Processing Pork At Home

Harvest day comes with a lot of preparation: sharpening knives, preparing the tractor, pulling out the meat grinder and cleaning every inch of the kitchen in preparation for a full day of chaos.  Our pigs are first shot to stun them, then bled out hanging from our tractor bucket.  This process was a lot harder before we had the tractor, as the pig below weighs between 300 and 350lbs.  Our first pigs we pulled up by hand, which is a process I’m not eager to repeat.  This time, it went a lot smoother.

After nearly a full year on the hoof, this past week we harvested Blackberry the pig.  All of our pork processing is done at home for  a number of reasons.  Primarily, we like knowing we were responsible for putting pork on the table from start to finish, rather than outsourcing the less pleasant parts.  In a years time we get very close to our animals, and perhaps I sawOld Yeller too many times as a kid, but when it comes time, I’d prefer the moral responsibility of shooting my own pig.  We’d also rather not put undue stress on any of our animals in transporting them to a processing facility.  Since all of our meat is consumed by us rather than sold, there are no legal issues with home processing in Vermont.

Perhaps scalding and scraping a pig is an easy thing to do, but it’s something that still intimidates us.  We don’t have a way to hold or heat enough water to scald a full sized pig.  Our neighbor built a fire under an old oil drum, which though probably fine in reality, just seems not quite right to me.  Anyhow, out current process involves skinning.  In the end you lose a bit of fat to the skin, but for the most part the end result is the same.

Hanging pig is skinned rather than scalded.
Hanging pig is skinned rather than scalded.

Bleeding out, skinning and gutting a pig takes about an hour.  Once the pig is skinned and gutted, the hard part is actually pretty well over, but the work is just beginning.  Cutting the pig into 1 to 2 pound packages and vacuum sealing, along with chopping sausage meat into small pieces to fit through the grinder takes us 3-4 hours in total.

3 lb chorizo rope before being pinched off into individual links
3 lb chorizo rope before being pinched off into individual links

This year we heavily biased toward sausage because, well, it’s delicious and we felt like we didn’t make enough last year.  Instead of leaving whole bone in shoulders, I boned everything down to small roasts and cut a bulk of it up into sausage chunks.  This is the first year we experimented with making cased sausage, and it came out beautifully.  Truth be told, cased sausage is a lot easier to make than you’d think, and very much worth the effort.

The actual cutting of a pig takes a bit of practice, but to anyone with a bit of knowledge of anatomy and skill with a knife it’s easy enough to pick up.  If you’d like to learn, I’d suggest watching the Scott Rea video below.  Scott is a true artist, and all of his videos are well made and informative:

At one year old, our gilt Blackberry yielded roughly 175lbs of mostly boneless meat including:

90 lbs Sausage
40 lbs Ham Roasts
15 lbs Shoulder Roasts
15 lbs Ribs (with bone)
8 lbs Chops
5 lbs Shank (with bone)
4 lbs Tenderloin

Grinding Lard cropWe also pressure canned 14 quarts of stock, and rendered 5 gallons of lard.  Yes, that’s right.  Five full gallons of rendered lard.  We first grind the fat to make it easier to render, and then slow process it on the stove at low heat.  It’s an all day process, but the finished product, if done right, tastes clean enough to bake into a pie crust without the slightest hint of pork flavor.

Pig processing day is a long hard day, but we’ll eat well all year thanks to a very nice pig.

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