Perspectives on Pig Care, Pig Butchering, and Recipes

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A useful guide when you're ready to have a go at pig butchering.

The “Pig Report” in MOTHER EARTH NEWS September/October ’72 was very good, and especially interesting to us because we’ve been raising hogs for about eight years . . . mostly to eat but occasionally even for profit. However, there’s one point in the article I’d like to disagree with . . . a very important point.

Nancy Bubel, author of the otherwise excellent pig piece, mentions paying $14.00 each for feeder pigs from a farmer acquaintance, and half apologizes for not waiting and obtaining a “bargain” through newspaper ads offering $11.00 shoats. Friends, beware of bargains in livestock! When you buy a feeder pig, the food and care that have gone into him up to that point pretty much determine his development during the rest of his life. If you pay $5.00 or $10.00 less than the going rate for a feeder which then takes a year or more to reach 200 pounds, you haven’t saved much.

The most usual problem with such low-priced shoats is malnutrition. Unlike the Bubels, who offered their animals a wonderful diversity of garbage, many producers who don’t use commercial feed are attempting to raise hogs on barrels of rancid tortillas . . . or the Yankee equivalent. If the pig you buy has been fed this way, it’ll have problems and its meat will be too fat . . . and will remain so after several months of a balanced ration (as we’ve found from trying to salvage a couple of these creatures). Even if the producer feeds the hog or hogs a variety of scraps (scavenged from a restaurant, perhaps), the waste. will be heavy in stuff like moldy white bread . . . and the pigs will be obese and unhealthy just like the people who discarded the garbage.

Besides their probable malnutrition, there’s another danger in “bargain” pigs: the risk of hog cholera, . . a hard-to-spot, incurable disease that was supposedly wiped out a few years ago but is now staging a comeback. What aids the spread of this sickness is that even when a producer loses most of his larger hogs to cholera, the babies sometimes survive. They’re supposed to be destroyed, since they’re carrying the illness, but often are sold. . . probably as cheap feeders, which is what happened when we had an outbreak of the disease around here a couple of years ago. A healthy pig exposed to the infected newcomer will come down with severe chills and fever and will usually die within 5 to 10 days.

This disease, which only hogs contract, is the main reason most states require that garbage fed to swine be cooked. Cholera can be spread by the feeding of raw or even underdone pork, if the meat came from hogs carrying the hardy and long-lived virus, So don’t buy pigs at any price from a producer who doesn’t cook food waste thoroughly.

If you think you have cholera among your hogs, call your county agent. Your herd, however small, will be examined, and if the sickness is present the animals will be destroyed (theoretically) and you’ll be reimbursed.

You may be able to avoid such a misfortune, though, if you check a little when you notice that feeder pigs are particularly cheap. And although hog cholera is the worst disease of swine, being easily spread and 85-100% fatal, it’s not the only one your herd could contract from unhealthy new stock. You’ll be wise to inform yourself about the others, and about the prevalent illnesses of any livestock you decide to go into.

I hope I’ve convinced you by now that bargain feeders can be a bummer . . . but super-expensive ones can be a screw, as we’ve learned from some very bad experiences with $100 gilts bought at shows. The practice of inbreeding swine to make them conform to the current styles has produced nervous hogs, hogs so long that they never finish out, muscle-bound hogs that can hardly get around, sows with farrowing problems and sterile boars. The best route to go in acquiring feeder pigs (bearing in mind that you’re going to eat them in the end) is to buy carefully, if possible from someone you can trust and who seems know what he’s doing.

Speaking of eating, the pictures in your pig butchering articles showed the head cut off in the correct way to yield jowl bacon. Because this is the fattest bacon and we find we always have more of that than we need anyhow, we cut the head straight around and use it, instead for tamales or liver sausage. Here are the recipes in case yo.. interested . . . but whatever you do with your pigs, don’t throw away anything but the squeal.

Head Tamales

1 large pig head
2-3 pounds or more of lard
40-50 dozen corn shucks
50 pounds masa (fine-ground corn moistened to about the texture of biscuit dough)
6-8 clusters of garlic
1/2 cup cominos (cumin seed)
8-10 chile peppers (the large red ones, black when dried)
2 bottles Chile powder

Clean the silk from the corn shucks and soak them overnight. Boil the head until the meat is easily stripped from the bones . . . they remove all meat and grind it. Save the juice. Peel the peppers by boiling for a few minutes, then dipping in cold water. Grind the pepper, garlic and the cominos and add to the pork, with salt to taste. Cook the meat mixture for at least one hour, adding a little juice from the head if the pork is too dry.

Work the masa, while adding the chile powder and salt to taste along with plenty of lard and some juice from the head, until the paste is about the texture of biscuit dough. Next, roll out the corn cakes: place a corn shuck with the rough side down and spread on it a rectangle of masa not more than 1/4 inch thick with a margin of about 1/2 in around (except at the base of the shuck where the margin should be 1 1/2 inches.)

Now put a strip of the meat mixture down the center of the dough, roll the shuck so that the masa meets around the meat and overlaps . . . and fold the base over. This takes practice . . . the tamale should be neither too fat nor too skinny, and sturdy enough to stay to stay rolled.

Finally, get a big can (a five-gallon lard container is fine) or large pressure cooker. Spread shucks on the bottom. Then place something in the center to tent the tamales around . . . they should lean at about a 60-degree angle with the base down. Use juice from the head to moisten each tamale, and pour enough of the liquid on the bottom container to steam them. Steam at least two flours in a can, or one hour at no more than 10 pounds pressure in a pressure cooker. When the shuck separates cleanly from the masa, the tamales are ready to eat.

Liver Sausage

1 pig head, liver, kidneys and heart
Other pork or beef trimmings if desired
Black pepper
Red pepper
Sausage casings

Boil the head as for tamales, and save the juice. Boil the liver, kidneys and heart, adding pork trimmings if you wish (and also beef liver or bones if you have them to spare. Chop the meat into 2 to 3-inch pieces (or whatever size your grinder will take) and spread it all out. Season to taste with the spices, mix with your hands and run it through the grinder. If the meat is not thoroughly blended, regrind it or knead it with your hands. Stuff the mixture into casings and tie like regular sausage. Then simmer each sausage in juice from the head until it floats . . . 15-30 minutes. Hang in a cool place to drain.

This sausage can be dried if you have a safe place to hang it and the right climate. We find that, in this area, it spoils unless we use nitrate salt and since we prefer not to do this we freeze the sausage. It’s eaten cold like luncheon meat.

Bill and Pat Bowles
San Antonio, Tex.

The article on “How to Butcher Pork” in MOTHER EARTH NEWS September/October ’72 was generally good, but if it’s intended for novices, please let me comment on two points which may be a source of grief and unnecessary work.

First, no hog in the world would agree to being rolled onto its back, while one man straddles it and grips its forelegs and another holds its chin down and cuts its throat. Very few men could perform this feat on a squirming, squealing, kicking, biting 200-pound pig without getting badly maimed. Nor could a clean stick, with the knife being kept “squarely in the center” as the article advises, be made except by accident. Hog and men would be overheated and exhausted by the time such a struggle ended, with about a 50-50 chance that a man would be stuck instead of the animal.

The quickest and safest way to assure a well-placed stick and good bleed on a porker which is as calm as possible and with equipment which is readily available is to put the hog into a small pen, with clean straw on the floor, and shoot it at point-blank range in the center of the forehead with something at least as heavy as a .22 long-rifle solid point, but better, a .38-caliber pistol.

Shooting usually (but not always) stuns the hog so that it drops . . . but does not stop the heart, which will pump the blood out of the stick wound. Normally, within 10 seconds of the stunning shot, the hog starts to convulse. It should be turned on its back and stuck, then, during this interval so that you may withdraw the knife and step back to avoid being kicked when the spasms begin.

A lot of equipment, hot water and hard work can be dispensed with if the carcass is simply washed off with warm, soapy water and rinsed and skinned . . . instead of being scalded and scraped as is traditional. No one eats the skin on bacon or ham anyway, and the pieces cure and store just as well without it . . . so why all this scalding and scraping and lifting 250-pound hogs in and out of hot water? Shoot it, stick it, scrub it and skin it. It works well for me.

R.E. Rapp, M.D.
Weyers Cave, Va.

Just a letter to share the findings we’ve made in our second season of hog raising.

Last year, as I mentioned in “The Pig Report” (MOTHER EARTH NEWS September/October ’72), the big problem was mud. We had fenced off an area 12′ x 12′ for pigs and the whole of it was mire. Mike studied the situation and came up with four changes: 

[1] Make the pigpen enclosure smaller. Reducing the fenced-in to 7′ x 12′, still plenty of pig room, made it possible to . . .

[2] Pave the ground around and under the feeding trough with old porch boards to prevent mud splatter.

[3] This year, we’re using an old cast-iron pump trough, 18″ x 30″ x 5″ deep, set at the edge of the flooring half in and half out of the fence. Easy to get to, easy to clean.

[4] We further guarded against mud buildup near the trough by grading the pen so that the runoff was directed away from the feed area and channeled on down the yard away from the goat pen too. An afternoon’s work, and well worth it.

In reading one of those “How I Bought 40 Acres” books, I came across a good Yankee tip for Using Up Things. When a jar of mayonnaise, catsup, apple butter or whatever is empty, you rinse it out, right? Granted, many of us use very few commercially jarred products but even home-canned mincemeat and jam jars must be rinsed. Well, half fill the jar with water, slosh and stir it all around or put the lid on and shake. Pour the resulting brew over the pig’s lunch. Sure, it’s a drop in the bucket . . . but it all adds up. And if you’re taking those jars to the recycling center, you’ll have to rinse them anyhow.

We had to pay $17.50 each for this year’s pigs, but they’re only on their fourth bag of feed so we figure we’re still way ahead by growing rather than buying our pork. God bless the grass that grows through the cracks!

Nancy Bubel
Mt. Joy, Pa.

After reading “How to Butcher Pork” in MOTHER EARTH NEWS September/October ’72, I’m glad I’ve killed pigs before. If I hadn’t, your article would have frightened me off from ever trying it.

Here are my five objections to Morton’s method:

[1] The technique the article describes isn’t suited to the homesteader because it calls for fancy equipment. I haven’t the cash to lay out on four types of knives, cleaver, scraper, stainless steel meat saw and block and tackle. And I don’t have the special facilities Morton thinks I need . . an extra pen (mine are all ankle deep in hog manure) and a big tank for scalding.

[2] Two men are required for the job, doing it their way. I’ve got only myself, since my wife hasn’t the emotional equipment to assist in the sticking and slicing . . . although she does wrap meat, render lard, etc.

[3] How many of MOTHER EARTH NEW’s readers are ready to plunge a knife into a living hog, not sure whether they’ll stick him properly? (And there is a special skill to placing the knife right.)

[4] Unless you’re planning to smoke the meat, why scald and scrape the hog at all? It’s less fuss, and quicker, to skin the beast. Who eats skin anyhow . . . especially when fresh bacon rolled in flour and fried so crisp it’s brittle is one of the taste treats of cookingdom?

[5] The article stops when it’s only half done. Killing and cleaning is only the first part of butchering: There’s also cutting, slicing, wrapping, freezing, rendering. (Which I’ve covered in MOTHER EARTH NEWS November/December ’72 and this issue. –MOTHER EARTH NEWS.)

I’ve homesteaded in the Ozarks three years now and have killed two hogs by myself after helping (well, mostly watching) my neighbor do one of his. Let me share with you a brief run-through of Hog Butchering, Hillbilly Style. This method is not original with me . . . as far as I can gather, it’s essentially how they do the job around here.

Step 1: In the cool of the evening, I load the pig in the back of my pickup, wash him off and bed him down in deep straw. (With the loading chute I’ve built, this takes only a few minutes.) I then drive the truck over near the house to a big tree that has a stout branch slanting out. I tie a light string to a rock, toss it over the branch and use the line to pull up one end of a thick manila rope I picked up at an auction for a dollar. The other end is fastened to an old singletree (from horse drawn days) which has a hook at either end and a steel ring in the center.

Step 2: At dawn I’m ready with a very sharp knife placed where I can grab it, and a .22 loaded with a long-rifle slug. I aim the rifle very carefully right between the animal’s eyes and slowly squeeze the trigger. He falls like a rock and remains stunned for perhaps five seconds before he starts kicking. If I stick him very swiftly, there’s no danger of his knocking the knife blade into my wrist.

I tend to overkill since I’m not professional and can’t be sure I’ll hit the artery with one stab. (I usually open up half the throat and both my hogs have bled out very clean with a minimum of blood clots.) The pickup gets messy, of course, but it can be hosed out. Now I pull the pig out of the truck.

Step 3: I take a five-minute break to let my hands stop shaking. Step 2 is not a pleasant procedure and only a sadist could actually enjoy it, but it’s necessary if you wish to eat meat. Contrary to the recommendations of the Morton article, 1 shoot before I stick because these hogs are my friends (I was their midwife, their doctor . . . I spent a lot of time with them) and a bullet is much quicker than my shaking hand.

Step 4: When I’m calm, I locate the tendons on the hind legs, cut through the skin and peel them out with my fingers. Then I spread the hind legs and hook them to either end of the singletree. (If the legs don’t reach far enough, I make up the gap with a length of barbed wire.) After backing up the truck, I tie the rope to its bumper and drive away until the hog is swinging in the air where I want him. I now take a brush and a pail of soapy water, wash the beast down and rinse him off .

Step 5: A single-edged razor blade or a doctor’s scalpel works beautifully for skinning (only it’s necessary to have more than one handy because the hair and tough skin dull a blade astonishingly fast). Holding the blade so that an eighth-inch of the edge is sticking out between my fingers, I start by the pig’s hind feet and cut three-inch-wide strips down the length of his body . . . just through the skin, no deeper. When I loosen the end and rip, the hide peels off. If the fat starts to come along, I shave it away with my knife down to the skin and pull again. The whole process shouldn’t take more than an hour for one person.

When I’ve got all the skin-strips dangling around the hog’s heart, cut the head off (saving as much of the jowl as I can). I confess to being wasteful in not keeping the brains, but my dogs are everlastingly grateful. Since they seem to like meat better the riper it gets, I haul the skin and head (plus any guts I don’t save) off in the woods somewhere and they clean it up in a few days.

After skinning, I rinse off the pig’s carcass.

Step 6: Now I insert my knife carefully right below the crotch taking care not to cut the intestines. Slitting down, with the blade . the knife toward me and the other hand pushing guts away from what I’m doing, I cut the crotch open to the bone. If the hog is young, I can split the pelvis by sticking the tip of the blade in it and whopping the butt of the knife with my hand.

I got a kick out of the picture in MOTHER EARTH NEWS of the guy cutting out the bung one-handed, standing three feet away. I have to use both hands and wish I had three . . . and my nose is no further than two inches from the body while I poke and peer, trying to do the job right. Anyway, once I’ve cut around the anus (to free it from the flesh) and tied it with a string, I pull the whole batch of intestines down into a big washtub sitting underneath. Since the ribs aren’t open yet, the guts just hang there.

It’s time to dig in with my arms and rip the innards loose where they’re attached down in the cavity . . . then plop the whole business into the tub. At this point I get a second tub full of water, into which I can toss organs as I come to them. I take out the liver, making sure I remove the greenish gall bladder without spilling any of the contents . . . that juice is bitter! The heart has to be freed and trimmed, and the flat, purplish pancreas also can be saved for eating.

When I’m this far, my wife gets busy with her cutting and wrapping. Some of the meat will slice lots better if partially frozen (liver, bacon, hams, shoulders), but most can be packaged and frozen immediately.

Step 7: Now to split the hog in half, leaving only a piece attached at the back of the neck. Although I’ve used an axe and a big handsaw for this job, a hacksaw works best. After hauling out a big scarred kitchen table and setting it beneath the carcass, I slowly back up the truck to release the rope’s tension and lower the pig while my wife guides the carcass to the table and steadies it. This would be a fine time for it to slide off and land in the grass!

Step 8: To cut up the meat I pretend I’m making a jigsaw puzzle. I usually end up with a whole gob of soup bones, but it shouldn’t be hard to find a book describing cuts if you want to be neat about the job. I don’t attempt making pork chops (formed from the tenderloin on either side of the backbone) because of the hewmongous amount of sawing involved. Instead, I peel out these two long, thick strips of flesh from front to back, slice the meat and mash the pieces flat with a hammer for melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin, breaded and fried. As for the rest of the pork, I just hack away in meal-sized chunks and the result isn’t aesthetic . . but I don’t know how else to do it. Perhaps you’ll be fortunate enough to have a semiprofessional butcher as a neighbor who’ll give you a guiding hand.

Step 9: Hams, shoulders, bacon and trimmings are partially frozen, then cut or ground into sausage. This whole slaughtering process usually takes a full day for my wife and me, and by late that night the hams, etc. are usually firm enough to divide into roasts. (Make sure you spread the packages out in your freezer and turn them once or twice to chill them quickly.) We save the lard in the freezer, too, to be rendered another day.

Step 10: Have swine when you dine!

There you have it, MOTHER EARTH NEWS. No offense to the Morton Salt people, but the pictures look like they could have been taken at a funeral, with those grim-set faces. Butchering down on the farm can be a joyful, smiling experience. Not that death is funny. An antelope pulled down by a puma or a worm chomped up by a robin isn’t amusing, but it’s a very real part of life. From doing my own killing, I’ve gained a much higher regard for my bacon . . . I can respect it as it sits on my plate. There’s something inhuman about just buying it and frying it like I used to do in the city.

Robert Selle
Winona, Mo.