), slaughter and butcher fees.
The idea intrigues me. Raising my own meat! I have butchered and packaged venison before at a minimal cost.

January 20, 2013 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Well done, Jenna! Thank you for sharing the process with us so openly. My dogs would go crazy for those lungs and kidneys :) We feed them raw, and they even eat the chicken heads after our butchering here. Even if you just compost what you can't eat, though, it's wonderful that no part of the animal is wasted.
-Jaime

January 20, 2013 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Su Ba said...

Pigs feet cooked in sauerkraut is yummy. Another way I like them is cook them in a pot along with the fixings for split pea soup. Simmer until the bones fall apart. Very tasty.

January 21, 2013 at 12:20 AM  
Blogger happyg said...

I raise my animals with love, I love to look after them, in turn they look after me, remember they only have one bad day and I sure am thankful that I can eat animals that I know were raised with respect and good food. Keep on keepin on Jenna, I'm a big fan.

January 21, 2013 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

A note to the readership: None of this meat is being sold commercially. You can not come to my farm and buy a bunch of bacon. It is being given as gifts to friends I know, some of which helped pay for the pig itself and the feed.

January 21, 2013 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger Little Dash Rambler said...

I hope to be able to buy a 1/4 share next time it is offered - i was not able to this time. I am so happy everything went well for you with these two! Great job! I learned alot as well!

January 21, 2013 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Little Dash Rambler said...

Im so happy to hear that things went so well for you! I hope to buy into a 1/4 share next time if offered again! I learned alot as well!

January 21, 2013 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

I would be interested in hearing a cost benefit analysis though. Not as a sales price, but as a home economics exercise.

January 21, 2013 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Sewing Machine Girl said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 21, 2013 at 9:59 AM  
OpenID alewyfe said...

Job well done, farmer. Looks great! As far as the trotters, the french stuff and braise them... southerners pickle 'em... or if you're not that adventurous but want to be resourceful, add a foot to the next big batch of stock you make. The feet and all the connective tissue in the ankles and such are basically all gelatin- you'll have the richest most jiggly stock imaginable. We are waiting to pick up our locally-raised pig from the locker, and I'm going to use the feet in a headcheese recipe I can't wait to try (if you'd told me I'd be typing that sentence before making and eating good headcheese in school, I'd have said, gross, and you're crazy... but it's good stuff!). Kudos, lady! Enjoy your porkers!

January 21, 2013 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

Well today is my lucky day! Friend dropped off pig heart and liver so we may be making liverwaust soon! I will make a tutorial for you when we do :D

January 21, 2013 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Chance said...

Trotter meat (cooked and deboned) makes the best taco meat of all time - I cook it up and get it all spiced and freeze it for Thursday Taco Night. There is also a fancy stuffed trotter recipe but I find it was way too much work. I just buy trotters cheap for the face/burrito meat thing. Mexican cookbooks have recipes that instruct in trotter prep.

January 27, 2013 at 7:36 AM  

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