Thursday, April 19, 2012

Slaughter Day

If you have been following this blog from the start, then you know that one the experiences that I am most interested in is the slaughter and processing of a pig. I have butchered many whole animals at the restaurant, from pigs all the way down to quail, and many tasty creatures in between, but I have never killed anything warm blooded before, that was until yesterday. 
We are having a pig roast and season opening party this saturday, and the focus of this party is a whole roasted pig. We are building a cinderblock pit on the back field and we are going to slow roast the pig for about 10 hours till it is crispy on the outside, and fall off the bone tender and juicy on the inside. It’s going to be really freaking tasty, and if anybody wants to drive out on Saturday, please do, the pig will be ready around 4PM, message me for details.
So how do you go from a live pig, running around the woods to a perfectly roasted pig? I’ll tell you.... We have had an eye on the group of fourteen for the last two weeks trying to see which one of the pigs would be a suitable candidate for this roast. We didn’t want one that was too big, nor did we want the smallest. Our aim was to pick a pig that was about 100-110 pounds live weight, giving us a pig that’s somewhere near 75 pounds hanging weight. We knew it would be a boy, there are only 5 girls in the group of 14, and they are all slated to become mothers once they reach maturity. Out of the nine boys, there were three that were the right size, so yesterday morning, Dan and I drove the truck out into the woods with the dog carrier and a bowl of food. What’s a pig’s  death meal, you might ask? Well, freshly cooked oatmeal, lots of fruit and tons of weigh, of course.
Our plan was to lure one of the three chosen ones into the box with the food, close the door and walk off with him. This was going ok until all the other pigs caught on that there was food, and the plan went out the window, so we had to resort to wrangling him into the box, which went ok, not ideal, but ok. Into the back of the pickup he went, and we drove him back to the barn where we had everything set up and ready to go: A table for cleaning, a trough in which we could lay the pig after slaughter to do the gutting and  de-hairing, knives, gloves, a bucket to catch blood and guts, something to hang him from and a 55 gallon bucket of hot water for scalding. 
Scalding? Well, to get the hair off a pig, or chicken, turkey, or any other creature whose skin you would like to remain intact, you need to dip the whole animal into 150 degree F water for 5 min. This loosens the hair and a layer or two of skin enabling you to scrape the hair off with a sharp knife or razor blade. 
With the water at proper temperature, all our tools set out and the .22 loaded, there was nothing left to do but proceed. We opted for the .22 over a .38 or .44 based on local advice. Our neighbor uses a .22 to kill his cattle, which seems small to me, but I guess it works. The optimal spot to shoot the pig is found by drawing imaginary diagonal lines from one ear to the opposite eye so you get an X, then shoot in the middle of the X. The pig was dead instantly after Dan shot it, but it’s nervous system went into overdrive and the pig kicked and twitched a lot, getting blood all over our pants and boots before he finally settled down and remained still. We wanted to get a clean bleed, and to do this, you need the help of the heart. So as his nervous system died, we tied his feet and hung him from the rafters in the barn and quickly cut his two main arteries on either side of his throat. We knew we would get a clean bleed when the blood came out under quite a bit of pressure, which was exactly what we wanted. 
The bleeding doesn’t take too long, we let him hang about 20 minutes. Fresh blood acts in really cool ways, it sets into a gelatin seconds after it leaves the body, some cultures will even salt this blood and eat it fresh, but I don’t know enough about that to try it. Once bled, it was time to scald. The water was at 150 degrees F so in he went. We let him sit in there for a full 5 minutes and then hauled him out, which sounds easier than it was. Like I said, he weighed about 110 pounds, and dead lifting him straight up out of a 55 gallon drum set on a gas burner was no easy feat.
When we got him out, into the trough cradle he went and the de-hairing started. This was the most tedious part of the whole process and it took us about 3 hours to complete. Gently scraping, shaving and cutting away the hair with a knife, taking the utmost care not to nick the skin. The elbows and faec were the hardest parts, lots of folds and loose skin. We had sore hands and backs at the end of the day. 
Once he was just about fully hairless, we moved on to gutting him. I had done a lot of reading about this, but never seen or done it myself. You start by cutting a circle around the anus, taking extreme care not to cut the intestine, you do not want any fecal matter to touch the meat. After the anus has been cut loose, you make an incision all the way along the length of the pig, again making sure to cut shallow, as the intestines and stomach are just under the surface. Once this cut has been made, and all the intestine are exposed, it’s time to remove them. Let me tell you, it was fascinating to see what’s inside these animals. Their intestine and stomach are massive!  The whole package was about 20 pounds, which is a huge chunk of the 110 total pounds. 
We got the intestine and stomach out, and dropped them into the same bucket that had the blood. Now we moved onto removing the other organs. We have plans on eating the liver, kidneys and heart on Saturday, so those were cut out gently and cooled down. The lungs can be eaten, but I don’t have the time to learn how to cook those at the moment, so they went into the scrap bucket. Once the lungs were out, we had an empty pig. All that was left to do was clean him and cool him down. We sprayed him down very well with the hose, then wrapped him in plastic and into a cooler with loads of ice. 
I was exhausted when we were done. The act of taking a life and then concentrating very hard for 5 hours while processing the pig really takes it out of you, but I learnt so very much and I feel very good about having done it.  Nothing of this pig will be waisted, we are eating almost all of it, and what we aren’t will be taken care of by the chickens and the critter that live in the woods. It was truly a fascinating and incredible experience and something I am sure I will be doing many times again. If anybody reading this would like to see something like this, let me know, and we can figure something out.  
Lastly, I am not one for new-age, hippy non sense, but we did thank the pig for giving his life so that we can eat him, and I assure you that from the moment he was born, till the last bite is eaten, he was, and will be, treated with the utmost respect....

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant! In so many ways, at so many levels. So incredibly proud.