This post is not for most vegetarians or vegans, or anyone easily shaken by reality. Graphic images and musings on the cycle of life will be presented with impunity.
This post is for those who:
~May ponder the ethics of eating meat, perhaps even to the point of reading such books as The Omnivore’s Dilemma;
~Think we’re crazy for doing such monumental tasks ourselves, instead of going to the grocer or butcher like normal folk.
Before getting into the boring stuff, let me start with a virtual standing ovation and huge ego-stroke to MY MAN!
And, just a bit of backstory for nostalgia’s sake. Mama Chop and Papa Chop were our first pigs. They are Red Wattles, a heritage breed that we bought from friends as a breeding pair about 7 years ago. We would’ve kept Mama Chop as a breeder indefinitely, except for one major problem—as sweet as she was, she kept squishing her piglets, no matter what we did to try to prevent it. And, try Hubby did, repeatedly, for several years, to no avail.
Something else peculiar about Mama Chop, which I have not noticed with any of our other pigs: She smelled fantastic. I’m talking about her natural aroma, not her cooked flesh full of seasonings, which is also proving to be delicious. I mean her living self—just being in the vicinity near her—she smelled like maple syrup. That may sound crazy, but it’s absolutely true.
Fortuitously, Mother Earth News has a feature story about this breed in their current issue. “Grandma and Grandpa’s Red Wattle Hogs” by Amanda Sorell.
“Red Wattle hogs are immense, reddish pigs with fleshy appendages that dangle from each side of their necks. Their up-turned noses and upright ears with drooping tips give them a friendly demeanor that matches reports of the breed’s charm.”
“According to The Livestock Conservancy (TLC), this pig’s gentility lends itself well to small-scale, independent producers, and its foraging skills make it suitable for pasture production. Further, this hardy breed is adaptable to a wide range of climates, and it grows rapidly—usually reaching maturity between 600-800 pounds, but individual hogs can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.”
That’s a whole lotta pork!
Thank you for our blessings, Mama Chop!
We don’t know how much she weighed in at slaughter time, but here’s Hubby’s approximation of her results:
150 – 200 pounds of meat for our consumption, that is approximately:
25 # chops
40 # sausage
36 # ham
15 # hocks
20# stew meat
10# in pressure canned
2 gallons bone broth
3 gallons rendered lard
Plus dogs get ~40#s of scraps…..skin, lungs, ears, liver.
But, it’s SO MUCH WORK! He is one man in one small kitchen with one unskilled helper. That’s me. I’m the equivalent of his Girl-Friday (aka Galley Slave) — on call, doing what I can in wrapping and cleaning and cooking. The bulk of the work falls on him and he does it like a true stoic.
But what about the bang for the buck? Most folks who raise their own pigs don’t do their own slaughtering, for myriad reasons. It is a highly-skilled process that requires significant strength and time and at least some basic equipment.
It’s now 10 days since she was slaughtered, that makes: 2 days to hang, initial butchering one day, hams and bacon curing for 5 days, a day for making and packaging sausages, a day for smoking, a day for roasting bones, making broth, canning meat and broth.
However, it’s not only costly to go to a professional processor, it’s also a lot more stress on the pigs, as you’ve got to load them into a trailer and drive them quite a distance, sometimes as far as 2 hours away, plus reserve your slot months in advance (whether or not your pigs are ready), all which can affect the final flavor of the meat. We’ve heard many complaints from friends about this process.
Another significant drawback to this expensive convenience is typically, depending on the processor, you will forfeit many valuable parts, including the organ meats, the leaf and regular lard, the bones, including all the trimmings that go to the dogs, not to mention to the vultures, coyotes, and the bugs and soil as the entire animal never leaves our land.
Such is the cycle of life and this makes so much more sense than concentrating carcasses and waste in one place. We, and our neighbors and friends and pets and land are the direct beneficiaries of our labor, and that degree of skill and self-reliance makes me super proud. And when I’m proud, Hubby’s pleased, and so it goes the bitter-sweet circle of life!