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Pig Slaughter and Butchering a Pig on the Farm

It takes an emotional toll, but pig slaughter and butchering a pig on the farm ensures the farmer she knows from exactly where her meat came. In the old days, pig processing was a family-oriented, community chore.

| September/October 2016

  • Homestead pigs are valuable on the small-scale farm. They can even be used to till pasture.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Processing your own pigs on the farm ensures the most humane slaughter possible.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Scraping the hog to remove as much of the hair as possible.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • A front-end loader makes several parts of the process much easier, like lowering the hog into the scalder and lifting it out.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Hog scrapers with a hook come in handy – this will be one of the more time-consuming steps in the process.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • After the pig is thoroughly scraped, removing the innards is the final step of the slaughter, before getting into the actual meat processing.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Halves are hung to age in the cold.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Breaking down the halves can be more than a one-man job.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Sides of bacon hang before being rubbed with salt and spices.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Pork is cut off the halves and prepped for grinding.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • From ground pork to chops and home-cured bacon, the taste of farm-raised and home-processed pork is second to none.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Salted sides of bacon, ready for smoking.
    Photo by Susy Morris

As a child, I found it fascinating to watch my dad skin rabbits. The pig slaughter chapter of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a favorite. The description of the process in the book was something I remember vividly, particularly the section about them playing with a pig bladder balloon and eating crispy bacon tails.

Growing up, I also had the opportunity to live in rural America, where the butcher shop didn’t hide the fact that meat came from animals—half hogs and steers hung in the butcher shop windows for all to see. The butchers cut off the piece you wanted to buy right in front of you; you knew exactly what you were getting and from where it came. I’m thankful that I had firsthand experience with what it takes to put meat on the table. For me, meat didn’t come from a grocery store. It comes from farms, from the woods, and from butchers who see their work as an art form. My experiences gave me a deep appreciation for life and a keen sensitivity to death, especially when it relates to the table. All of these experiences influenced our decision to process our pigs right here on the farm.

Why on the farm?

When we decided to raise pigs, we knew we wanted to slaughter them ourselves, for a few reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to make sure they had the least stressful end of life experience as possible. After carefully tending our pigs, ensuring they had happy pig lives, knowing how they were slaughtered was extremely important to us. If we had access to a local traveling butcher, we would have hired one, but currently, Maine laws don’t allow it. Thus, our only option was to do it ourselves.

We also felt that processing the meat ourselves ensured that it would be done exactly as we wanted, and that we would be able to use 100 percent of the animal. Having dogs, cats and fowl, processing on the farm also allowed us to use the entire animal by utilizing the portions we didn’t want to consume ourselves for pet food. On-farm processing means you get to keep the bones, skin and other parts that are often discarded at the processing facility. We chose not to wash and use the intestines or make bladder balloons, so the entrails were buried in a location where we plan to plant a tree.

Another important consideration in our choice for on-farm slaughter was that we did not have a livestock trailer for transporting the hogs, so doing it on our farm kept us from having to find, rent or borrow a trailer. Finally, we knew we could save a good deal of money on processing costs. The money we saved allowed us to purchase a few key pieces of equipment and pay a mentor to help. Even with these expenses, we saved more than half of what it would cost to have the animals processed off the farm.

There are other reasons to slaughter on-site. For others we know, not having access to a reputable butcher facility makes on-farm pig processing a necessity. We are lucky to have many wonderful options here in Maine, though getting an appointment can be difficult. If you do live in an area with good butcher shops, getting a time slot that coincides with optimum pig maturity can be difficult. All of the better facilities in our area are typically booked two years in advance. On-site processing means you can process your hogs whenever it works best for you, and for the growth of the pigs you are raising.

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