hog butchering

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Hog Harvest

Fall brings harvest time, and it is time to harvest your larger pasture raised animals!  It’s hog harvest time!  You can butcher and process your pig at home, and we can show you how.  This hands-on agri-class gives you an opportunity to learn how to “seam butcher” your pig, a technique that requires very basic equipment and a good table.  You’ll also get to make sausage, homemade ham and bacon, and learn about special charcuterie products you can make at home.  Coppa and proscuitto are within your reach!

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Participants scraping the hair off a hog.

Participants scraping the hair off a hog.

Contact us today to reserve your spot in this three day class that starts Friday, November 11 and finishes Sunday November 13.  For more information, click HERE.

Success! A well cut loin and belly from a Mangalitsa pig.

Success! A well cut loin and belly from a Mangalitsa pig.

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Mold in season

Today is slicing day.  I’m slicing coppa, guancialle, fiocco, and ham (for sandwiches).  Of course, we make sure it’s all good as we go.  That’s a more important step than one may think.  After hanging for some time, the pieces ideally have some mold on them.  This helps impart desireable flavors and keep the meat safe–if it’s a good white mold.  Green and black mold are BAD.  We’re constantly patrolling the hanging room for good molds and bad molds, and I also check as I’m slicing to be sure a given piece doesn’t contain an unpleasant surprise.  When we see green or black mold it gets treated with apple cider vinegar.  If it’s just a small spot, a spray from a spray bottle usually does the trick.  Larger areas require some scrubbing and rinsing in the shop with the vinegar and water.  Then the piece dries and hangs in the shop a day or two to make sure it got cleaned thoroughly before returning to the hanging room.  Mold spores are airborne, so when I find a little mold on a piece I mist the floor and general area lightly with the vinegar as a precautionary measure.  Last year we had more trouble with mold, but this year these measures have worked well.

Another lesson learned this year is that seasonality is an element in the quest for good vs. evil molds.  The reasons for harvesting hogs in the fall when the nights are cold include the fact that the cooler temperatures retard mold and allow the pieces to go through the initial cure, when they are most moist and therefore most vulnerable, with greater safety.  When the more humid summer months come the pieces are either done and in use, or have a protective layer that is dryer and less conducive to mold growth.

There are many other reasons to harvest pigs in the fall and many other ways to control molds in your hanging room.  We discuss them in the classes, which are now all updated and available.  Check out either the Saturday classes to jump into the process that interests you, or come to the weekend class to get an intensive experience!

Pig Season

The Hog Harvest classes are coming up!  Here’s a cool video a friend of ours did about our pigs:

 

Piggie food

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Chopped apples, sour milk, and barley: Yummy in a pig's tummy!

Chopped apples, sour milk, and barley: Yummy in a pig’s tummy!

Chop together in a bucket: rotten apples, sour milk, a couple of chicken carcasses, cracked barley, assorted vegetables.

Allow to sit for one to eight hours to allow the ingredients to soak and blend. 

Dump over fence into feeder.

 

This is the recipe for our baby pig starter feed.  Which only goes to show pigs will eat anything.  Plus, a heritage breed pig can even grow on it.  One of the reasons pigs have been historically popular on farms is that they can eat the refuse that other animals can’t or won’t eat and can convert it into food.  Pigs are omnivores, so they can eat vegetable, dairy, meat, and grain food stuffs.  They are not particular, either, about the condition of the food.

DSCN1438Our pigs get a large variety in their diet.  Mark plants fields with an assortment of crops, including field peas, turnips, rye, mangals (fodder beets), corn, radishes, and the occasional sunflower. Radishes, buckwheat, field peas are spring food as they don’t mind cool soil and are ready quickly.  Turnips and fodder beets are good crops to plant mid summer for fall food as the turnips need to freeze a bit before the sugar sets and the pigs like them.  Mark plants turnip and rye to serve as early winter food.   Rye is a very cold tolerant grass and the pigs will dig turnips out of frozen ground.

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Field peas, tunips, sunflowers make a tasty menu for a pig.

As omnivores, pigs need protein.  Most grain rations use soy to meet this need. We use the refuse from our chicken processing (heads, feet, hearts, livers, gizzards) to supplement their feed.  We haven’t found that this makes them more prone to hunting their own meat as the chickens sometimes help them clean up their grain.  We don’t separate the meat and other scraps (including coffee grounds and egg shells) from the kitchen as the pigs enjoy and convert it all.  When we had a couple of beef processed we asked for all the scraps and discard stuff.  The oxidized cover fat and large joint bones were great feed supplements!

We have used scraps from the prep table at a restaurant and high quality sourdough bread as feed sources.  Bruised apples, unsaleable or uneatable produce, seconds potatoes, etc.  are all good sources for pig feed.  Creativity can find lots of pig feed.  Be sure that what you find is of good quality to begin with.  Free Wonderbread is still Wonderbread and the result will be Wonderbread pork.

What you can feed pigs is only limited by your imagination!

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Lard

Lard rendering in a double boiler.
Lard rendering in a double boiler.

Lard rendering in a double boiler.

I recently came into some back fat from one of our pigs.  The loin had so much fat on it that Mark trimmed half of it off so the chop would have a balanced amount of meat and fat.  I’ve been using a good share of lard lately, so I decided to render it.  Last fall we met a lady from Maine, Debra Evans, who introduced me to a different way to render.  She puts the well chilled fat through the largest plate on her grinder and then uses a double boiler to render it.  The double boiler has the advantage of keeping the fat at the low end of the proper temperature.  Temperature is very important in rendering.  Too cool and you won’t get the fat out of the lard in this century.  Too hot and you can scorch the lard pieces and infuse the protein into the fat, making your lard smell and taste like roasted pork.  That’s OK for frying eggs, but makes a blueberry pie taste funky.  I’m not convinced that the double boiler is better than my wok/lard pan method, but it is easier to manage in a busy kitchen because if I forget it for a while or have to run to the bank it just keeps on safely doing its thing.  For the purposes of a homestead hog harvest situation this is invaluable.  Maybe this fall we’ll get both pans going and do a methodology comparison.

How can you use lard?

  • Fry eggs.
  • Make baked goods.  Leaf lard is better for this than back fat, I’m told, but for not-so-discerning palletes, either works well.  The consistency of your baked goods is lighter if you mix the lard 50/50 with butter.
  • Pop popcorn.  Dorothy loves a late night snack.  She even uses the greasy cracklin’s, which get nice and crispy while the corn pops in the pan.
  • Top dress steamed veggies with some real sea salt and garlic.  Anyone will eat those beans or broccoli!
  • Mangalitsa lard can be whipped and then used as a spread in place of butter.  Add some real salt and herbs and you will be hooked.
  • Test your imagination!

Remember: Fat is flavor.  Fat is your friend.  (Thanks to Brian Polcyn for that mantra!)

 

Pigs

DSC02991“So what are your thoughts on this, Mark? What can simple small pig farmers do to keep our porkers safe from contracting this virus?”

Outbreak of Deadly Piglet Virus Spreads to 13 States

That is an excellent question and it strikes at the heart of basic pig husbandry.  A strong immune system is the key to prevention.

1) Make sure they have space, fresh air, good bedding, dry ground as well as a wallow. A heritage breed sow farrowing outside in straw.  Everyone's healthy!

2) Make sure your feed is separated from their dirty little feet as much as possible (they are pigs and can’t help it!). 

3) If in doubt our first line is biochar (which Joe makes for us), which acts like activated charcoal and provides a double good when we’ve innoculated it first so that its full of good bacteria that strengthen the immune system.

The other thing to look at is your breed of pig. Heritage pigs of any strain have stronger immune systems than the hog house white pigs. ThBioCharey resist parasites and diseases that the others simply aren’t bred to resist anymore. It’s the difference between a layer hen and a broiler chicken.

Come learn more about good hog husbandry at Hog Harvest Days!