How to: Butcher a free range pig

I lost my urge to kill for sport when I was 18.  Calvin, Steve and myself were squirrel hunting in the timber across the road from our home when it happened.

I said I lost my urge to kill for sport, but not the desire for meat.  If I ever found myself in the position where I needed  to hunt  to put food on the table, I could.

I debated whether or not to write about  the hog butchering that took place last Saturday because of the subject matter.   Here’s the deal- 90% of Americans  probably have no clue as to where their food really comes from- they’ll inhale a tenderloin or baby back ribs without a second thought- I suppose they think they’re made by little elves in a hollow tree.

The reality is, if you like bacon, ham, tenderloin, barbeque ribs or pickled pigs feet, that piece of meat was once a living breathing pig and you’re living in a fairy tale if you think otherwise.

Last Summer,  I was doing some  carpentry work for a hog farmer.  He offered to give me the runts when it was time to wean.  Normally, the runts are destroyed because they    are just not cost-effective to raise.    I jumped at the chance, my thought was,  I’d put them in the pasture behind the barn, allow them to free range   and when the weather got cold (like now) we would butcher them  just like my grandpa did in the 1920’s. I put the word out locally, to see who would be interested in some “free range” pork- pork that was grown without chemical, a very lean piece of pork. I got over 20 takers.

Pigs are foragers and LOVE to root for their food. Even farmers today who grow free range pigs will often still put a ring in their nose to keep them from rooting.  So  I’m convinced these 6 runts were some of the luckiest pigs that have lived in Iowa in years, but now it was time to butcher….

Due to the explicit nature of  the remainder of this article- I’ve divided this post into two parts.  Don’t read any further if this sort of thing bothers you.  And by the way- please don’t leave any negative comments on this post- I will just delete them. thanks. DM


part 2

       I decided we would butcher 2 pigs this first go round.

Step 1-  The night before, I cut back on the feed.

Step 2 .  I penned up the two pigs we were going to kill separate from rest.

Step 3- I let Phil do the actual shooting- with a pig you want to shoot them in the forehead- right between the eyes.  The pig dropped to the ground, and thrashed for about a minute.

Step 4- We hung the pig up by the back legs, slitting the neck open (front to back) in order to get it to drain-  I’ve never been deer hunting, but I suspect you could talk with any deer hunter who knows how to field dress a deer  and he could explain how to do this step.

Step 5   We skinned the pig (rather than dipping it in boiling water)  being careful not to cut into the guts starting at the back legs and working down to the head- it took two of us  about 20 minutes just to skin one pig.

Step 6 – Removing the internal organs. Again we started at the top (rear end) carefully cut open the carcass without cutting into the intestines, etc. and put everything into a garbage bag-  As you get down to the rib cage, we had to  cut that open with sawzall, I guess some type of hack saw would have also worked.  You have to cut through the front of the rib cage.

Step 7.  I brought the carcass into the garage- it was pretty much done bleeding at this point- and let it hang overnight.   Depending on what you read, you can let it hang (if it’s cold) for up to a week skinned-  that time would have been shorter if we’d dipped it in boiling water) then they recommend 24 to 48 hours only)

step 8.  The next day,  while it was still hanging in the garage, I split the carcass from top to bottom with a sterilized sawzall blade.

Step 9- watch this 5 minute video:  It did an excellent job of showing the initial cuts:

step 10  I put butcher paper on our kitchen table and cut up the pig according to the suggestions on the video.

 I  put the pieces of meat on some cookie sheets to let them chill for an hour in the freezer before vacuum sealing individual packages:

   Before vacuum sealing individual packages:

Couple of final thoughts.- You can’t be too careful in terms of sterilization and cleanliness.  And secondly I could feel the pressure of  political correctness attempting to cast its shadow over me even as I wrote this-

     It’s one thing to be squeamish because you don’t like gross stuff- that  I understand.

     If on the other hand, you are a meat eater  and still  have a bad attitude about this post- you may be in need of professional help. ;-)

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About DM

sitting on my grandpa's farm porch with Feedie
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11 Responses to How to: Butcher a free range pig

  1. Lisa says:

    I found this pretty fascinating! Thank you.

    -Back when I was in college, we used to talk some about eating meat/knowing where your meat was from. The bottom line I arrived at what this: if you don’t eat meat, you are allowed all the opinions you want about the evilness of consuming flesh (although you still need to phrase your concerns in a polite way or I’m not listening and I don’t respect it). And whether or not you eat meat, it should be of some concern as to whether animals are treated humanely.

    However, the conclusion I arrived at for me was that a) I WAS going to keep eating meat and b) IF I was going to eat meat, it was my responsibility to be aware of where my meat was coming from and to be “real” about it. In a way, I think being able to look at this stuff and really see it is the best way to BE respectful of the animal. I don’t think it’s respecting the animal’s life, or God’s creation, to pretend that the hamburger you’re eating is somehow NOT originally from a living animal…

    So. Yeah. Good post! And you’re right, “free range” anything is a rare treat and certain to be better meat!

  2. angie says:

    When’s dinner?

  3. lawyerchik1 says:

    Good points, DM – especially about the sterilization part. I wouldn’t have thought about that. Thanks for posting the process. I have never shot or killed anything (except insects), and I would definitely want to have someone around who knew how if I went this route.

    My grandpa grew up on a farm in Nebraska, and he used to sell and cut meat for Swift and Co back in the day, so he was the “go-to” guy for anything meat-related in our household. Even after they moved to Michigan and lived in the city/suburbs, he used to buy a whole steer and have one of his friends who lived on a farm keep it, feed it, etc., and then kill it – he’d split the meat with the guy who kept it – and then he did the butchering. Best beef I’ve ever eaten in my life (except maybe in Argentina). And good for you, too!! :) Enjoy!

  4. Enola says:

    I can read and watch this stuff – just don’t want too. I lost my ‘taste’ for helping with cleaning up DH’s kill when I saw him skin a furry little white rabbit. Rabbits are too cute to eat.

    I’m curious though – what is rooting and why the ring?

    • DM says:

      Rooting is how pigs forage for roots, grubs, etc. God has given them a very powerful snout- puts me in mind of a mole’s nose. Anyway, a farmer will put (pierce) their snout with a copper ring- about 3/4 inch in diameter…-just like women who get their nose or ears pierced- ouch….right in the tender end of their nose- so when they are tempted to root, they bump that ring- causing shooting pain. eventually, it heals up and not be tender, at which point the farmer will put in another ring= no rooting. The thing is, a pig rooting for food is how they were designed, and to me while I understand you not wanting them to tear up the pasture, in our case, we’re not doing this on a large scale, and I kind of enjoyed seeing them thrive in a more natural enviroment.- that’s why, even though in the end, I am butchering them, they really have had a good life-

  5. lawyerchik1 says:

    One other thing that came to mind as I re-read this post is your comment at the beginning that you lost the urge to kill for sport. I think that has to form the basis for anyone’s development as a human being – killing for food is one thing; killing for “fun” or just because you can is wasteful and (IMO, anyway) possibly sinful. That’s one of the reasons I prefer fishing – you can catch fish for “sport” and put them back (catch and release) without hurting the fish (too much – unless you are not very good!). I do love me a good steak, but I recognize that if I were left to my own devices, I might be more of a fish-i-tarian!! Hopefully, I would learn to be a little more like the American Indians were said to have been about hunting: they killed only what they actually could use, and they used every bit they could.

  6. Sue says:

    I’m a little slow to respond, but I thought it was a great post! My dad grew up on a farm and as a kid, I saw many a things on that farm! I’m glad I did, too. There’s only one way to put meat in the freezer and you did a good job of explaining it. Your meat is pretty good lookin’ too!

  7. John says:

    Great post. Thanks for the step by info. I will refer to this in the very near future. I, unlike you, have not lost the joy of hunting and providing for my family. Soon to stick another pig with my bow, but this time I will process from start to finish and understand what I’m doing. I usually cut out the back-strap or loin, separate the ribs and cut up everything else for deer sausage. Not anymore……

    In my opinion, hunters take animals more humanly than the packing plants. Don’t believe me, visit one and then argue your view point.

    Also my wife and I, grow our own veggies, raise chickens, gather eggs, buy milk directly from a dairy, worm farm, capture rain water, and attempt to limit our waste. Zero waste if possible, but we are finding that hard to do. Oh, and we did this while living in town.

    Watch or read a book about how food in America gets to your table and I bet you’ll be doing much of the same. May I suggest, Food Inc or Food Fight.

    When or if you do try some of the things above, your taste buds will thank you. Free range and home grown beat store bought every single time.

    Next project: solar or wind power. I’m researching those ideas now.

    Again, thank you.
    John, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. sounds like you and I are interested in several of the same things. and thanks too for the book recommendations. DM

  8. jason says:

    thank you for the info. I been looking all over the web to find out how to chop up my pig currently, I’ve gone deer hunting and the process seems to be same but even there i don’t no where to stick the knife sorta speak, with out messin’ up that meat. squirrel and rabbits we could chop up like chickens at there joins then BBQ them. well thank you again for info , I’ma go try now.
    good luck and God bless
    Jason, glad this info helped. thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. DM

  9. shannon bookey says:

    I loved your post. it helped me out alot.. my father inlaw is a pig farmer and seems determined to bring me in to the bisness. he was out of state and one of our pigs got kicked in the head by one of the horses. guess it learnt not to free range there……….. but i digress i have never butcherd a pig befor and would like to thank you your artical was alot of help.

    Ak pigfarmer

  10. Harry H. says:

    What breed of pig was this that did so well just foraging? Thanks for the great post!
    Not sure of their breed Harry, I got them from one of the local farmer, pretty sure they were Yorkshires. thanks for stopping by! DM

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