At the farm. Things are still fairly low-intensity; spring will spring pretty soon, and shit will get real, but it’s still time for projects and there’s a little time for puttering, still. Sugaring continues, but they’re mostly bored of tapping trees– they only do maple for household use really, to have enough to sell you need an economy of scale of hundreds of trees, and they only tap about 50. Most of it’s already past, but today and tomorrow will probably be good sap-running days, so they’ll probably do one more batch. (Cold nights and warm days are your ideal.)
I seeded some flats in the greenhouse today, which was pleasant. But the other project of the day was less pleasant, but possibly more interesting. Discussion of livestock processing behind cut– specifically, a pig’s conversion to pork, which I mean, that’s a thing that happens, but you don’t gotta read about it if you don’t wanna. It’s a lot… different than the usual talk of chickens on here. [Hi, new folks who may have followed since the last time this was discussed: in the other three seasons besides winter, I work part-time on my sister’s organic farm, which has a vegetables-by-subscription CSA, and also raises organic poultry on pasture, and I mostly help with the chicken processing as an eviscerator, so I talk about that sometimes.]
Nothing else behind the cut.
The current batch of pigs–remember I posted pics when they were born in late autumn?– they’re mostly grown now, and their time to get processed is coming up. But one of them had something wrong, they thought possibly a hernia? he was healthy enough, eating and growing normally and keeping up with the others and all, but there was something… amiss, he had a weird bulge and it was getting bigger and weirder, and after consultation with a nearby large-scale hog farmer, the advice came that he was likely to suffer a complication and die before the time came for them to get processed, and he’d be a loss. Best to process him now, while he’s still relatively healthy and most of the meat could be salvaged. (Also, this batch of pigs is only partly pre-sold already; it’s still far enough away that most people haven’t made their down-payments. I can explain the way small farmers manage the laws to raise livestock for meat in New York State if anyone’s curious, but it’s kind of boring– the prepayment is crucial for legal reasons though.)Well, it costs a couple hundred dollars to get a pig processed. And that’s necessary, if you’re selling the meat. But for personal use, none of the regulations apply. And as it happens, the assistant livestock manager is a biologist with zero squeamishness, and is interested, and had already arranged to follow the usual butcher on some of his rounds, so she’d already studied how it works. (The farm’s normal procedure is that a USDA-certified butcher comes and kills the animals on premises, then removes them for processing, and we just get the meat back in shrinkwrapped baggies. Quadrupeds can’t be processed on-farm unless you have a USDA-certified slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse for the chickens is NYS certified, acceptable for poultry or weirdly, rabbits, which aren’t quadrupeds somehow? but large livestock needs different handling which it’s basically out of reach for a small farmer to attain.)
So… they got him cordoned off from the other pigs, and kept him from the food (you want an animal’s digestive tract a little cleaned out), and then today did the deed. Poultry, which we’re used to, you can restrain and then cut the neck. Pigs, you shoot. So… B-I-L courageously did the deed, and his aim was true, and it was all over pretty quickly.
For the record: you can’t let turkeys see each other die, they get upset. Pigs, however, Do Not Care. They don’t get it, they’re not interested. They smell the blood and think it’s food. They are not sentimental. They’re okay in groups but they’re really not herd animals. They were unmoved by the gunshot and disinterested by the whole process. (Maybe if he’d screamed or anything, but he really didn’t make any noise. They don’t like hearing each other scream.)
But then we realized that the damn thing was enormous. They’d estimated him as about 100 pounds, but he was definitely bigger than that; it took three of us to get him up onto the truck liftgate. But we managed.
The kill room for poultry is suitable enough for double duty.
Taking the skin off a pig sucks. Worse because we don’t have the facilities to scald the carcass.
I mostly helped by holding things, helping to lift things, and cleaning things. They got him skinned, gutted, and got his head and feet off. Now he’s in the walk-in cooler to get down to temp, and tomorrow we’re going to attempt to take the whole carcass apart. Wish me luck.
I better get a ham out of this. Although this means I’d have to cure or brine or smoke it myself. Dang it.
I’ll take better pictures tomorrow. Today was a little gory and gross, and I really didn’t want to document it any better than grainy cellphone pics. It was kind of… both more and less affecting than I’d expected. The pigs are so damn cute. But I’m pretty inured to the concept of livestock death by now, I think. And pigs are so goddamn delicious. Also in terms of like, circle of life stuff, they’re an incredibly effective all-purpose animal, for purposes of soil rejuvenation, weed control, soil improvement– and conversion of plant matter into meat. If you can’t obtain enough nutrition from plants, it’s tough to beat pigs in terms of sheer nutritive value. Pound for pound they’re just– so much more of a rapid turnaround than cattle, so much bigger and denser than sheep or goats, and really less waste than poultry, and fewer diseases believe it or not.
Anyway. He died noble and quick. I’m a little unprepared, mentally, I think, for what the hell we’re going to do tomorrow, but I’m willing, so. We’ll see.