Well, we did it.
For those of you that harbored doubts about our ability to actually butcher our first pig, you can put those thoughts to rest.
This past weekend Ian, with the help of our pastor and professional butcher nephew along with a crew of middle school girls, humanely slaughtered Mr. Cris P. Bacon. After hours of effort we now have a full freezer of the freshest pork possible.
I want to be honest here. This isn’t something I want to revel in. As much as I write here about my pride in raising our own meat, the actual process is still hard. I try to stay far away from Ian on rabbit butchering days, and my stomach was clenched in a ball for days leading up to the pig. No matter how often I’ve witnessed it, taking a life is always a messy, brutal process. I hope I never get too used to it.
As much as we have worked to distance ourselves from our meat animals, it’s still impossible not to feel strong emotions when the time comes to take a life that doesn’t really need to be taken.
So why do we do it? Why raise livestock when the process of slaughtering is so hard? Simply for the reason that we both choose to eat meat.
In my mind, if we eat pork chops, we need to be able to look the pig that provided those chops in the eye without shame. There is no such thing as a free lunch in this world, and our convenient grocery store lives filled with de-boned and shrink wrapped meat products simply makes it too easy to pretend otherwise. Every hamburger I eat once belonged to a living, breathing cow, no matter how sanitized the final result may seem from that inconvenient truth.
Yes, we raised a pig from a baby, gave it a great life, got it to trust us and then shot and killed it. I won’t pretend the slaughter process was fun, but I’m also unapologetic about it. If I’m going to eat meat in my diet, I don’t want to forget that it came from a being made of blood and muscle. I don’t want to forget the dirty process of what death actually means. If I outsource the job of preparing my meat to a commercial slaughterhouse, I’m only making someone else responsible for the guilt I don’t want to hold.
Please don’t think of these pictures as a form of voyeurism. I don’t relish what we had to do, but I think it’s incredibly important to be aware of. I invite you to look through our process, and keep in mind that what you see here with our pig isn’t unique. Every piece of meat that we eat goes through a similar process, and we do these animals a disservice by pretending this truth away.
Rather, I hope that by showing these pictures I can help to bring some clarity to what a humane butchering process really looks like. It’s the best way I know to honor our pig and every piece of meat we choose to eat.
After the pig fell from Ian’s shot, Rick, our butcher helper immediately moved in and slit his throat in one quick motion. The pig was dead before he had a chance to register what was happening.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I know I breathed a big sigh of relief after that moment. Everything got better once the pig was dead because it immediately lost all characteristics of the animal we had raised, making it easier to become detached and simply get the job done.
Next, the pig was hung by the hind legs to allow the blood to drain out of the cut in its neck.
These little nuggets were the cause of much stress for us. Cutely referred to as “Rocky Mountain Oysters” the testicles of boars can pose huge problems when males are harvested at too old of an age as they can cause boar taint, which completely ruins the taste of the meat. We took a gamble on harvesting our pig before he was fixed, because our holiday travel plans made it necessary. Thankfully, our pig’s meat isn’t tainted, but next time we’ll be sure to ‘fix’ our pig in the first few weeks after getting him.
Immediately after the butchering, Ian and I jumped in the car to drive the nine hours to coastal Georgia for the holidays. I’m not sure if they expected the holiday ham we brought to be QUITE this fresh, but everyone went back for seconds so we must have done something right.
This was our first jump into large animal livestock, and we learned so much through the process. We’ve learned how important it is to time our animals around travel plans (we could have easily let the pig get a hundred pounds heavier, but it didn’t make sense for us to have someone take care of him over the holidays), and that early castration is always a good idea. We also learned how incredibly important other people were for us through this entire process.
Raising our pig was a community process the whole way through. From buying him from our neighbor at a few weeks old to getting enormous help with the butchering process and even enjoying him together with family on Christmas day, we had people we care about with us every step of the way. There’s no way we could have done it alone.
Raising our own meat definitely isn’t easy, but the satisfaction I’ll feel all winter long when we eat through the pork we so intentionally put in that freezer makes the entire process incredibly worth it.