Thursday, March 26, 2009

Can I slaughter my own pig?

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

Start early
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.

Further breakdown
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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. Good read!

Anonymous said...

I know a farm with a bathtub they fill with scalding hot water. That and some pitch allows them to go from a live pig to split halves in under 30 minutes.

Ladling scalding hot water on a pig doesn't work well in comparison.

Bruce King said...

It's not legal in Washington state for the farmer to custom-slaughter someone elses pig, so I provide the tools, knowhow and resources to make it possible for customers to kill/gut/butcher their own pigs.

A ladle is a relatively safe way for people to handle boiling water; to dip a whole pig in would require block and tackle, or a tractor, or a raised platform, all of which are riskier.

Remember, the post is aimed at giving first-time slaughters a good idea of how long it will take them, and what is involved. The farm kill guys I use shoot, stick, skin, gut and split a hog in about 20 minutes -- practice makes perfect. I wouldn't expect someone who is doing it for the first time and taking appropriate care and caution to do it in less than 2 hours.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for about a week and appreciate your taking the time to write it. While I don't have a burning desire to raise large livestock, it's still interesting to read what's involved in caring for them. One of these days (after retirment?) I hope to move to a more rural area and have a small flock of chickens and assorted other fowl...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post! esp. the link to the chicken butchering WAC (looks like with a $75 permit I can sell whole fryers off our farm, does that apply to turkeys?)

Just curious how the "farm kill guys" get around the restriction on the farmer. I would think an enterprising farmer could be the "farm kill guy". Handy!

Anonymous said...

I am grateful for the information you post here and make your blog a daily read. We are finishing raising 3 berk/hamp cross pigs and our butcher is going on vacation for a month. I'm interested in getting the names of your farm slaughter individuals for processing to take to a custom cutter in Snohomish. Would you be willing to share who you use and ballpark pricing? Thanks again!

Bruce King said...

Denise -- thanks for the comment. I appreciated the blogs that actually talked about the nitty gritty details when I was thinking about starting a farm, and it's nice to hear that it's useful to you.

Bruce King said...

theadalynfarm - I use one-way meats out of snohomish, 360-568-8686 and Sylvana Meats out of Sylvana,360-652-7188. One-way I chose by reputation, sylvana by snohomish county health department inspection history.

I don't sole-source with sylvana because they've been getting my orders wrong the last couple of times. If you ask for a ham to be sliced into ham steaks and packaged one or two at a time, you'd better check that it's done before you leave the parking lot. They've also been slow to return my hams and bacons; I didn't get my cured meat for six weeks after a slaughter date last year. These are minor transgressions, but I have to explain to customers on the other end why things are taking so long, and I don't like having to do that.
Sylvanas' best feature is their smokehouse products; it's been consistenly good. The sausage recipes they use are, to me, indifferent. They're not very good, and not bad. just there. So I've started taking my ground pork plain and using it in meatballs and meatloaf and so on.

one-way has been better on getting the meat back faster, but I haven't used them for very long, so I'm holding judgement on whether they can do the job consistenly. So far so good.

Farm kill prices for pigs $45 or so, cut-and-wrap $0.49/lb or so. Curing and smoking can either be included or extra; sylvana charges .50/lb to smoke, for instance.

Bruce King said...

Whoops! that last one was for Chris, this one is in replay to theadalynfarm.

Ok -- can a farmer become a custom slaughter? Well... yes. Anyone who passes the licensing requirements can. But would you want to? Below is a link to the summary of the requirements to do either a custom slaughter facility at a fixed location, or a mobile slaughter unit.

Take a look at the (fairly extensive) list of stuff you have to accomplish. I looked at it and decided that letting the customers do their own slaughter or using the existing places was a good choice for me. But now that I'm having to schedule farm slaughters 6 to 8 weeks in advance I'm a little concerned that there's a good demand for the service and only two good providers. if one of them were to stop doing business I'm not sure I could replace them.

Chris @ said...

I use One Way but they are going on vacation for the next two months (June!) so I'm scrambling as I've got to find a different processor. We've been very happy with One Way.

Bruce King said...

That's what I meant by "I'm not sure I could replace them". when the support for farm slaughter is so thin there's only one or two guys doing it, that's bad for business, for the farmer, for the consumer.

The licensing says you have to "demonstrate a need" -- what are they worried about? We'll have too many people willing to do the hard, bloody work? Sometimes government regulation is a little silly.

Anonymous said...

I know a guy who says they cover the hog with a sack and pour scalding hot water on it. The sack holds the hot water in contact with the skin, allowing them to achieve the same effect as a scalding tub. It is easier to get a big burlap sack than a giant scalding tub - but it works about as fast.

Bruce King said...

that's an interesting idea. I had one group that wanted a tarp. They'd ladle the water on and then put the tarp over it. I wasn't clear on what they thought they'd accomplish with that, but they were insistent so i provided a small tarp. The burlap I can understand.

Anonymous said...

I documented the whole process of slaughtering and processing a pig on a farm. You may be interested to watch it. The whole process from pig to sausage took about 2 days so I've cut that down to about 20 minutes here: