What Good Is a Pig? Cuts of Pork, Nose to Tail


 Walter Jeffries and his wife Holly raise pastured pigs on Sugar Mountain Farm, their sustainable homestead in the mountains of Vermont. To improve their ability to get their pork to their customer’s fork they’re building their own on-farm USDA inspected butcher shop. Until May 15th they’re running a Kickstarting the Butcher Shop at Sugar Mountain Farm project to raise additional funds for equipment so they can open the butcher shop  in summer 2012. In response to the Kickstarter project, several backers asked about the various cuts of pork, and this is Walter's reply, which will almost surely inform you and make you a better consumer:   

Several people have asked about the cuts of pork, and this article will give you an introduction to what good is a pig, nose-to-tail.

  Archimedes Pork Cut Chart

We’ll refer to the Pork Cut Chart above time-to-time. (You can zoom in on the image here  to read the small print.)

Reality of Economics and Social Justice
All of the pig is good, nose-to-tail, but some of the pig sells for a lot more than other parts. This is not a social injustice. This is simply an economic reality. There are only two tenderloins on a pig and 20 people want them. There is only so much bacon to a pig and virtually everybody wants that. You can’t buy a pig and ask for it to be all cut into chops and bacon — pigs just don’t work that way although I’m trying to get there through our selective breeding program.
Supply is limited, and the rest of the pig must be eaten too, in order to avoid waste. The people who are willing to pay the higher prices for the high demand cuts make the rest of the pig available at lower prices to the rest of us. Be thankful that the 1 percent likes and pays for tenderloin. Again, this is not social injustice — just economic reality.
Additionally, not all cultures make use of all of the pig, or not in the same way. We find very little market for heart and tongue — delicious as they both are. A few customers know this secret and buy them up, but it took years to develop that market. Nobody buys the balls, at least not here — a feast for our livestock guardian dogs.
There is next to no market for lungs and pig guts. One of the advantages of our forthcoming on-farm slaughter facility is the offal, literally the parts that fall off, will be used in feeding our chickens during the winter and our compost piles to recapture the chickens' nutrients for our farm’s soil to grow crops in the future. With on-farm slaughter, nothing goes to waste.

Selling All of the Pig
We work hard to use or sell every bit of the pig every week. It is a challenge. There is an old saying that it takes a village to eat a pig. We see this in the sales. Everyone wants the high-on-the-hog cuts. The middle-of-the-hog cuts also sell out with ease. But those low-on-the-hog portions can be a challenge some weeks. We price them accordingly. Sometimes those cuts will build up in the freezer for a few weeks before they sell. We work to sell these parts, through pricing, talking up recipes, trying recipes ourselves so we can talk about them, and getting the word about about using the lesser known cuts of the pig.

Chef A has hocks on her menu for the next four months, so those are taken care of. All winter Chef B has been making delicious stews that he thickens and flavors with trotters. Chef C takes all the tongues he can get for pickling and smoking and he’s now taking all the ears for a new recipe. Chef D took all the hearts, some tongues and a big load of ribs. Tails have been going to a researcher on fatty acids.  

Through all of this, most of the pig, most weeks, gets eaten by our customers. What they don't eat goes to the farmer’s table or the livestock guardian dogs — they work hard and have to eat too. It takes a village — and its dogs — to eat a pig.
When we’re out of one high-demand cut, some weeks we’ve had people say, “Well, just butcher another pig.” But it isn’t that simple. Without a market for enough of the pig we don’t want to take another pig every week. That would be wasteful, take up freezer space, which uses energy, and would fail to encourage people to be more adventurous eaters. Sometimes we have to tell a new chef they’ll need to wait, they’ll need to work with us on this and earn seniority for picking the high demand cuts. The price of the high-on-the-hog cuts goes up and the low-on-the-hog goes down to adjust. This is economics. The process works, each week’s batch of pigs sells and we use the pigs nose-to-tail. For the most part.

Walter Jeffries
5/16/2012 12:30:52 PM

It is possible but a matter of reading and understanding the regulations and then following them. I had tried for years to get the regulations adjusted to allow for a differentiation between large and small, on-farm and off, knowing your farmer vs Big Ag anonymous. We actually got laws passed here in Vermont to that end but the agricultural department blocked them. Meanwhile, back on the ranch so to speak, I decided that we would need to build a USDA inspected facility for our farm. Because it is on-farm there are some things with state regulations that are actually easier such as the disposal of the offal through composting to recapture the nutrients on our farm for our orchards and gardens. Vermont, NY and I believe Virginia or North Carolina are very supportive of composting. Hopefully there will be a revival of very smalls scale meat processing facilities, be they on or off farm. To that end I've been documenting and open sourcing how we're doing it (see http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop where you'll find discussion, floor plans, etc) so that others can do similar facilities and serve their local areas. There is already one farm that has followed our lead and others that I know are carefully watching what we do and planning their own facilities.

5/16/2012 4:06:37 AM

Fascinating article -- really enjoyed the overview including the economics. Is seems like on-farm slaughtering is next to impossible in many areas. Is Vermont an exception? Cheers, GEN

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