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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Hog Butchering Day

By Mary Lou Shaw

Tags: hog butchering, old-fashion butchering, killing pigs for meat, healthful food, Mary Lou Shaw,

We’ve had a pair of Guinea hogs on our homestead, but now that they have died of old age and their progeny sent elsewhere, we’re contemplating beginning again with Red Wattle hogs. Despite not having any pigs at present, we said yes to a day of butchering at an 1880’s farm maintained by the city of Columbus, Ohio. I thought this would be a good learning experience, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. I was wrong about the latter, and I’d like to share not only what I learned, but also what made it so enjoyable.


Killing: Let’s talk about butchering as it was done when there was more people-power than machines. This sow, who had been the runt in springtime, was now a 270 pound pig. She was shot between the eyes while eating grain, then a knife was inserted deep in her neck to severe a large artery. There was no need to hang her immediately because the heart keeps pumping for the few minutes necessary to “bleed out.”scalding pig 

Scalding: To create cracklings from the skin and underlying fat, the hair must be removed. From this point on, many hands and some strong backs were needed. Reminiscent of chicken-plucking, the pig is put in a wooden trough filled with water at about 155 degrees. Lye is added to help loosen the hair. (Wood ash can also be used, but a larger quantity is needed). The pig is then rolled back and forth in the water by means of alternately pulling two removing hairlong chains kept tense by a person on either end. When the hair pulls out easily, the pig is drug up onto a slated table where hog scrappers are used to pull the hair out. This is not a leisurely activity, because it muhog scraperst be done while the skin is still warm—a feat in December weather.

Eviscerating: The pig is now hung, head down, by attaching its rear ankle tendons to hooks on either end of a metal cross-bar. It is then hoisted into a hanging position. A ventral cut is carefully made around the anal area and the rectum tied-off to prevent fecal contamination. A vertical incision is then made down the length of the carcass to the neck. Before taking out the viscera, the diaphragm is cut free from it’s attachment to the chest wall. Then all the innards are easily scooped out into the large metal paninnards in pan below. What a surprise this is--not “blood and guts,” but beautiful organs in the pan and the body cavity glistening with a pearly white lining

Sorting parts: The work-force split then, with a knowledgeable person sorting through the “viscera,” saving some organs, discarding others, and cleaning the small intestines to be used as sausage casing. Others went to work on the carcass, and first removed the head. Next, with a saw, they longitudinally divided the spinal column from tail to neck. The bilateral “hams” became apparent first before cutting down between the loins. The neck was not separated until two men were positioned to receive each supporting vertical cutsside of the carcass, lest there be an imbalance between sides and the entire pig end up on the ground.

Unlike beef, pork doesn’t improve with hanging. The actual butchering would therefore be done the next day. Butchering in the cold, early-winter months prevents contamination from flies or spoilage from heat. Much of the pig on this farm will become sausage, but the hams will end up in the smoke-house. The head becomes “head cheese,” but the brains are fried and eaten separately. The loins, along the spine, are the same meat that can become pork chops. These would be for people lucky enough to eat “high on the hog.” Others are left with bacon from the lower abdomen—or even as “low” as the feet!


I mentioned that this experience was a very good one for me, and much of that came from the strong sense of community I had from being with this group. There were the half-dozen people who were experienced by either working on this farm or by growing up on farms that slaughtered their own pigs. I appreciated being taught, and I relish hearing the memories. One man said that he remembers New Year’s Day as hog slaughtering day when he was growing up. The extended family would all get together to help. “Now we eat and watch football on TV,” he said. I personally have no doubt which would be the better experience!

There were also about ten children present who were totally focused, treated respectfully by all adults, and were wonderful to share with. I find the inner-workings of the body a miraculous thing, and I enjoyed looking through the organs with others and discussing “what they do,” and “where they are in our bodies.” Some children already were quite knowledgeable and others had some interesting opinions! We also talked about “thanking the pig” when we eat, and I was happy to see parents nod in agreement.

Good Health

That cold day makes it obvious to me why our society finds it difficult to be healthy. Here’s a pig that was raised in the open and fed organic food from the farm—so healthful food is one thing our society lacks. There were also the farmers who work outside to process their food. Exercise as part of daily life is certainly another important ingredient to good health. Perhaps the biggest awareness for me that day is what else our society has lost as we gained ease. Community was a necessity when there was so much work in order to eat. That meant people worked together, shared food, shared knowledge and shared laughter. I’m willing to miss out on more than football in order to regain all these aspects of good health.

Photos by Mary Lou Shaw 

12/18/2010 11:25:08 AM

I was privilaged enough to take part in killing and butchering some wild hogs on a ranch a couple of times. I guess you wouldnt think it, but the sense of community and everyone working together to get first rate, quality meat was great. Yes, it is alot of work. But the reward is natural meat , that tasted better than anything available at any price in the grocery store. It really is incredible to know that there are entire populations of people who have no idea where our food comes from or what our food actually is. This kind of thing makes you feel good that you can provide for yourself and family, it makes you feel alive.

12/16/2010 9:47:06 PM

Love it. I love how people are starting to think about how easy we have it now and how hard it is getting to get a good meal for the prices we are paying. Prices used to be lower because of Community. When the farmer worked for his supper and to take stuff to market prices were lower because he didn't need $40,000 fancy equipment that tells him what field he's doing and where to turn and what his GPS location is. He used a simple tractor, that ran well, and plowed the fields. He used pickers that got paid a decent wage for the work, and farm hand to deliver the goods to market. I am in the process of heading back to the land. I am tired of the antibiotics in my food, my kids food, my dogs food, the chemicals the doctor keeps trying to make me take that have even worse side effects, and the over all nosy neighbors peeking over the fence to see if I am doing something wrong. Patric Henry once said," Give me Liberty or give me death" the more modern saying should be " Give me freedom or give me Death". My Grandfather used to raise pigs once a year for his meat he ate. He would barter with the local butcher in turn for him butchering the pig for my grandfather. Try to find someone now that will do that. I am what you might call a jack of all trades. My grandfather told me long ago, Learn a little about each thing you want to do in life and then go out and do it. The more you do it the more you'll know about it. I wish more people where like that.

annette gross
12/16/2010 2:08:59 PM

I loved this article on Hog Butchering Day. My husband and I are new back to the landers and for the last four or fuve years we have butchered our own hogs as well as raising hogs for others. These folks came to the house when the time had come to help and learn how to butcher their own hogs. It is a great experience and we enjoy the company of other like minded folks. For those folks that think it gross to butcher their own food animals, you should watch one of the videos online that show Dirty Jobs the way they are done in the factory. We use clean tools, stacks of clean towels, buckets of soapy, hot water for washing up and even change out clean hot water for each animal as needed so our butchering days are probably 90% cleaner than any factory butchering set up. We have been raising and butchering pasture grown chickens, turkeys, pigs, ducks, rabbits and sheep and will keep doing so as long as possible. Thanks for the article.