Pigs to pork

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And we’re done.

It was a very long, very hard day, made possible only by the help of generous, competent, hard-working friends, but the pigs are now hanging in a cooler, awaiting butchering.

I’ll be writing the story of the slaughter for my Washington Post series, so I’m not going to go into detail here. It didn’t go perfectly, but neither was it disastrous. Mostly, it was slow, and heavy, and messy. I went to bed that night about as exhausted – both tired and depleted – as I’ve ever been.

The next morning, after braving the mess in the yard, the boxes of viscera in the shed, and the emptiness of the pig pen, I did the math. That, also, took some braving.  This is a rough approximation of what we spent along the way:

Pigs: $225
Sawdust: 40
Six bales straw or hay: 50
2500 pounds of feed: 700
Acorns and milk: Free!

Fencing: 300
Feeding tubs: 50
Waterer and feeders: 310
Hoses to run water: 60
Slaughter equipment/supplies: 200

With wiggle room, that’s about $2000 (I’m sure there are things I didn’t write down), but about half of it is infrastructure that we could re-use with another round of pigs.

Of course, that doesn’t include all the diesel that fueled the truck that hauled everything involved. The two trips we took to Ten of Us farm – one for reconnaissance, one for purchase – alone cost $30, and then there were countless trips to the feed store and the hardware store. The total also doesn’t include butchering, which we are paying a professional to do.

And it doesn’t include our time. I can’t estimate with any accuracy the man-hours that went into this with, but it was hundreds.

Even so, the costs aren’t wildly out of line with what it would cost to buy a pig from a real farmer like Walter Jeffries. He charges $4.50 per pound hanging weight for a half pig, which comes out to about $400. for half of a pig that hangs at 180 pounds (which means it was slaughtered at about 250). This doesn’t include the $100 per half pig for slaughter and butchering. All told, half a Sugar Mountain Farm pig is $500, although there are significant savings for buying a whole pig, or many years of half-pigs.

A real farmer will have much lower per-pig feed costs because they’re not buying 50-pound bags at retail and they generally find other feed sources to either supplement or replace commercial feed. Walter, for example, feeds his pigs mostly pasture and whey. But a real farmer does have to account for all the diesel the fuels the truck that hauls everything involved. And, of course, his time. Not to mention his mortgage, his property taxes, his utilities, and all his other overhead. A real farmer has to make a profit. We just have to keep our loss within reasonable bounds.

Our pigs were heavier than is optimal at slaughter: Doc was about 280, Spot about 260, Tiny about 240. Hanging weight is about 72% of live weight, so the carcasses came in at 200, 185, and 170 respectively. Doc and Tiny will go the friends for whom we were raising them, and we’ll keep Spot. If we kept all of her, though, it would take us a couple years to go through all that pork. It’s a good thing we got so much help from so many people along the way; we get to thank them in meat.

I’ll have more to say about our pig experience as we go through the rest of the processing and get to the eating. This week, slaughter preparation, slaughter, and slaughter aftermath are dominating my thoughts and feelings in a way that crowds out just about everything else.

I think it’s possible to have a good understanding of the issues involved in raising animals for meat without ever raising one. Sure, you don’t know how to keep a chickens from eating her own eggs, or where a pig likes to be scratched, or what to do when your goat starts coughing, but a well-informed intellectual understanding of animal sentience is sufficient to form a reasoned, reasonable opinion about meat-eating.

Still, I don’t think you can care for, and care about, a large, smart, interactive animal, and then kill it, without having the experience forever inform your ideas about agriculture, and stewardship, and eating. I know I can’t.

The pig pen, before.

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Comments

  1. Tamar,

    I just wanted to thank you & Kevin for giving the fam a chance to meet Doc, Tiny and Spot…just the glimpse for sure informed our family discussions about the consumption of animals in a positive way…

    • JC, your comment went to spam, and I just found it. I think one of the best parts of raising animals for meat is introducing those animals to people who’ve never had a chance to lay eyes on a creature that becomes dinner. I’m very glad your visit here has resonated with your family.

  2. Hi Tamar,

    What age were your pigs at slaughter?
    What age were they when you picked them up?
    How long did you have them?
    What was the back fat thickness?

    You had mentioned the the weights of the pigs. Coupling that with the ages gives you some information on growth rates. Growth rates a affected by genetics, age, diet and temperature (e.g., season) since it takes more calories to keep warm in the winter.

    For comparison, it takes our pigs on a diet of predominantly pasture/hay+whey about six months to get to 250 lbs from birth in the summer, about a month longer in the winter. Shades of grey in the spring and fall.

    In the big hog farms they optimize the diet for fast weight gain since time is money for them. I worry less about days to market, that is speed of production, and more about quality and cost to market.

    Cheers,

    Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm, LLC
    Orange, Vermont
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com

    Future On-farm Butcher Shop: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
    Order Form: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/orderform
    Literature: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/lit

    • Hi Walter — Your comment got flagged as spam for some reason, so I just found it and de-spammed it. To answer your questions:

      Our pigs were probably three (Spot and Tiny) and five (Doc) weeks, which means they were born around the beginning of May, give or take. So they were about 6 1/2 months old, give or take, at slaughter.

      I don’t yet know the back fat thickness, because the pigs are still hanging. I don’t expect these pigs will have a perfect fat-to-lean ratio — we don’t know much about their genetics and we’re obviously rank amateurs in the pig-rearing department. But it sure looks like a lot of really good meat, which is satisfying. I’ll have more data later.

  3. Margaret Vaughn says:

    What a sobering day for you, Tamar. Your last paragraph says it all, and it open to interpretation by the reader in a way I very much appreciate.
    I could never slaughter an animal that I cared for and liked, perhaps loved. I have been forever marked by putting down a dog I loved, and I did not plan to eat him.

  4. It has been fascinating to follow the lives of Spot, Doc and Tiny. I’m looking forward to reading about the slaughter day process. You already have my sympathies for taking on the daunting task of processing 750+lbs of of pig in one day, and the even more herculean task of processing your feelings about keeping pigs for food. And I do like the term ‘stewardship’ a lot.

    • I also like the term ‘stwardship’ a lot; most of us have a very superficial awareness of how we impact the lives of others, including those who cannot speak for the themselves (the animals), the pigs and fish and fowl…the life, without which we would starve off the land. This project, while it may not get us all to agree, does educate, does inform, and does make tangible, the real and complex issues that confront us on a macro-scale, that is, consevations and use of the planet and those we share it with.

  5. I very much look forward to your artcle. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. It’s been fascinating and enlightening. I applaud your stewardship and your conscientious approach to raising your food. Oh by the way I have pink curing salt…if you’re going to smoking ham or bacon.

  6. Tamar, my hat is off to you. This journey has been amazing — thank you for sharing it with everyone.

  7. Great stuff, I always enjoy reading about peoples experiences as farmers. I started out helping out processing 4 pigs and learned from the school of hard knocks throughout the rest of my life. Agriculture builds muscle and character so if you didn’t have it before you have some now. Thanks.

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