First, let me tell you that this is NOT a “How-To”, it is simply an “I Got to” article. Also, this will include graphic details and pictures. This is about turning a live animal into food, start to finish. We took healthy animals, in an environment we controlled, and ended up with food we could trust, at least more than the food we would be buying at the average grocery store these days.
I don’t consider killing animals cruel or inhumane, I consider it a part of life. I LOVE to eat meat, and like a friend of mine in Asheville recently stated as he processed his own deer for the first time, “the person that will take the BEST care of the animal as it is processed into food for my family…is me”.
I was contacted a few weeks ago by a regular FHB reader, TK, about getting some teaching him how to butcher, dress, cut, and wrap hogs. I’d assisted him before with rabbits, and to a lesser extent, Muscovy ducks, so it was a natural progression for him to ask me about hogs.
My good friend, BlueTang, is a wonder to me. He makes some fantastic, show-quality knives he refers to as “work knives”. He spent the last 20 years earning a living as a diver, having owned his own dive boat at one point. He owns (and uses!) NINE smokers/grills, most of them he made himself. And he has a four year degree in some sort of meat science from the University of Florida. A degree that he leveraged into a job working at one of the largest hog facilities in the world.
The schooling, the cooking, the knives, and the hands on work at the hog farm have all pushed him towards a history of turning hogs into pork products. (I once dropped of a gutted hog in a cooler on ice to a local dive shop where he worked. He went out back on his lunch break and skinned and quartered it, and still had time to choke down his sandwich.)
So when I started going through my mental rollodex, he was my first choice by a mile. A call, outlining the need, and I put TK and BT together, and let them hash out the details. BT included me on the negotiations as chump labor as a “helper”, or so I thought. Either way, BT and I were going to split a hog for our involvement.
The hogs slated for Freezer Camp consisted of a full domestic weighing in at a little over 200 pounds, and three half wild, half domestic meat mutts, the biggest running around 100 pounds. Nothing fancy, or show quality, but then I’ve never been known for sitting down to eat a plate of blue ribbons. BT & I were going to be splitting one of the mixed-breeds, and we agreed it would be better than a straight wild hog, since they had some refined bloodlines in them, as well as having been well fed over the last few months.
You see, all I wanted out of this was some tasty, fresh, “I-watched-it-walking-around-before-I-turned-it-into” lard. (Click here to read about how difficult it is to actually find pork fat these days.) I told BT if I made out it with a quart of pure, white lard, I’d consider it a GOOD deal. BT wanted hams, bacon, and possible some ribs. He had much higher hopes it seemed. When we saw the hogs, we realized we might get enough pork bellies off of these animals to make bacon. SCORE!
Upon arriving, we found that TK didn’t have a way of dispatching the animals. Luckily, I brought a short-barreled .22 pistol, just in case. However, getting close enough to use the pistol quickly became the challenge of the day.
Advice to those trying to raise hogs for the first time. Either train them to eat at the spot you wish to dispatch them, or plan on using a rifle to put them down. The first option is best. Feeding hogs at a given point repeatedly gets them into a routine. And contrary to what some wives may say, shooting a hog in its feeding area will NOT affected their eating. The loud noise may startle them, but they will quickly return to the food. Promise.
What you don’t want to do is chase them around with a stick poking them. Approach them slow and easy. Don’t make eye contact or act threatening. And when they get used to you, put a solid point .22 bullet between their eyes.
I mentioned earlier that I was just to “help”, but I ended up being the one dispatching the hogs. It seems the task was always going to be mine, TK and BT just didn’t tell me.
I do not like killing animals, but I am pragmatic about it. The only way to have a lovely jar of fresh lard was to kill a hog. I wanted lard.
And possibly bacon.
Continue on page 2 for the pictures and narrative of the skinning, dressing, and cutting up the hogs. Consider yourself warned if you are squeamish, there WILL BE BLOOD!