Grit Blogs > Modern Roots

First Pig Slaughter

Modern RootsI am going to start this by saying ... this isn't for the faint of hearts. So, if you are one of those, please stop reading and skip to my gardening blogs :) 

With all of the excitement I had from buying to raising to feeding and apple finishing my pigs, I was a little nervous to butcher. EVERYONE and their mother had advised me to "just bring them to the butcher." These are my reasons for not doing so: 

1. You may not get the meat you bring in back. Mix ups happen, especially at harvest time. 

2. You will not get YOUR lard back. 

3. Self-reliant living really isn't sending your stuff out for someone else to finish. I've put too much effort into specific feeding etc. to waste it on paying someone else.

4. I want to learn. I need to know how to do this sort of stuff. And I needed to know if I had it in me. 

Essential items needed for slaughtering, gutting and scalding (hot water bath):

1. .22 caliber rifle

2. 6 inch boning knife

3. Bone saw, you can use a wood saw – but bone saws are meant for this.

4. Cast-iron bath tub (many times old ones are free on Craigslist like ours was)

5. Really strong handsome man – I guess they don't have to be handsome but it helps.

6. Lifting hoist, tractor or backhoe, etc.

7. Cool weather 35 to 50 F is perfect

8. Hanging ropes/chains

9. Thermometer for water temp

10. Cool/dry area for hanging 2 to 4 days

11. Water hose with spray attachment

We butchered the female (gilt) first. For no apparent reason, that's just how it worked out. She was about 300 pounds. My husband and I did all of the butchering from start to finish. These are the steps for the 'kill' portion. 

1. .22 caliber long rifle – not hollow point, shot between the eyes slightly off to the right. Point blank. The female went down well. She kicked a bit at first, which is normal. Keep in mind the .22 only stuns them. 

2. After they are down – stunned – you have to bleed them out. Slit the throat – best done by sticking a 6-inch boning knife into front base of neck and moving the knife around until you hit the carotid arteries. You will know as the blood will gush and bleed the pig out quickly. You want this. You need to have the pig bleed itself out so the meat is clean and free of blood. This is what kills the pig. We like the Green Acres Farm video of this. We didn't follow all his stuff to a tee, but he was really informative, which you can see below with the hot water bath section.

Next is getting the pig hung up from a tree or tractor/backhoe.

 Cut into the hock to suspend  ready to hang

We found that cutting behind the back leg/ankle where the tendon runs and putting braided or really tough rope through it and hooking onto the backhoe is the best for hanging. The picture above on the right looks like the cut was much longer than it was. It was just on the skin's surface. You really don't want to cut too long into the meat because this part is the ham. 

Hanging the carcass securely is important so you don't drop it – which we did once, not far off the ground but enough for us to realize we needed something more secure, which is why we cut in front of the tendon behind the back leg bone. 

The hooks you latch onto for hanging (on the backhoe) should be about 1.5 feet apart, give or take a bit – it makes gutting much easier. Lift it head down. The following picture is driving it out of the pasture. 

pulling the pig out of the field

We are hot bathing our pigs. For a couple reasons. 

1. I get more lard because skinning cuts into the fat.

2. You get a better amount and prettier slabs of bacon.

3. For those who like to utilize the skin for pork rinds/pork crackling, this is the best way.

4. The carcass looks nice and neat when you are finished, and I like my things clean and tidy.

**Quick note: male pigs – especially Yorkshire breed are sometimes difficult at kill. Our male pig was kind of a shock to us. It took six bullets to put him down. He finally went down at the fourth shot, and I insisted we do again. And on the fifth shot, it woke him up :/ He jumped back up on all fours, and it was game on again. I must admit, if he was my first experience, I may have called it day, named him Earl and kept him as a pet. But no, it wasn't and the sixth shot put him down. My husband stabbed him perfectly and cut the carotid arteries, and he bled out quickly. From there on, everything went as planned. Just keep in mind that not everything is perfect and that is normal. Just stay calm and keep your cool. 

Hot water bathing includes using a cast-iron tub lifted on cinder blocks and filling it about half way with water. Next you need to start a fire under it keeping it going with scrap wood. You need the temp of the water to be 150 F before placing your pig in the water. This way the hair is easy to scrape off. We used wide mouth canning lids as our scrapers. They worked great. You don't want to keep the pig in the water too long or it will burn (4 to 6 minutes) and you need to move the pig around so it doesn't stick to the bottom.

After scouring books and you tube videos we found this one to be most useful for this part. This also includes the kill.

We had to dip each of them twice, which is fine. The pigs that this guy has are about 200 pounds and ours, female 300 and male 350, were much larger so they fit in the tub a bit more snug. We also washed off the pig before putting it into the tub. Keeps the water clean.

Cast iron tub with fire underneath hot water bathing pig

I am scraping the pig and pulling on the hair to see if it is ready to come out in the picture below. Once its hair starts to pull out easily (about 4 minutes) you need to take them out hanging and scrape the rest off. This takes about 20 to 30 minutes with two people. 

Meg scraping off hair

This is a clean, hairless carcass. After scraping, washing down with a hose to clear the skin of hair and any dirt is necessary. 

Hairless Carcass ready for gutting

Now it's time to gut. Again, Green Acres pulled through with an informative video that we followed exactly.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Below, the picture on the left is me starting to gut the female and on the right is me starting to gut the male. We did the female on Friday evening and the male Saturday afternoon. Each took us about 4 hours. Which, we took a little break in between, took time to get our water up to temp, etc. So next year, I imagine we will be much quicker. We also will have everything set up in stations next year. I plan to do at least six pigs next year so having everything in specific spots will really reduce the amount of time.

Starting to gutStarting to gut2

Now it's gutted and ready to hang for 3 to 4 days so the meat firms up making it easy for butchering. We hung the carcasses in the shop by placing a long ladder across the ceiling trusses (distribution of weight) and with pulley ropes. We are hanging 3 days (weather is nice and cold here in Minnesota mid-October).

Done with gutting

In the culinary realm, 1 inch of fat around the carcass is most sought after. The hog ate well but is healthy. I'm sure my apple finishing for the past month helped. My female ended with 1 inch fat and the male was 1.25 inches.

back fat

Head on over to for my butchering process and specific specialty cuts of meat that I did. You'll also start seeing some amazing Charcuterie recipes (salami, sausages, bacon!).

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