A big step for beginning homesteaders is starting to raise your own food. For my husband and me, we wanted to find ways to get our Appalachian homestead to provide meat for us.
In my mind, if we eat pork chops, we need to be able to look the pig that provided those chops in the eye without shame. There is no such thing as a free lunch in this world, and our convenient grocery store lives filled with de-boned and shrink wrapped meat products simply makes it too easy to pretend otherwise. To become more acquainted with the process of where our food comes from, we needed to start raising it ourselves.
Earlier this year we tentatively jumped into the homegrown meat process by raising our own meat rabbits. Though it was a little difficult at first to separate our emotions between the different ways we treated our pets and homestead livestock but we eventually found a balance that worked for us. This fall, we were ready to take our livestock raising farther than meat rabbits and try our hand at raising a pig.
The first step was building a pig pen that was both cheap and sturdy enough to withstand a pig. My husband, Ian, turned to the internet for inspiration and slowly gathered pallets for weeks until we had enough to build the pen. By the early fall, we were ready.
One of the best parts about living in Appalachia is that neighbors are always happy to help each other. Buying a from our neighbor was a simple process, and he gave us plenty of tips for taking care of him.
As it turns out, keeping a pig healthy and happy is a whole lot easier than taking care of our other animals. All that our pig (nicknamed Chris P. Bacon) needed was a scoop or two of cracked corn every morning and night. As an added benefit, he was perfectly suited for digging up our hard clay soil, and after a matter of weeks the compact soil was fluffy and aerated.
After five months, our pig was at 110 pounds, which we decided was the right weight for us to butcher him. Though he could easily have added an extra hundred pounds in the next few weeks, that would have been more meat than the two of us could handle, and taking care of the pig over the holidays would have made our travel plans difficult. For that reason, we chose to butcher him the week before Christmas.
There's no doubt that a pig slaughter is a memorable experience, especially the first time. Once again, we relied on the generosity of our neighbors to help us out (with the promise of some juicy tenderloin as a reward!) With their help, the entire process took just a few hours and resulted in a freezer full of fresh meat. Just a few days later, we were able to share an incredible pork roast with our family for a Christmas dinner that truly celebrated local food.
It should take the two of us a good six months to eat through our supply, and once our freezer starts to look empty we'll be ready to butcher the next pig. In just about every way, raising our own meat has been an incredibly rewarding experience we look forward to doing for the rest of our lives.
Lydia Noyes is an Appalachian homesteader and full time freelance writer whose writing on natural living and sustainability can be found all over the web, including her posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here. You can connect with Lydia at her personal blog and on Instagram.
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