Raising and Slaughtering Pigs on the Homestead, or How to Raise Pigs for Food
Thanks to our neighbor and friend Tom for sharing some of his pig-raising tips…
I’ve been raising pigs for about 3 years now and don’t profess to be a pig farming expert, but I do know a heck of a lot more about pigs than I did 3 years ago. I currently raise enough pigs for meat for my family and some close friends. I like knowing what the pigs eat, that they are hormone free, and that they have a nice big wooded habitat versus the factory farm feed lot alternative. In this article I want to spend just a minute or two on the raising of pigs, then focus on the “How To” part of slaughtering them for home use.
Of all the farm animals I have had the opportunity to raise, pigs, in my opinion, are the easiest to care for. I keep my pigs (3 to 6 at any given time) in a fenced-in wooded area consisting of about ¾ of an acre. Around this perimeter I have two electrified strands of wire 6 and 12 inches from the ground and this keeps 300 pound pigs in the contained area! In fact, once the pigs learn the fence is “off limits” I can turn the charger off and have never had a pig get out; they grow accustomed to their new home pretty quickly and don’t seem to have any reason to want to leave.
Why do I think pigs are the easiest farm animals to raise? Well, all I have to do is feed them once or twice a day and make sure they have access to water. Luckily, there is a creek running directly through their fenced-in area and I don’t have to mess with hauling water. Feed and water them and approximately 6 months later (for shoats anyway) they are ready for slaughter. So let’s move on to the meat of the subject, if you will!
I raise Tamworth hogs and they are best slaughtered around 300 lbs. Technically, I guess that make them “hogs” since they are a bit older and over 120lbs – 150lbs, but I try not to worry much about semantics. At 300 lbs. they are big enough for a good harvest of meat without a lot of extra fat that will stack on as they get bigger. If you don’t have a farm scale the best way to guestimate how heavy hogs are is the string method. Here is a description I found at Sugar Mountain Farm that has been very helpful for me:
Weight (lbs) = (L x G x G) ÷ 400 (inches)
Weight (Kg) = (L x G x G) ÷ 13781 (cm)
L = Length
G = Heart Girth
Do note that on large hogs, over 300 lbs. or so, this tends to overestimate their size by a few pounds. On small pigs, say under 50 lbs., this method tends to underestimate their weight a bit. However, the method works very well for grower and finisher pigs which covers the most common times you actually might want to check a pig’s weight.
I have used this string method for most of my pigs and have to say it is extremely accurate. But, don’t forget, to be able to measure a hog with a string you would have had to spend some time with them over the prior months. If they don’t know or trust you – you won’t be able to get a string around them and it could be dangerous!
Ok, so once you know your hogs are a good weight to make meat here are the key steps in taking them from pen to freezer:
(See image gallery below for pictures of the process)
KILLING THE HOG
I don’t know of any better way to segway into this subject; I don’t do this enthusiastically or get joy from killing pigs, but it’s gotta happen to get to the next step. I appreciate the pig’s life and what it will bring to me, my family and my friends.
For doing the deed, I use a 22 caliber long rifle to start. I get as close to the pig as possible and shoot it squarely in the head…in the area just above the eyes and below the forehead. One shot and the pig will drop instantly – you hope. I’ve only had one time this didn’t happen and it wasn’t pretty. After the pig drops and you are fairly safe not to get kicked or biten you take an extremely sharp knife and cut its throat – very deep and wide. You want the pig to bleed out as much as possible while the heart is still beating. Once the pig is bled out it’s now time to prepare it for hanging and skinning. Note: Some people scald their pigs, removing the hair and keeping the skin on, but I prefer to skin them taking the hair and skin off all in one go.
HANGING AND SKINNING HOG
On the back legs just above the feet is a great place to use a knife to separate the muscle from the bone and insert a Gambrel or bar so a chain can be attached and the pig raised for skinning. The easiest way to raise a hog is using a tractor with a front bucket or forklift, but I’ve also used a manual come-along which works but is a lot more work and handling of a 300 lb. pig! Once you get the gambrel between both legs and the hog raised you are ready to start skinning.
Skinning a hog is not difficult if you have ever skinned an animal. Even if you haven’t skinned an animal it doesn’t take long to catch on. Jenny, who helped skin these hogs, had never skinned an animal in her life and you wouldn’t have known it was her first by the time we got done with both hogs. The key to skinning a pig is a really sharp knife, and keeping it sharp throughout the process. It doesn’t take long to dull a knife when hitting bones and cutting through fat tissue.
For skinning, you basically cut between the inside of the skin and outside of the fat. Move slowly and sharpen you knife as often as needed. Be careful not to cut through the skin or cut off too much fat; butchers use the fat to mix with sausage and you can save it for fatback and middling. Once you get about half down the pig you can make the slice through the torso revealing its innards and begin cutting those out. Here you can cut out and save their liver and other organs if you so wish. I’m sorry to report I don’t enjoy organ meat and don’t worry about collecting them. I have heard stories from the old timers around here how they used EVERY part of the pig, including pickled pigs feet, and boiling the head to make head cheese. I respect that a lot and like the no-waste mentality, but I’m not that far along yet.
Once you’ve got the hog all skinned and the innards out it is time to cut off the head and the feet. The local butcher I use requires hogs to come in without feet, head and hair. The other local butcher will only take them live. I butcher my own deer and could probably do pigs too, but since I normally do multiple pigs at once and a lot of it is for friends, we pay the butcher to cut and vacuum pack everything up nicely for us.
And there you have it – a brief “how to” on killing and skinning a pig. I believe the pictures help elaborate on the words, but next time I slaughter a pig I plan to video it and post the video here so you can watch step by step.
Hog Sluaghtering Images to Help for DIY Pig Processing
Here are a few other resources you may want to check out:
- Going in on a pig share (thecrunchychicken.com)
- Going whole hog: Foodies learn the art of butchery (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
Category: Farming & Gardening