This is a question that I get every couple of weeks in email, so I think it's worth a blog entry.
"I'm interested in knowing more about where my food comes from, and towards that I'd like to slaughter my own pig and butcher it. Can I do that on your farm?"
For my farm, the answer is a qualified yes. But there's a simpler option at the bottom of this posting that you might want to look at.
1) you'll have to kill it in a legal way that I approve of. This post talks about slaughter issues and has a link to the humane slaughter laws in Washington state.
2) You'll have to spend the time it takes to finish the task in a day; you will probably need a couple of friends to make the work go faster.
3) If you want to scrape your pig, you'll have to bring at least a 3 gallon propane bottle to heat water. If you want to skin it you don't need the propane.
4) I can supply the tools and space to do the work, but you have to do the work; I cannot legally slaughter your animal. I will give you advice and general direction, but you must approach it with the mindset that you'll be doing all the processing.
That's the summary. Now lets talk about what it really means in detail
A pig is a bigger project than a chicken, or a turkey, but smaller than a cow. Because I'd prefer not to work on things after dark, I'd like you to start the process early in the morning. Preferably at 8am. That means we shoot the animal at 8am. You're at the farm gate at 7:30.
This gives you plenty of daylight to get the pig broken down and gives you an ample margin for error.
Skin or Scrape
It takes three people about 90 minutes to scrape the hair off a pig. You do this so that you can keep the skin on the finished product. If you want to make prosciutto out of the hams you'll want to leave the skin on, or if you're going to BBQ the whole pig, or you have some other plan to eat the skin (which is quite tasty, by the way).
If you're going to scrape the pig you'll need 3 gallons of propane to heat 15-20 gallons of water to near boiling. I use a 35 gallon galvanized trash can and a crab cooker to heat the water. Once the water is boiling you ladle it onto the dead pig. As the skin is scalded the hair rubs off. We use flat metal bars to rub the hair off. It comes off pretty easily. It takes 90 minutes to do this because you want to get every single hair off the pig. When we're almost done you use a small propane torch to scorch the hair off the ears and face, both place that are hard to scrape.
Skinning is faster, and if you're going to do a traditional ham cure you don't need the skin on it. But skinning an animal like a pig is a craft, and it's going to take some time as well. it's just faster than scraping. The goal is to leave as much of the fat on the animal as you can. It's not complicated; you cut off the trotters, and then skin each leg down to the torso, and then make a shallow cut along the belly, and slowly work the skin down either side of the pig until it's only attached at the back. Then you hoist the pig and pull the skin of the back. Done property, only the skin will be dirty, the meat will be clean and hanging.
Gutting (aka "field dressing")
I've posted pictures of this process on the blog.
The basic task here is to get the guts out of the animal while minimizing the chances of contamination. Basically it means you take care to not puncture the guts and get the whole mass out of the animal.
You split the animal into two 'halves' to make the subsequent cutting easier. You can do this with a power saw or a hand saw, taking care to split the vertebra evenly. You usually start from the rear of the pigs and then split the head with an axe or cleaver.
At this point you'll end up with a half or whole pig that can be delivered to a meat cutter and they'll cut it up further for you.
You can do all of the above OR
we can schedule in a farm slaughter guy, who will shoot, stick, gut and halve the pig and transport the halves to a meat cutting shop were they'll cut it into the retail cuts per your instructions for $.60/lb, or roughly $70, for a total cost of $85 per half.
I may be able to get the meat shop to let you be there during the cutting of your pig if you'd like to watch or participate. I haven't approached one of these guys with that request before, but I'm pretty sure we can arrange it.
You'll find links at the bottom of my blog for websites that have pictorial step-by-step instructions on how to break a pig down from a half a pig into the various retail cuts. They do a much better job than I can do here, and I'm glad they're there. I'd estimate that breaking a half a pig will take you about 4 hours the first time you do it, provided you have all of the tools, but you make your own call.
5 hours ago