Why we butchered our own pigs

Initially, I wanted no part of the butchering.  I told my husband, I’ll raise them & cook them…but you can do the in-between parts. He was adament about doing it himself, rather than sending the pigs off to a butcher to do the job, and so he started doing his homework on where to start & how to butcher pigs.  I liked the money-saving part of DIY too, but like I said…I wanted no part otherwise.

He came across this great online video from Camas Davis from the Portland Meat Collective.  She is so thorough & explains it all in such a great way.  So he studied up, and I really commend him for being so excited and driven to learn about it rather than to be intimidated by the butchering process.

So after the slaughter and letting the pigs rest in the chest coolers overnight, it was time to butcher.  My plan of avoiding this went out the window.  I knew this was going to be a huge job and I couldn’t leave B to do it alone.  So when you are faced with half of a pig laying on your kitchen counter what do you do? You put on your big girl pants and you get over it!  So we got down to business.

The first step was getting the pig halves into primal cuts. The primal cuts are the four main cuts to start the butchering: the shoulder, the belly/ribs, the loin and the leg/ham sections.

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My dad came to help as well.  Dad and husband getting the pig into primal cuts.

From there they butchered the smaller portions for packaging and I got busy weighing, labeling and vacuum sealing each chop, rib, roast and bones.  I originally made 100 labels thinking this would be plenty.  I was so wrong!  I used about 250+ labels and we still have all the hams & bacon to label and package in a few weeks.  The amount of meat that comes off these pigs is incredible.  One thing I learned for next time, is that I will never hand-write each label again.  I bought waterproof labels so they would stand up to moisture and the freezer, but apparently they don’t work with an inkjet printer.  Lesson learned!

As we got into this butchering process- it was so amazing!  You get used to seeing all the nicely wrapped packages at the grocery store and maybe you aren’t really sure where they come from on the animal.  Seeing the origin of all the cuts and all the butchering landmarks up close was pretty impressive.  Suddenly, my attitude of “I don’t want to do the butchering” turned into a huge sense of ownership and pride for me.  These were my pigs, I raised them.  I wanted to see them through to the very end and continue to respect them for their sacrifice.

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Our first butchering experience, with our first pigs.  Big moment for us!

As we moved along, our daughter wanted to help us.  She jumped right in, she was as excited as we were.  It truly became a family affair.  We used our stand mixer with a meat grinding attachment and ground over 50 lbs. of lean meat and fat for 80/20 ground pork, homemade chorizo and homemade breakfast sausage.  (Those recipes to follow soon!)

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Our daughter, 4, loading up the meat into the grinder.

We also decided to cure and smoke the ham and bacon ourselves.  We went through many recipes online and most called for “InstaCure” curing salt.  We could not find this stuff anywhere, and we dropped the ball ordering it online in time for the butchering.  InstaCure, is a curing nitrate added to speed up the cure time.  The more and more I read up on it, I felt like we didn’t need to add nitrates, or chemical preservatives.  This is organic, pastured pork- let’s keep it simple and clean.  So we went with a traditional cure of just sea salt, brown sugar and black pepper.  We will fry up a slice of the bacon in 14 days and see how the flavor is.  If it needs more time, we will let it cure longer, and if it tastes great, then into the smoker it will go.

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We have four 5 gallon buckets full of ham, bacon & curing solution resting in a chest cooler. Rest well and see you soon pork!

 

This was a great experience, start to finish, for us all.  It was a lot of work.  And I do mean a lot of work to butcher two pigs in a regular kitchen.  We couldn’t handle any more than two, let alone we don’t have the freezer space for any more than two pigs.  So our plan for four pigs next go around either means we space them out a month apart, hire a butcher to do the job, or stick with two pigs again.  I really learned a lot over the last couple of days doing this and I am up to do it again…but until then we will enjoy this freezer full of home-grown pork.

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The bags of ground fat on the right, I am rendering down to make ‘Whipped Lardo’…a heavenly treat.  Future post on that to come.

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