Posts Tagged ‘butchering’

Warning: To all my vegetarian and vegan friends and otherwise sensitive viewers, this post is probably not for you. There are vivid photos of our experience “harvesting” a hog last November. Please know that I do respect you equally and hold you just as reverently as I do meat eaters!

mise en place

Completely inspired by authors like Pollan and Kingsolver, films like Food Inc., my limited studies and complete awe of the Cherokee and other Native Americans, and chefs and foodies like Bourdain and the restaurants that cook nose to tail, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at slaughtering our own hog last year. It took a little convincing to get my husband to agree with me.

He knew it would be a big job, me … not so much. I totally idealized the situation, dreaming of our own bacon and hams, sausages, and bean soups; thinking about how noble of an eater I was being and the lessons I was teaching my daughter. Once I started looking online at the process, though, I began to realize exactly what I’d gotten ourselves into. Me? Start small? Never.

We’re lucky that one of our close friends is the daughter of a pig farmer and so we had easy access to our goal. Her husband helped us with the entire ordeal by planning practically all of it, and giving us the workspace to do the job. For a little bit of money and two and half days work, we got half a hog for our little family. Now, that’s not enough to get us through the year the way we eat. Perhaps we could make an entire hog last a year, but that would require either dry curing or a larger freezer.


What we did get out of our half of a hog was impressive. We weren’t as brave as we thought and we didn’t get as much du cochon as I’d hoped. There was more waste than I imagined simply because we were exhausted and hadn’t planned well enough. And then there was the mistake we made early on thanks to my suggestion. Because we didn’t have a tub of hot water to remove the hair and clean the hog, I suggested to burn it off. Bad idea. Reeeeeally bad idea. It ruined the skin because the smell soaked into it, so we had no chicharrones. If the lard hadn’t accidentally burned in the next mishap, it would’ve tasted like burned hair as well. So, we learned a very important lesson. Boiling water is a good thing. We also learned that 10 bags of ice is the very minimum you need if winter weather does not cooperate. In the South, weather rarely cooperates.

Most of the information you can find on youtube or elsewhere on the internet. I’ll give you some suggestions here of things to keep in mind, and the things I actually recall from our experience.

Most handy equipment:


  • Chain
  • Ropes
  • Sawzall
  • Hack saw
  • Cleaver
  • Boning knives
  • Paring knife
  • Chefs knives (be sure all of your blades are freshly sharpened and honed)
  • Lots of old towels
  • At least one change of clothes
  • KitchenAid (Pro is preferential because of the motor and bowl sizes)
  • Meat grinder or attachment for KitchenAid
  • Food processor
  • Lots of large and medium mixing bowls
  • Kitchen scale
  • Freezer paper and tape
  • Containers/Lexans or Ziplocks to cure bacon and ham
  • At least three large coolers and an empty freezer
  • Terrines for pate
  • 4 5-gallon buckets for collecting blood, 2 for organs, and one for head. Keep all on ice.
  • Bleach and soap for cleaning
  • Scrub brush to wash exterior of hog
  • A smoker
  • Fruit, mesquite, oak, or hickory woods for smoking.
  • Sausage stuffer

Ingredients you’ll be interested in:

  • Pink salt or substitute for curing bacon
  • Proper size casings for sausages
  • Bread crumbs, crackers, or other binders
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Milk
  • Pepper
  • Two boxes of kosher salt
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic
  • Mace
  • Paprika
  • Fennel seed
  • Chili powders
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Brandy or port
  • Good drinking wine
  • apples
  • onions

ribs and bacon

Now I’m not going to teach how to butcher a pig. That wasn’t my job, and one experience does not an expert make, but I will point out a few head scratchers we did or almost did encounter.

  1. Have all of your recipes planned for in advance. Thumb wrestling at the last-minute over whether or not to make maple syrup or brown sugar bacon allows the rest of your meat to warm up if it’s not in a cooler.
  2. How to remove the intestines and reproductive organs from the exterior of the body without cutting them. The last thing you want to do is to penetrate the intestines! Have a second person use a sharp knife to cut carefully around the anus and exterior reproductive organs.You may find inserting something to strengthen the walls makes it easier to cut around. I know, it sounds really wrong, but it helped a lot.
  3. Be prepared to trim a lot of fat. That was my special job. It actually would’ve been much easier to skin the hog first and remove the fat later, but the weather really didn’t account for all of the meat exposed to the warm air while we worked on butchering. Much of the fat will go into ground meat or sausages, the rest can make lard.
  4. Try to get your animal to urinate and defecate prior to the butchering process, especially if you plan on saving the blood, intestines, or bladder.
  5. Plan for a backup date if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
  6. Definitely have mise en place – or all of your equipment ready, including your ingredients. It doesn’t hurt to have someone designated as an errand runner “just in case” or to have extras of anything.
  7. Look through several different videos, websites, recipe books, and butchering books to get as much advice and as many ideas as possible.

So, just how much bacon did we bring home from a half hog?

  • Liver (for pate)smoking sausage
  • Bacon (about 10 pounds)
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Ham (back leg)
  • Picnic ham and shoulder (front leg)
  • 4 Trotters for soup
  • Ribs
  • Loin/tenderloins (about 8 pounds)
  • Tons of sausage: breakfast, garlic, Italian, and “bloodless” blood sausage (see above)

What we didn’t bring home:

  • The head
  • Caul fat
  • Half of the sausages, ribs, bacon, pate,
  • Lungs, et al (trash)
  • Stomach (trash)
  • Intestines (trash)
  • Reproductive organs (trash)
  • Skin (trash)
  • Lard (trash)
  • A few bones (trash)
  • I’m still kicking myself about the waste. We just weren’t prepared for the amount that we lost. Next time we’ll be in the know and ready for anything


Great resources for recipes and butchering:


Au Pied de Cochon

The River Cottage Meat Book

Ad Hoc At Home

The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making




Last but not least, don’t forget a good helper.


You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life where she blargs about life in rural Tennessee. She’s also been featured at Rhythm of the Home. Mostly she’s just a mom, a homeschooler, and keeper of critters.

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Some leftover ideas

Since most people take their livestock to a butcher to process they don’t normally see the leftover parts of the animal that is processed. In the case of the guts….that’s not so bad. Unless of course you have a pig you are raising – then it is a bummer to throw them away. And sometimes owners remember to ask for, and bring home, extra leg bones for soups or dogs to chew on, but two waste products in particular rarely get brought home by most people– two very useful, but non edible, by products of butchering. The head and the pelt.

The head, in my opinion, has less value. However the skull, once devoid of flesh, can be sold to people for their garden or to hang in their southwestern style home. I am sure there are other things to do with it but those are the best known ideas to me. Remember too, not all those skulls you see at craft places or in magazines were “found” out in the desert. Most…came from someone’s butchered livestock.

If you decide to keep the head of one of your animals you will first need to get all the flesh off of it. To do this simply wrap it in some wire and then place it far from your house out in the back back back pasture, staked or tied down so animals don’t carry it off, and let the bugs and nature eat off the meat. Icky I know..but it doesn’t take long. Another idea I have heard of people doing is to place the head near their chickens to supplement their food. By suspending the head off the ground in it’s cage, the maggots and various bugs eating on it will fall and be eaten by the chickens. We don’t do that, because as I said it’s kind of icky, but hey it’s a great way to round out that circle of life and get free quality chicken feed at the same time.

Moving on to the more useful part of the head we get to the horns — the best part of the head in my opinion. If you aren’t going to leave them attached to the skull you can have your butcher cut them off for you (not all do that) or cut them off yourself with a saw. Horns, as we all know, can be used for a variety of things including, but not limited to, buttons, beads, containers and utensil handles. Past cultures have used them for a mind boggling array of items to numerous to list here both because of the availability and their beauty. Have you ever seen those shiny, colorful, curly cow horns at fairs and craft shows? Sanding the outside from coarse grit sandpaper to fine is how they get them that way. I always thought it was some very secret and difficult technique until someone told me how easy it is. But if you don’t have someone to give you hints like I did, there are a variety of books available to help you if you think you might like to craft with horns…or even bones. You can do a google search for books or web sites (use antlers as one of your key words, you’ll get more/other hits). Also consider that you can buy horns from other farmers if you feel you might like to work with them but don’t have horned livestock yourself.

The all time best part of the butchered livestock to me (besides all that great home grown meat) is the hide, also known as a pelt.

If you are going to keep this part of the animal…and you don’t butcher them yourself….you MUST tell the butcher since most of the time they will toss them. Because of this they are not very nice in their removal techniques and they can rip the hide. Usually they get lots of small holes all over it. I have heard horror stories about this so be very insistent that they be careful and make sure they understand you WILL be using it.

When you pick up your hide it will be cold and floppy. Yes, yuk. Sometimes with the head attached…ask them before hand to remove it if you don’t want it. Carry it home in a trash can and then lay it outside on a piece of plywood or something large like that. I like plywood because it isn’t slippery and I can put a block under one end to allow it to drain the first day or so. You don’t need anything fancy at all…because it will get salt and juices on it so. You can use other things but as I said plywood is my preference and you can get a piece of oriented strand board for about $6 right now and you can reuse it again and again as long as you can store it.

The next thing to do is to salt the flesh side of the pelt. Make absolutely sure you use NON iodized salt. Very important that is. You can buy it in large 10lb bags or 3lb boxes in most stores. It’s known by a variety of names but if it doesn’t say specifically that it is iodized you are ok. I like small granulated the best but the larger rocks or the flaked will work fine too. Coat the pelt fairly thickly with the salt. You don’t need it inches thick but you do want it well covered with no peaking through sections. I always go back about 5 or so hours later to double check that there are no thin spots and add a bit more if needed. If there is a section where there was lots of blood the salt will turn red with it so don’t worry. By the time about 48 hours have passed poke it. You should feel that it is starting to stiffen. Leave it for at least a week. You want it almost stiffly dry to very dry. In summer it goes quicker…winter slower…rainy weeks slowest. Do always keep it out of the rain and if you are in the fall/early winter like now, tarp it in the evening to keep dew off of it. Don’t forget to remove the tarp the next morning though or it could “sweat” in there as the sun heats the moisture…which will just keep the pelt wet. We pull ours into the garage after the first day since it is no longer “leaking” and then we don’t have to worry about dew or rain. I once had one get rained on accidentally. I just put it on a dry board, re salted it and put newspapers under it to absorbed the moisture. Since it was a sheep fleece I did have to change the papers a few times. But it dried fine and it came out beautifully in the end.

When it’s dry, shake off the salt and then box it up and send it off to a tanner. Fortunately we don’t have to be like an hard working Indian woman (;-D) and tan it ourselves. There are many listed on line to use and there may be one near you. Sometimes taxidermist will do it but I prefer one that works specifically with the pelts to make them functional for clothing. My quirk. Bucks County Furs in Quakertown Pennsylvania is who we use and we like them very well. Most are priced about the same and are priced by size of the skin that will be tanned. Smaller is cheaper…larger of course costs more. You can also pay a bit more and get washable —yep no dry cleaning needed. You can even call them…they will fill you in on how they charge and all the other stuff you need to know.

Lastly, look forward to the day when you pull a beautifully tanned pelt or a wonderfully supple piece of leather out of a box and know that you used much more of your animal than most people get to. Air it out a bit because sometimes they smell just at first (it’s the tanning) then depending on whether it has hair on it or not…. decide how to use it! Furniture,rugs, throws, clothing, implements…the ways are to many to list. Obviously some ways are better suited to which choice you made in tanning: to leave on the hair or not….. but there are so many things to do with either that you will have trouble deciding!

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