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Potbellied Pigs, also known, as Vietnamese (Potbellied) Pigs are a landrace, (not to be confused with the Landrace Pig which is a different "breed"). The term Vietnamese is rather incorrect, since they predate Vietnam. That was simply the country of origin for the potbellies that were first brought to the USA. They were originally bred in China, probably during the 10th century, probably as an exotic manipulation of genetics, similar to chickens with very long feathers, simply because they could.
As is typical for livestock, especially pigs, some escaped and went wild in the woods, where they thrived. Since then they have been hunted for sport and used for meat, periodically being recaptured and bred. Throughout the world, especially in Asia, Potbellies are mostly used as livestock. They are easy to raise, take care of their young, and can eat virtually anything organic, including the coyotes killed by the dog.
Because they are much smaller than your typical "hog", they are much safer to have around. I use mine for grub control, plowing and meat. The garden is next to their pasture. In the spring I shoo them into the garden and let them dig up weed roots and whatever grubs that burrowed in for overwintering. They enjoy the digging, but since they are smaller, they only dig a few inches deep. After a few days the garden has been turned over and fertilized, ready for planting, without my breaking a sweat, or using a tractor.
As for meat, since the pigs forage and are pastured and only given daily treats of corn to train them to the paddock, they are lean. The sows will usually have a thin layer of fat. However, since I donít castrate the boars, they are often doing a dance I call "Flip the pig". It is their way of determining pecking order. As a result, the boars have almost no fat. If a Potbelly is healthy, you should be able to make out a few of its ribs, but not a lot. If it is obese you wonít see any. The meat has more flavor than commercial pork, which we now regard as bland. Some have said there isnít enough meat on one to be worth butchering, but I usually get between 25 and 50 pounds of meat, depending on age, from one pig. That is a lot more than a chicken, and with a lot of hawks and coyotes, Iíve had less predation of pigs than chickens. It usually takes me about 3 hours from start to finish at butchering time. How long would it take one individual to get 50 pounds of chicken meat? The meat is also so lean that, if I want to make burgers, I have to add fat.
As livestock, Potbellies can be extremely efficient. They have a diet that includes almost anything organic. They have litters of 6-12 and a reproductive age of up to 10 years. They require minimal care if adequately pastured. They have the necessary instincts and high birth rate to be very efficient for small scale, homestead organic pork.
When dealing with any animal, one has to keep in mind the basic nature of the animal. To pen a pig is to do it a disservice. The vast majority of a pigís brain is devoted to rooting and mating. They are omnivores, and the way they search for food is to root. In the wild that means some grazing, finding nuts, turning over sod and eating tubers, worms and grubs, along with the periodic finds of carrion. They are not all that particular of what they eat, if they have access to something. There are many real stories about full sized pigs eating the farmer who trips, bumps his head, and gets knocked out in the pigpen. Potbellies are simply smaller, and it would just take them longer to eat a large quantity of something.
Any average adult and older children should be able to safely handle potbellies, but I would never let babies or toddlers in the pigpen, regardless of the size of the pig. In a house, they have been known to rip up floor tiles and tear apart furniture. They can push a toilet off the wall. Those who advocate pet pigs (i.e. sell them for pets), will admit that in order to make them safer for people and in-door property, they need to have their canine teeth extracted or trimmed regularly and they have to be neutered. A pig that is not neutered will try to mate with whatever canít run away, be that furniture, a log or your cat. In the pasture as livestock, they are a very efficient addition to the small farm or homestead.
The question of acreage to pasture any breed of animal is that, "it depends". It depends on quality and type of pasture, weather, variety and number of animals and so on. We are in Kentucky in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains where springs are common and we have generally actual winter (where there is no growth of grasses whatsoever) from Christmas to Valentine's Day. For about a month before and after this, there is poor to moderate growth and the rest is normally lush (Except for when we have droughts about every 3rd year lately).
Pigs root. In a pasture they will turn over the sod, thus killing the grasses that are overturned as well as the grass that has been covered by the overturned sod. Too many pigs in too confined an area will depending upon your point of view either plow the field, (which is convenient in the spring at planting) or starve the grazing animals that are also in there (always a bad idea). Our animals are pastured except for daily treats of whole kernel corn and oats to train them to come to the catching paddock. For our purposes it seems to work out that one acre of pasture will feed two adult Soay Sheep and one adult Potbelly Pig. This ratio allows them enough pasture to fatten up for the winter, raise their young and make it through the lean times. If we had a reliable source of hay for the winter we could have as many as six Soay per acre, but it would still be one potbelly. The reason goes back to the rooting. The rooting has to be kept to a low percentage of the pasture so that the overturned spots have time to recover in the face of the grazing. You also will want to have in your pasture grazing crops that spread by roots and rhizomes as well as seed. (If the sheep eat the seed and the pigs disturb the roots then you can quickly have a field of mud where there is nothing for them to eat).
Your farm is your own microcosm of environment. You will need to find a balance that works as a sustainable plan. The more you supplement their feed, the more animals you can contain, however, the more dependant you become upon that source of supplemental feed. Also, the more animals per acre you have, the more risk there is of a disease outbreak. Most animals, when sick seem to want to isolate themselves. If there is nowhere to be isolated, then the risk of transmission rises sharply.
People often ask when they "should" and when they "can" breed potbellies. The short answer is that it depends and that the two answers are different.Back to top of page
Like probably all creatures, it is healthier for the mother to be an adult as opposed to an adolescent so that her energies go toward her own development instead of trying to produce and feed a litter of piglets. Pigs in the wild, or in a wildflock system will breed when they decide. Usually that means as soon as the female comes into heat. There are many factors that are variables as to when puberty (the first time that she goes into heat) starts, particularly genetics and environment.
Many Potbelly breeders will tell you that some piglets will go through their first heat (females) or start mounting (males) when they are perhaps as young as two months. From the genetic standpoint, for the females this is a bad idea and in nature is self limiting. Those females generally die around the time that they would otherwise have given birth. Many pet breeders can not stand the thought of this and then take the sow to the vet and through extraordinary measures save the sow to breed again and bottle feed the piglets. This perpetuates that genetic predisposition. As a livestock, that is generally a trait that should be culled, either by letting nature take its course (if you want to give the sow a chance), or by butchering it (if you don't want to take the chance). Like it or not, humans intervening in livestock reproduction is a genetic selection pressure. In the case of premature puberty, intervention converts what would normally be a negative selection bias into a neutral one. Breeders who then sell such animals intact (not spayed) are perpetuating and spreading those genes.
If you want to give the sow a chance, you are not necessarily condemning it to a slow and painful death. Like all things in nature, there is a line of continuum between the lethal and the healthy. In short, there are shades of grey. Some sows will get pregnant a little too early and perhaps by instinct, perhaps by a sense of self preservation, will either abandon or even eat their young. If a sow does this, that does not mean that she will necessarily do it again. Most of the times that I've seen this, it was a onetime thing and only with the first litter. In severe weather like droughts and harsh winters the sows might also do this. That is Nature's way. If she does it a second time, and that time is in good weather, then I'd suggest putting her on the short list for dinner invitations.
Some will ask, "Why risk it? Why not just cull her in the beginning?" The answer is that we as humans don't know what we are selecting against, when we cull for any given trait. Perhaps genes for early maturity provide resistance against some other problem like some exotic disease? We don't know. I think letting Nature take its course is the best long term approach. The alternative is penning the sows from the boars until they are the age that you want. However, that again, perpetuates the genetic trait and in the long run can hurt the breed. In the short run it also seems to make for frustrated and probably unhappy livestock.
In an ideal setting it is nice if the sow does not get pregnant before the age of 9-12 months. Preferably, that is when her first heat is rather than having been penned, but we all do what we think is best in our given circumstances. Depending upon your food situation and the upcoming change of seasons some will choose to breed their pigs early, and some will choose late. What happens on your farm is your own little ecosystem and your selection pressures will be different from the farm down the road or across the country. You are the manager. You decide.
There are some differences between small and large animal butchering. Many people, especially in America, seem to live in a philosophical fairy land, where meat grows in plastic wrapped packages on trees, behind the grocery stores. All one has to do is examine the human body to realize humans are predators. Predators, like us, have stereoscopic vision, whereas prey, have a much wider peripheral view. Our teeth are those of an omnivore, not a herbivore. Although a human adult can survive without animal protein, human children especially, thrive much better when they have access to meat. The human population as a whole can survive more practically and efficiently when meat is a staple.
To those who think of pigs as pets, the reason you have a potbellied pig, as a pet, is because someone else started raising them as livestock. You may call the rest of us inhuman for eating pork, but it is you who are behaving in an inhuman, or rather non-human way, by denying the fact of your very biology. What is a pet, and what is for dinner is a matter of culture, not biology. In the Amazon rainforest people save pork (the lesser delicacy) for the guests, and eat the Sago (insect) grubs before the guests have a chance to arrive. To the Vegans, I ask, at what cellular level does life begin? How many cells, make a life? Do bacteria and yeast not count as life forms? If you truly want to "protect" life should you not also want to protect plant life? Without plants, no animals would survive. When you make bread, you have prevented tens of thousands of grains from growing, and killed as many yeast. Ultimately the only philosophy that would then make sense is a diet wherein no life is taken (the No Death Diet). This means no seeds, no plants are harmed, no bacteria, no animals. Very quickly the sheer impracticality becomes manifest, and you might as well go have a burger. We should, as the saying goes, agree to disagree. If you want a pig in your house, or you want to be a vegetarian, thatís ok for you, but to the rest of us, pigs are livestock, then pork. This site is dedicated to the homesteaders, who want to provide organic meat for their families with minimum revenue investment in livestock, meat storage, veterinary bills, butchering equipment, and minimum time expenditure in husbandry.
There are many variables involved in when you might want to butcher you pig. With all things being equal, 9 months seems to be the best feed to meat ratio. Generally that will be approximately a 60 pound boar. However never are all things equal. This is livestock and you are dealing with weather, life, health and a host of other details. The big agro-corporations can afford to raise animals indoors in controlled environments and have plenty of employees. You are on a family farm and it might be just you and you might also have a day job. This or that year you might have cheap plentiful feed and so you might butcher later. Another year you might face a drought and therefore butcher early. Perhaps you are expecting a baby and won't have time later. so you make pork sooner when you have the time. Maybe you want to overwinter one and give it an extra year to get to say 90 pounds to have a pig out when it's your turn for the family reunion.
You should have already decided whether you are going to skin it, scorch it, or scald it.
Scalding requires a large quantity of boiling, or near boiling water, and is the traditional western step with pork. Personally, I think the risk of getting burned in this step is high enough to be not worth it. The carcass is immersed in the water or, water is poured over it, section by section, to destroy the outermost layer of skin and loosen the hair follicles so they can be scraped off with a spatula, large spoon, or dull knife. Using too much water or too much time for immersion will start to cook the meat. If you want to leave the skin with the meat, then scald prior to gutting. The alternate method is to skin the carcass, in which case you will want to gut it first. Eventually you will need at least a knife for skinning, butchering, a cleaver, a sticking knife and a sharpener.
To quote a variety of people, including the famous Ted Nugent, "You gotta kill it, to grill it." That is a rather crass way of saying it, but it gets the point across. Perhaps, in our politically correct country, it is better to say you are harvesting your crop of meat.
The pig should be killed in a quick, and as painless a way, as possible. The meat will be of better quality if it is bled, but you also donít want to wound it, and have it running around the pasture in pain. That would be cruel, and Iím told that imparts a bad flavor to the meat.
Pick a day when the ground is dry or frozen and the temperature is, preferably, lower than 55 degrees. This keeps the flies away, and minimizes the mud on the pig. Some prefer to isolate the animal the day before, but I think this upsets them, and makes them skittish. Pigs sleep at night, so the stomach will already be empty in the morning.
I prefer the "shoot and stick" method. I scatter some corn on the ground to hold their attention, and then use a rifle at near point blank range and aim midway between the eye and ear for the entry wound. This is the same whether you are facing it or to either side. Try to visualize the internal anatomy. Their head structure is quite a bit different than people. The base of the ears mark the back of the skull, and even though their head is about the same size as a person's, their brain is only about the size of a walnut. Aim such that the exit wound should be on the opposite side of the head or neck, such that both halves of the brain are disrupted. I know some, who use a 22 rifle, and donít have an exit wound, but if your pigs have been bred back to wild, and have had adequate nutrition, their skulls may be thick enough to cause a 22 bullet to ricochet. If you are an excellent shot you could aim through the eye, since the bones of the back portion of the eye socket are very weak. Contrary to some popular thought, a pig uses very little of its brain and this does not kill them immediately. It does however, stun them temporarily and renders them unconscious. This would obviously, eventually, kill them. Mainly, this allows for a completely still animal, so it can be bled. This refers to the "Sticking".
A knife is used to cut the carotid arteries, or what is easier, is, to "stick" the heart or aorta. You will need a very sharp knife for either. For a "sticker", you will need a blade that is sturdy, sharp, long and very pointy. My best "sticker" is an Arkansas Toothpick from a knife company called Bud-K. Pig skin is very tough, and if your knife is dull, it will take a lot of strength or a swinging stab, (not safe for the wielder of the knife) to push through. Place your knife at the Jugular Notch, in the midline, at the base of the neck, above the breast bone. Aim for about the middle of the back, slightly to left of center, and thrust, to the hilt. To ensure that you hit the heart, your blade should be about a foot long, and if it is double bladed and sharp it should cut through relatively easily. The pig should then start to bleed, either out the knife wound, or into the chest cavity, (so don't get worried if you don't see a lot of blood).
Sticking a knife through the neck and irritating the lining of the upper portion of the heart and the nerves around it, in this way will stimulate some of the nerves and the carcass will convulse somewhat, and as the diaphragm contracts, air will be expelled from the lungs fast enough that you may even hear a grunting noise. This is normal. If you don't stick it, it will very quietly die from the head wound, without further motion or sound, but then it won't bleed out. Pork that hasn't been bled tends to have a rather metallic taste. Some cultures prefer this, but most westerners don't. If this is distressing to you, or you don't have as long of a sticking knife (you will still want at least an 8 inch blade) you can instead stick through the side of the chest. With the animal on its side, if you pull the front leg that is face up forward, stick between the ribs just behind the elbow. Stabbing the lower portion of the heart and or great vessels from this approach tends not to result in any reflex twitching. If you are butchering a sheep, you will probably want to stick the side in this way because it will be an easier access point than the jugular notch due to the differences in neck and chest anatomy between a Soay and a Potbelly. Also sheep have wool which dulls a slicing blade quickly so it can be difficult to cut the carotids.
When it has stopped convulsing, take it to your cleaning area and wash it with a hose with a nozzle, or some sort of high-pressure wash system. For some areas you might even want a scrub brush. If you are butchering in the winter and the ground has been frozen for a few days, they may already be clean. Also, even if it is rather cold out, you will likely find you don't need gloves, since the carcass is warm. Then it can be taken to your butchering area.
Iíve found, for splitting the chest, an iron knife like the short butchering knife made by the company "Old Hickory" works best. Lay the carcass on its side. Insert the knife through your "sticking" hole, and cut or actually saw through the breastbone until you get to the diaphragm. Open the chest and cut out the heart. Save the heart for sausage or stew.
Lay the carcass on its back, with the head away from you, and using some twine, (baling twine works well) tied to bricks or whatever, weight the limbs in such a way that it holds the legs out, or have an assistant push and pull them to retract the limbs as necessary. Cut the skin so that you circumscribe the urogenital and rectal tract openings, (rectum, vagina, penis and urethra). The natural state of the urinary and rectal sphincters is in the closed position. This means if you donít put pressure on the bladder or intestines and donít cut into them or the sphincters, then there should be no spillage of urine or feces.
If it's a boar, (or ram) free up the penis. Without cutting deep enough to open the belly, cut a disc of skin around the tip of the penis. Open the skin along the urethra and dissect it away from the peritoneum below it. When the penis is freed up from its attachments to the belly, let it hang between the hind legs. Do not yet open up the belly. The intestines will have a tendency to get in the way, and increase the chances of spillage of various wastes.
For a Pull through: (usually easier in sows and ewes)
Carefully dissect the urethra off of the pelvic bones until you start to expose the underside of the anterior midline fusion of the pelvic bones (the symphysis). Cut a circle around the rest of the urogenital and rectal tract and as you gently pull out on the external portions of the pelvic organs sever their attachments to the pelvis on either side. Be careful not to cut into the urethra, bladder or rectum. This will be sometimes easier with finger dissection rather than with a blade. Once those attachments are taken down the pelvic organs should be easily mobile with gentle traction through the pelvic bones. Take a string and tie off the whole set of pelvic organs and sever them a little beyond (distal to) the tie because the more you minimize pulling stuff back up through the pelvis, the less likely that you will contaminate the meat with spillage.
For a Wedge resection: (Usually easier in boars and rams)
Feel for the Symphysis, (where the pubic bones merge in the front anterior midline). Cut down to the symphysis, and cut the meat attachments to expose the midline of the bone. That may be easier to feel, than to see. Place a cleaver so that the blade is perpendicular to the long axis of the carcass and it is just deep enough to cut through the bone without hitting the urinary bladder. With a mallet, or if your butchering knives are sturdy enough, use the back of a knife against the back of the cleaver, and gently hammer towards the rectum, to split the pelvis.
Once the bone is split, you can push down on the thighs, the bones will easily split apart at this point. You can then see the attachments of the urethra and rectum, and if itís a sow, also the vagina. Sever those attachments, on either side in the pelvis.
Cut the Peritoneum (the lining of the belly) either from below at the symphysis or from above at the chest, whichever is easier, hold a couple fingers in the belly, to pull up, so you donít cut the intestines, and completely open the belly. At this point the organs of the chest, abdomen and pelvis should all be exposed.
Sever the esophagus and trachea (windpipe) at the highest accessible place in the chest. Cut through the diaphragm to free up the lower esophagus, and cut any attachments to the liver. Be careful not to puncture the intestines or gallbladder. Pull the liver out so you can see the attachments to the other organs and sever those.
Once the liver is out cut out, remove the gallbladder, being careful not to spill any bile. Save the liver for fried liver or try making some pate. Fresh liver is much better than store bought, and you will probably find that you like it.
Peel out the lungs and intestines etc. All the rest of the viscera (guts) should come out as a single unit with the exception of the kidneys; you will have to cut the ureters (the tubes that drain the kidneys) as the viscera are peeled out.
At this point, if you want to save the spleen, you can cut it away, or the stomach and intestines can be cleaned separately for casings, haggis or chitlins. As you peel the viscera forward, you might find there are attachments to the rectum you did not notice previously, sever those. All of the viscera should have fallen out of the carcass, at this point, if not, remove it.
At this point the carcass has been eviscerated and is ready for butchering. Start by skinning the carcass. Start with any easy to access part, usually somewhere in the belly region. If it is an intact boar (not castrated), there probably wonít be much in the way of fat between the skin and the meat. If it is a sow, stag (castrated after the development of secondary sex characteristics), or a barrow (castrated boar prior to the development of secondary sex characteristics) there will probably be about a half inch layer of fat.
Using your skinning knife, and pulling on the skin with your other hand, cut free the skin from the carcass. Skin one side first. Separate the ankle and wrist joints by cutting through the connective tissue. You might need to twist the hoof as you cut. The hooves should fall away with the skin from the meat or you can amputate them with a cleaver, but that tends to leave bone shards.
The foreleg does not have any bony attachments. Simply pull away from the carcass and cut between the foreleg and the ribs, until it comes away from the rest. Save that for stew meat, it tends to be tough and can be difficult to cut away from the bones, or cut it from the bones and process it for sausage.
Cut the hindleg from the carcass either cutting through the hip joint or use a cleaver and hack it from the pelvis. The abdominal wall muscles can be cut off for sausage, there wonít be enough fat for bacon. Fold over the skin to protect the meat and do the same for the other side.
Push the sides of ribs away from each other to expose the joints to the vertebrae, and cut through the joint with a boning knife. You may need to periodically push to separate and then cut the attachments. As the joints separate you can filet the loin meat from the backbone and save a whole side of ribs minus the spine.
Cut any remaining meat off the spine and save for sausage. Make sure not to miss a large amount of meat at the top of the neck.
If you have no concerns about prion diseases, and most organic farmers who donít use animal feed pellets wonít, you can harvest the meat off the head. If you donít want to take the time, or are worried about prion diseases, Iíd discard the entire head or bake it up for the dog. The dog will be very excited at such a bountiful treat.
The same goes for the spine, either cook it down, for stock, or bake it and give it to the dog. I have on occasion, processed the entire amount of meat into sausage and then cooked the skeleton down into stock, or rather a pork bouillabaisse, and it makes a wonderful base for soup.
If you discard the bones, head, hooves, entrails and skin; that accounts for about half of a potbellied pig. Depending on size, I usually get between 25 and 50 pounds of meat from one.
While the pig is still on your tailgate, or table etc. cut around the urogenital tract and split the pelvic bone and sever attachments of the rectum and bladder to the pelvis as described in the Tailgate Method section, but do not yet open the abdomen.
Split the chest, and remove the heart, and if you want to make pork haggis, then also remove the lungs. Sever the esophagus and trachea as close to the neck as you can reach, but again, do not yet open the abdomen.
Hang the pig head up by using a jaw hook. A piece of re-bar (steel bars for reinforcing concrete) can be sharpened on one end with a grinding wheel and then bent into a C or an S shape. The skin under the jaw of the pig is fairly thin, and by placing the sharpened point there and pulling, you should easily be able to pull it through the mouth. Then hang the other end of the hook over a tree branch or rafter. Alternately you could tie rope to one or both hind-feet and hang the pig upside down.
Now, open the abdomen and extract the liver and the rest of the viscera should fall toward you, although you will need to cut the diaphragm to get everything to fall out. If you are going to use the intestines for casings or chitlins etc. you may want to have a large washbasin in which to catch the viscera, and add some plain salt to the water. At this point the pig should be eviscerated and you could hose it down and let it hang overnight if the weather is cooler than 55F (the temperature at which most insects stop flying) or you could go ahead and skin it, starting at the top and going down.
If you have an assistant or some string and something to tie to, you can have the assistant pull, or you can make a slit or two in the skin and tie the string through the slits, to pull the skin away from the carcass as you skin it. This will make it easier to keep the meat clean as you skin it. Since pigskin is fairly heavy, once the skinning is started the weight of the skin will pull itself and make the skinning easier than in the Tailgate Method.
Once it is skinned start by amputating the lowest areas first, (the hind-legs if you are using a jaw-hook, or the head if you are hanging it upside-down). Depending on how strong you are, and how many people you have to help you, you might wish to purchase a simple pulley and some rope at your local hardware store or supermarket.
Another trick is that the skin around the back of the neck is very tough. If you try to cut through the hair side, you may find this a daunting task, however, if you start skinning from the ventral (belly) side of the pig, when you get to the tough skin on the back of the neck, it will cut easier from the meat side.
(For a Whole Pig Roast and also for when you need to butcher after a rain, or during fly season, anywhere on planet Earth where the temperature is over approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit)
Preparing the whole pig for roasting is a bit different than simply roasting a leg or a loin. The differences have to do with the variability of the thickness of the bone and meat in different places. In this case it is important to have a very tight wrapping of something around the carcass to keep in moisture, or else some areas will be dried out and tough when the thicker areas are just getting done. The simplest answer to this is to keep the skin on. One can scald and scrape the pig; however, potbellies seem to have skin more akin to wild boar than most commercial breeds. This means the bristles seem to be tougher and run deeper into the skin. Scalding, for me at least, hasn't worked that well. Trying to maintain a large enough volume of boiling water handy has been unwieldy and messy. Perhaps it's been my technique? Perhaps it's the difference of potbelly versus other breeds? I don't know, but there is a way around it.
Anyone who has butchered in the late Spring to early Fall knows the annoyance of flies as well as the difficulty of dealing with mud, neither of which should come into contact with the meat. In this setting you will want to minimize the risk of exposure of the meat. To do this, the order of things during the butchering process needs to be changed.
Scorching the pig seems to be a good solution. Dry heat, of a higher temperature than can be obtained with boiling water, works to blister the skin and then scrape off the bristles and outermost layer of skin. For this we use a 2 Speed, Milwaukee Heat Gun set to the higher temperature of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't worry; the skin is thick enough for this to not start cooking the meat since you will only be working on patches as opposed to immersing the entire pig at once.
Step 1: Kill the pig. You can do the shoot and stick method if you plan to decapitate it prior to cooking it. If you've used a rifle, there will probably be a large exit wound which will look unappetizing to most people. There will also be sharp bone shards in the head making chewing the meat from the head dangerous, lest anyone should swallow a shard. If you want to see the head on the final product, maybe serve it traditionally with an apple stuffed in its mouth, then you'll probably have to actually catch the pig and stick it, without shooting it at all. I've known some to get the pig into a drunken stupor first. In some cultures this is the preferred method. They consider it more humane, easier, and from the chef's standpoint, a form of internal marinade and tenderizer. Others say that it is a waste of beer. The major problem with this seems to be the pig's constitution. Pigs could drink Tolkien's elves under the table. If you intend to do this, be prepared to have about a case of beer for the pig to drink, maybe even two. For maximum effect, do it in the morning when the pig's stomach is already empty. Also isolate the pig so that it is the only one getting the beer. Pigs seem to love beer, apparently more than they like water, wine or liquor. Get the cheapest one you'd be willing to drink. (Pigs aren't all that particular. Also, the rule of cooking with alcohol is that if you are not willing to drink the beverage in question, then don't cook with it either, just in case the flavor carries over into the final product. The alcohol itself will cook out, but sometimes the other flavors will not.) When the pig passes out and starts to snore, then stick it. (Figure on a half an hour for it to down a case.) However, remember that some people are mean drunks. It only seems logical that some pigs might be mean drunks too, so still be careful. You'll probably want to tie up its legs while it is passed out before you stick it. Let it bleed out.
Step 2: Clean the pig. Wash it with water and then move it to a dry area for further processing. An alternative, if the dirt on it is dry, is that you can use a bristle brush and brush it clean. Be sure to clean the toes too especially if you plan to leave the feet on for the pig roast.
Step 3: Put the pig on a flame retardant area. This could be a sidewalk if you don't mind working stooped over for the next 30-60 minutes. A stack of concrete blocks at least 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep at whatever height is good for your back is better. However, remember that there will still be some blood dripping out of the mouth as well as from eventually opening the body cavities, so don't plan to use the same blocks for any construction purpose without cleaning them first.
Step 4: Scorch the Pig. There is a little bit of a learning curve on the technique so don't get discouraged when it doesn't seem to work immediately. I work in patches roughly 9 by 9 inches. Start with inside the legs and the belly. You will probably want some sort of hook or garden claw to retract or pull up on the leg that you are working on to expose it better (more on that later). Also do this outdoors, because burning hair stinks, and follow standard safety precautions so as to not burn yourself.
With the heat gun on the highest setting, put the nozzle about an inch away from the pig skin and start working in some sort of grid pattern or spirals or a combination. Scorch the skin so that it raises blisters. Next, using a hog scraper or a large heavy spoon, scrape away the dried flakes and ash. Repeat this on the next patch until the entire pig has been scorched and scraped.
Blistering is key. If you don't heat it deep enough to blister, then you won't be deep enough to actually burn the base of the hair follicles. If you go too shallow too slowly you will simply burn the portion of the hair that is external to the skin. Then, when you scrape, the dehydrated outermost skin will scrape away, leaving heavy stubble. Then you will have to heat and scrape again and again to eventually get deep enough to a clean, smooth surface. Each time you have to do this over a given area, the more it will dehydrate the skin, reducing the water content, and then making it more difficult to actually raise a blister. If you leave too much stubble, then the smoke from burning hair during cooking might flavor the meat, and most people don't like that. Feeling just a slight amount of stubble and seeing the little dots of the follicles is ok, but you don't want to see or feel any significant length of hair. Work from one patch to the next until the entire area that you intend to cook has been cleaned. You might need to repeat it in some areas. The skin will dry, tighten and even shrink a little, so by the time you are done it might resemble rigor mortis, although, that's the skin, not the meat that is tough. If you tried to make it easier in the beginning by starting with the sides and back instead of the underside and the insides of the leg, then it will be more difficult to retract the legs and get to the underside because of shrinkage and stiffening of the skin.
Doing the scorch and scrape method seems to take about a half as much time as skinning it. It is also significantly less tiring for the one doing the labor. The main problem is having the right equipment for the job. I've tried plumber's torches, lighters, burning a layer of straw over the carcass and none of them worked to my satisfaction. They were all too imprecise, burning some areas while not removing the hair from others. The painter's heat gun looks like it will pay for itself in time saved. Even if you are processing the pig into roasts, cooking it with the skin on helps with the moisture in the cooked meat. The downside to this method is that the skin will not be useable for other purposes. To some, the crispy skin is the best part and is the original pork rind. Even if you don't eat the skin because of concerns of fat content, or you think it is too tough, it will still make nice dog treats.
Step 5: Gut the pig. Start by circumscribing the skin around the anus and genital tract and splitting the anterior pelvis as is described under the section on the traditional method. Free up the rectum, urinary bladder and genitals from the rest of the carcass and gently pull it out of the body without tearing anything so that if anything leaks it won't spill onto the meat. Open the belly exposing the intestines and other viscera. Extract the liver, severing its attachments to the diaphragm and the other viscera. Set it aside in a covered pan so the flies won't get on it when your back is turned. Do the same for the Spleen and kidneys. Pull down on the stomach to expose the end of the esophagus. If you are experienced and the pig did not have esophageal reflux (which they usually do not) you can cut the esophagus and then peel all the guts out. If you want to be more cautious, then first use a bit of twine to tie off the portion of the esophagus below the point where you intend to cut it.
(Notice that the chest has not yet been opened. The reason for this is that when roasting whole, you want the ribcage intact for structural reasons. If you are using this technique because of weather, then the less meat exposed; the less risk of contamination by flies.)
Step 6: Extract the lungs. From inside the belly, split the diaphragm, reach up and pull out the lungs. They are only attached by blood vessels not designed for being pulled on, so this is easier than it sounds. You can pull the heart out for other culinary purposes, or leave it in for during roasting. Some use the heart as a sort of cooking thermometer, figuring that if it is cooked, then the rest of it is done too. Lungs are generally not traditional dinner table fare unless highly processed first. If you like them, then do your own thing.
Step 7: Amputate the other parts that you don't intend to cook. Some leave the hooves on. Some amputate up to the ankle. This is personal choice. Just remember to have cleaned anything that will eventually be served. If you shot the pig, then decapitate it.
At this point you have your carcass ready for cooking whole or processing into roasts, or refrigerating for a few days until you have a few hours because the beeper for your day job just went off, or you need to go investigate why the dogs are barking andÖyou know, you're a farmer, things happen when you least expect it.
OK, so what do the Butchering numbers work out to?Back to top of page
Since I've found the best minimum feed to maximum meat ratio at about 9 months, that is typically when we butcher. Sometimes we let some get to full adult size (100-120 pounds) to get larger sized roasts for the freezer, but that means they are 1-4 years old. (often weather dictates when we butcher since we like it to be cold enough to have no flies in the air, and dry enough that the carcass is easy to wash. We've found, due to aging the meat, that there is no difference between a 9 month old boar and a 4 year old one in regards to the flavor or texture of the meat.
1 60 pound boar (approximately 9 months old) becomes:
- 2 approx. 5 pound hindleg roasts (10 pounds total) sometimes I make them into brined hams
- 10 pounds of chunked meat for stews (mostly front legs, neck and jowls and loins unless I save the loins for something special, like medallions or kabobs, but then that is also chunked meat)
- 10 pounds of sausage (trimmings, and flank meat, since the belly has little fat it doesn't make traditional American Style bacon)
- The bones to make 3-4 quarts of what is essentially pork bouillabaisse, a rich flavorful stock that makes a wonderful starting place for soups and stews.
There are many philosophies about aging, and I've found most people who are so fervent in a particular belief have never actually tried different methods. I've done controlled experiments with different halves of the same pigs, at different lengths of time, and found that aging the meat definitely improves its quality, for roasts.
In the live, healthy state, there should be no bacteria in either the blood or meat of a pig. Contamination of the meat by bacteria takes place during and after butchering. The longer it takes to butcher, the warmer the temperature, if there is spillage of intestines, or if the butchering facilities are not properly cleaned, the greater the risk of foodborne bacterial illness. Some cultures will use freshly butchered pork and serve it raw, (usually minced, from what I've read) and have been doing so for many millennia. If it was a perfectly healthy pig, and they did a perfect job of butchering, and it is consumed immediately, then they will be fine. However, under most circumstances, a perfect situation is not the logical assumption, and undercooked meat of any variety might make someone sick. Even if you like pork on the extreme rare side (not recommended) the core temperature should be minimum 140F, to kill any average bacteria. Some bacteria or parasites, (e.g. trichinosis) will require a higher temperature to kill, but those have not been reported (to my knowledge, in America), for decades.
If you are going to store the meat for future use, you will probably find that you have a better product if the meat has been aged. If you plan to butcher a pig for a pig roast, I've noticed that you should either never let the meat go into rigor mortis (cook it immediately, before the muscles start to stiffen up) or wait at least until that's done (1-3 days, for a potbelly). For immediate cooking, cook covered, at a low temperature (200F - 250F) for roughly 25 to 35 minutes per pound and finish uncovered for about 10 minutes at a high temperature (350F - 400F). Then let the meat rest covered for 10-15 minutes before carving. This is a guide. Cooking circumstances will vary, and individual pigs will vary. A cooking thermometer is your best bet.
Aging meat will tenderize it, and under the right circumstances also improve the flavor. There is an ancient hunter's tradition to age meat by letting it hang. Outside, the carcass is at the mercy of the weather, potentially simply freezing at night, and then during the day warming up to temperatures that encourage bacterial growth (typically around 40F), not to mention critters finding it and carrying it off. If you are going to be regularly dealing with butchered meat, you should consider an investment in a spare refrigerator. That way, you can set a temperature and not open the door until the aging time has been reached. There is a narrow temperature range in which aging is accomplished, too cold and it simply freezes, too warm and it rots. I've found 35F works well.
You can package the freshly butchered pork into whatever sized portions you want, and simply let them sit in the refrigerator until the aging time is over, and then either cook or freeze the meat. Ideally the meat should be sealed well, so juices don't leak out and spill all over the refrigerator, creating a giant petri dish scenario. Again, like the refrigerator, if you are going to be doing a lot of meat processing, another investment that can pay for itself over the long run is a vacuum sealer. They are much quicker and more reliable than butcher paper. Also when guests look in the freezer, they will be more impressed by, and therefore more inclined to try home processed meat, if it looks like it has been professionally done. Plastic kitchen bags that zip closed are a close second if you are going to be using the meat in less than a few months, and you have been meticulous about not having bone shards in the meat.
Dry aging is what I call aging the meat uncovered in the frost-free refrigerator. Again, this is something that goes back to the hunters and is a more controlled version of "letting it hang". The hunters will tell you how much better the meat is if it was allowed to hang. They may or may not realize why, but allowing air to the meat will dehydrate it somewhat, or completely depending upon the time and conditions. Many restaurants will boast about how long they've "dry aged" their steaks, and I've seen totals of 4-6 weeks listed. By partially dehydrating the meat, the flavor will be more concentrated, and therefore in most people's opinions, better. The other thing this does, is at roasting time, it seems to provide a little more leeway. A drier piece of meat, will give up a smaller volume of water while cooking, and therefore more likely roast, rather than stew in its own juices. Of course that means a smaller volume of juice with which to make gravy, but the question is whether you prefer the flavor to be in the meat, or the gravy? It is much easier to stretch your volume of gravy as opposed to meat. I like to let the meat dry such that it loses about 10% of its weight at butchering, which for my refrigerator translates into letting the meat sit uncovered in a bowl in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, before vacuum sealing it and then letting it age for another 10-14 days before cooking or freezing.
Meat that has been ground does not need to be aged. The grinder has broken down the cell membranes, and tenderized it for you. Stewed meat is cooked for a much longer time at low temperature to tenderize it, maybe 6 hours at barely a simmer, and so also won't require aging. Pastured potbelly tends to have a stronger flavor than commercial pork. Think of it as the dark meat of pork. Feel free to be a little more liberal with your favorite spices. If you still think it bland, and want to concentrate the flavor even more, let it dry age longer, to reduce the water content. My favorite quick recipe is to take a frozen 20 oz block of sausage, (a full sandwich sized zip-seal kitchen bag) and steam it in water with diced peppers, onions and spices for a nearly no fat taco meat, or add canned tomatoes and beans for chili.
Obviously, the question, of how much to serve, depends on how much meat, you eat. I last roasted a hind leg, from a roughly 9 - 12 month boar. Between Grandparents, Parents, Teens and Preteens, I figure there were 5 adults and 2 children, (based on Joy of Cooking recommendations, we tend to eat at or above the suggested meat servings). Everyone enjoyed the meal and had their fill, and there was a small amount of meat left over. For stew meat, (for a couple meals), I will slow cook both fore limbs, then de-bone, and cut section of meat into bite-sized portions, add to potatoes and vegetables etc.
For a family of 5, I can figure on one 9-12 month pig to provide 2 meals of roast pig hindleg, 2 meals of ribs, 3 plus meals of tacos or chili, 2 plus meals of stew, and 2-3 meals of leftover meat converted to oriental cuisine. That adds up to one boar providing meat for up to sixty individual meals. When figured this way, it becomes obvious how the smaller pigs can provide self-sufficiency very quickly.
Boar Taint is a very controversial topic within the Pig Community and has give rise to a notion that Boars have to be castrated several weeks prior to butchering or the meat will have an offensive flavor. Personally, I have never observed a Potbelly boar to exhibit this characteristic. The meat from four year old intact boars has been indidstinguishable from 6 month old sows except for the fat content. (Sows tend to be fattier since they need to build up reserves to be later converted into milk for the piglets.)
There are three main theories to explain this reported phenomenon of Boar Taint: Genetics, Diet and Sloppy Butchering.
Genetics might play a role in some breeds (the closer to wild type, apparently the less likely they seem to have it). Some authors have written that certain breeds of pigs have a disproportionate rate of Boar Taint. Potbellies are not counted among those breeds as far as I've read. Of the studies that I have read, I have not been convinced that the proper statistical analyses had been performed. If correct, then any results of the studies would be invalid. However, any student of logic can point out that an invalid conclusion can still be correct. It was simply arrived at by illogical means. Personally, I think that if there is a genetic component, then any farmer who sells either breeding stock or meat from a line containing this trait should cull the entire line. Such animals would do a diservice to the consumer and ultimately to every level of the industry.
Diet might play a role. There have also been studies that report to have examined the effect of diet on lines that are purported to contain Boar Taint. If the studies are correct, pasturing rather than penning the animals seems to mitigate the effect. Making an effort to include chicory in their diet in particular might be of benefit. It's well known that we should avoid eating sick animals. Not only is there less risk of food-borne contagion, but healthy animals probably taste better. A penned pig is at the mercy of the one feeding it and so could have a dietary insufficiency that might not otherwise manifest until after the age of butchering. Pastured animals (where there is enough space that the pasture can recover as fast as the pigs will overturn it) will have a larger variety of things to eat and so are less likely to suffer from malnourishment.
Maybe Genetics and Diet do play a role? Evolutionarily, it would seem to be an advantage for a prey animal to taste bad and there are natural models for that, particularly in invertebrates. I see no reason why this couldn't happen in livestock. I've simply been unconvinced that the literature bears it out. The diet studies, that I read appeared to fail to properly take into account the difference between penned vs pastured animals. Pastured animals will be cleaner unless perhaps the penned animal is bathed and groomed on a regular basis.
Sloppy Butchering will obviously make even the best meat foul. I've heard many farmers relate that certain processors seem to have higher rates of Boar Taint and when they changed processors, that the problem faded. This is a no-brainer. For millennia hunters have prized wild boar meat as among the highest of delicasies. Obviously the game animals were not castrated prior to butchering. On all the TV shows with chefs who travel the world, I've never heard even a single one complain about the quality of local pork on every continent (except obviously Antarctica where there is no local pork). If you spill feces, urine or smegma onto the meat at the time of butchering, you might as well salvage everything above that point using new knives and feed the rest to the dogs. Their taste buds won't mind it and their stomach acid will kill the bacteria. For many years I was convinced that this was the only reason to explain the theory of Boar Taint. A person got their meat back from the processor and didn't like the flavor and then complained. The processor, rather than admitting that they did a sloppy job made up this myth to quiet the irate customer. As long as the customer never did their own butchering the myth could continue.
Obviously a farmer with poor quality meat needs to reexamine the entire process of meat production including diet and genetics, so I would never suggest to simply dismiss these concerns. However, Sloppy Butchering is an obvious false reason for Boar Taint and needs to be considered if there is a concern.
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