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:
Six bales straw or hay: 50
2500 pounds of feed: 700
Acorns and milk: Free!
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.