Farming,  Homesteading

Butchering Season

Harvest and canning season wrapped up just in time for butchering season. I’m really happy with the way we timed everything this year, as it kept us from getting too overwhelmed, and allowed me to focus on things other than butchering or canning. We’re finally getting back to where I want with the house, we’re on task for school, and things are progressing in the yard as they should before the snow arrives.

*Warning: This post contains some graphic images.*

Two weeks ago, we butchered the chickens and turkeys we raised for meat. We had help from my mom, my sister-in-law, and a good friend, which really helped keep things moving along. The two of our older boys even got involved this year. Adam did the job of cutting off a lot of the chicken and turkey feet, voluntarily, we didn’t even have to ask. And Aaron did whatever running we needed for this thing or that so that things could move along smoothly.

Before we began butchering, I decided I wanted to save all of the feet and the necks from the birds for making stock with this year. (I’ve saved the feet before, but not the necks.) And I really want to get better at making good use of the whole animal, so I decided to save the gizzards, hearts, and livers as well. The feathers went into the gardens, and the blood was cooked and dried and will be turned into blood meal one of these days when I have a little bit of extra time.

I really wish I had gotten a picture of these turkeys all puffed up and tails fanned out. They were gorgeous. This is the part of meat-eating nobody wants to think about.

I was admittedly disappointed by how small the chickens were this year. I’m not totally sure why that was, but then again, Aaron was in charge of caring for them this year, so I don’t know if he fed them as much feed as I would have. Not that he did anything wrong. He did a great job taking care of them. We did have one other issue with the chickens, and that was that because they weren’t getting really big, some of them were escaping from the chicken tractor through the gap under the back side of the tractor. We have a rubber flap over it, but some of them enjoyed getting out, and we lost about 8 birds that way. I’m assuming they were picked off by predators. A disappointment, but lesson learned, and now adjustments will be made for next year.

After we lost the initial three turkeys, the rest did just fine. Our largest two were 13 lbs. and the smallest one was 8 lbs, I believe. Again, I was a bit disappointed in the size, but overall, I’m not really surprised. Truthfully, we were up against a lot financially, and that meant we had to decide to feed some of the animals a little less feed. Nobody was starving, but when you’re trying to make them grow nice and large, you do want to be able to feed them plenty. That can get expensive, especially when you’re feeding pigs and chickens and turkeys for that reason. Plus we needed to make very frequent trips to get feed towards the end because of how fast they’d go through it, and that was getting to be quite a challenge.

I ended up canning the meat from 4 of the smaller chickens, and I canned meat from 3 of the turkeys. I also made broth from each of those carcasses so that I could can the meat (the meat gets canned in broth), and also have more for making soups this winter. At first, I thought “I don’t want to make too much broth,” but then I realized that I can use broth to make gravy, cook rice, and make macaroni and cheese, in addition to making soup and just having broth to drink. Now I plan on making a lot more as we cook up chicken and turkey this fall.

What we’ve finished of the pig butchering has gone really well so far. The actual slaughter of the pigs was admittedly harder than with chickens or turkeys. Scott hunts, and I’m not unaccustomed to seeing an animal field dressed or skinned, but it’s definitely different to be up close and in person as the animal dies. That part went about as well as you could expect with both animals. They both went down with one shot, and they both bled out thoroughly.

We slaughtered the first pig on Friday morning, then skinned and gutted it, removed the head and quartered the remainder to get it in the cooler to chill. Ideally, we would have been able to let the carcass hang overnight, but the temperature has been on the rise the last few days, and it was going to be too warm out. It needed to begin chilling properly, so we had to push hard to get the work done.

We saved the livers and hearts from the pigs, as well as the jowls, cheeks, and caul fat. One set of trotters is being saved for a friend, and another is being set aside for the dog. We could have left the skin on the pigs and scalded and scraped them, but quite frankly, we were just not up for that task. Maybe we will in the future, but there’s just too many things to learn the first time around without having somebody skilled and knowledgeable around.

Saturday, the plan was to slaughter, skin, and gut the second pig, with some extra help, and work on butchering the first pig. Overall, it went pretty well. I really did kind of expect the pig to be easier to butcher than it was, but in reality, it wasn’t that difficult. The biggest issue that I had was that our pig was a different breed than what was pictured in the book, so the color of the meat as well as the size and shape of some muscles were different. It may also be partly a difference of male/female, which I won’t know until I butcher the next pig.

There were a few issues for Scott and our friend while they worked on gutting the second pig. That pig (Bacon) was male, and male pigs have a “pizzle,” which requires extra steps in the gutting process. When Scott and I did the first pig, he was very concerned he’d end up cutting something wrong when he did the bung, and it took quite awhile to get through everything properly. He decided to try something a little different with the second pig, and I guess that didn’t go very well. I’m not exactly sure what all went wrong, or if anything else went wrong, but he just told me that it went better when I was around the first time. I will say, it did seem as though the second pig skinned more easily than the first, so that was good.

As for the actual butchering of the first pig (breaking the carcass down into cuts), it went about as well as should be expected for a first attempt at butchering a pig. We have a really good book that explains the cuts and all that, but really, it needs about a hundred more pictures! Okay, so maybe it would have benefited me to watch a video of a pig being broken down. And I’ll probably do that before I work on the next one.

After our lunch break, we began taking cuts from the remainder of the carcass. My friend is standing by one half, and I by the other. She has the rib cage showing, and mine is the skin/fat side. The leg you are seeing is the front leg.

We had my mom and another friend over to help with the actual butchering, and it was a learning curve for everyone, but they both did great, and were very understanding at how lost I got at times. We started with the back legs, and there is a lot of work to get that back portion down to just the “ham” of the pig. The pelvic bone was a bit of a challenge to work out of the meat, and honestly, that was the hardest part of the entire process, because I didn’t understand the shape of the bone. To make things more difficult, every half is a mirror image of the other, so you have to invert everything mentally as you work on one half vs. the other.

We worked both halves of each portion simultaneously. So first we did the back shanks (the ham), then we worked on the loin and the belly (that was by far the easiest portion), and then we worked on the butt and picnic (the front portion). Our friends left after we had gotten the second pig fully slaughtered and had finished the ham and the belly. My mom stuck around until most everything was cleaned up. After she left, I had a few lug bins of meat and scraps and bone to package and put away, and a little bit of extra clean up to do, but I was done by 7:30. That was a long day.

Saturday started at 9 a.m. (once our helpers arrived), and I helped Scott and our one friend get the second pig slaughtered. I focused on holding the legs as still as possible, and then get it loaded on the sled to pull out of the pen. We all stayed outside as the pig was hung, and then washed off. Our friends took on that job. Once that was completed, the women moved inside to do the butchering. Aside from a brief lunch break, and the long pauses as I studied the parts to figure out where we needed to cut, then do mental gymnastics to figure out how to invert that for the other half, it was largely non-stop work from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for me.

I’m hoping to have a little bit of time soon to do some more writing on these processes, reviewing them a little further. Our final thoughts on raising pigs and turkeys is that we’ll definitely be doing it all again. There were lots of lessons learned, and not even just because we did something “wrong” per say. The whole experience was just very educational.

We’ve had a lot of non-butchering related things going on around here as well, but I don’t want to get into all of that in this post. I would like to give a huge thank you to our family and friends who have helped us out through this process. You made things go so much more quickly, and took a lot of the stress off of us. We thoroughly enjoy the fruits of our labor, but it’s an intense process that is certainly made easier with extra hands on deck!

If you have any questions about specific parts of the whole process of butchering pigs, chickens, or ducks, leave your comments below, and I’ll either try to answer them in the comments, or when I write in more detail about what we did.

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

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