Monday, November 19, 2007

These Pigs Need to be "Baconified"

We just took 10 very fat hogs to a slaughterhouse to have them
slaughtered and turned into bacon and ham.

The hogs are too huge to scald at our local plant that scalds -
they'll break the scalder. They eat so much that we can't afford to
feed them anymore. They are so big Gary can barely fit 10 in his
trailer. If you stress them, they'll knock you down and bust down
fences to get away. You can't make them do anything - you have to
trick them.

They are about a year old and 500 lbs - more than twice as old and
twice as heavy as normal hogs. A lot of their extra weight is fat,
which represents a huge amount of feed. They have visible jowls and
fat. These were the biggest and fattest hogs on the farm. The barley
bill will drop perceptibly with their departure.

The video shows Gary getting the hogs out of the trailer. They were
packed in pretty tight, and as they'd been sleeping during the ride,
he needed to agitate them a bit to get them out of the truck.

Gary uses a paddle to get them out. The paddle irritates them enough
that he can somewhat control their movement. The hog panel blocks
their vision, which encourages them to go elsewhere. Getting the first
few out is the key, the rest will follow.

Don't think that's abusive or mean. First off, watch how the hogs treat each other at feeding time or when one hog is injured; then you'll see some abuse. And if Gary were to abuse the hogs and they got scared, they'd heave up and try to get away from him, injuring themselves and Gary. They could crash right though Gary's puny red panel too, if they felt like it.

Some of you are probably wondering how it happened that the hogs went from playing in a nice field to winding up in a trailer, and then a pen at a slaughterhouse - without being visibly stressed.

It took a lot of brains and planning on Gary's part. He lured them in
from the field by letting their feeders run out, and offering feed
where he wanted them. He got some into a barn using sour apples. He
sorted the small ones out of the barn, and then finally the barn had
10 big and fat hogs in there. Then he used more apples to lure them
down a narrow alley into trailer. At no point did he stress them - had
he done that, they would have busted the panels and gotten away,
ruining everything. Big hogs like that can jump several feet in the

So at every step of the way, Gary outsmarted the hogs.

There's Gary (Rocky Ridge Ranch) and Zuzana Putnam (of Wooly Pigs)
relaxing with the hogs in the trailer. Gary is probably just happy to
have the pigs in the trailer and settled down for the trip to
slaughter - it could have gone wrong so many different ways. Zuzana is
dreaming of the juicy, flavorful bacon that these hogs will provide.

And there's the hogs in the trailer, settled down and sleeping. Despite
being quite tight, they weren't particularly stressed. That's how they
sleep on a cold night.

Older pigs like these, fattened appropriately, are best used for cured products. In about 10 days, we should have jowl bacon, shoulder bacon, back bacon, ham, etc.

"Bacon" doesn't just mean cured and smoked belly! You can do that same process to different parts of the hog. Everything that we can cure on these hogs will get cured - and it will be USDA-inspected, so we'll be able to retail it legally.

The top video above show some of the cured products cooking in a pan. That's "bacon chunks" (aka random scraps of cured meat) and a strip of bacon, cut in half. Raising the hogs properly gives the fat a
very special quality. The rendered fat is fantastic - very, very light. The photo shows my dinner. I soaked up the grease with my homemade bread. Most pork is so gross I wouldn't eat the grease that way.

In the end, it was time to say goodbye to the pigs. Gary got them off the truck and into the stalls of the slaughterhouse. Tomorrow they'll be killed, and then turned into bacon. That look on the pig's face is the usual "got some food?" look. I think she's a beautiful pig, but at the same time, I can't help but think that her jowl is going to taste fantastic.

If you want to get such bacon, and not pay retail, I recommend that you order a half hog and have a custom butcher turn it into bacon. That's more humane and less trouble for the farmer. You'll also save yourself a lot of money - doing USDA processing costs a lot more, for no perceptible benefit. As long as you don't need to resell your bacon, you might as well go custom.

E.g. Turning a whole (monster) hog from Wooly Pigs into bacon, via custom slaughter and processing, should cost $800. That's a lot cheaper than paying retail, considering that our bacon will probably cost $10/lb.

If you just need a hog, please contact me - we've got lots of them and now is the season to slaughter them.


boberica said...

On the subject of bacon.... In all my work in kitchens with charcuterie, pink salt has been a mainstay. From hams to guanciale, bacon to salami, it's always been there. I've also always known of the harmful effects of certain preservatives. I actually work currently in a preservative free kitchen, for me this is very limiting. Any concerns as the hogs go to be cured?
Will the bacons primarily be available online?

Heath said...

boberica: I'm not bothered about the use of nitrites in curing. If you read your copy of "Rauchen ...", you'll see that you get more nitrates and nitrites in your drinking water and vegetables than you do from your meat.

In any case, my options for USDA processing are so disgustingly limited that it warrants another blog post.

I'm just happy to be able to get any bacon at all made from my hogs.

If you tell a custom butcher like CNJ Custom Meats that you don't want any nitrites/nitrates in the bacon, Curt will probably do it that way (you have to work it out with him) -- but don't ever expect a USDA processor to do it your way. Or if they do, expect to pay an arm and a leg for it - because it will be a specialty product. And it won't be made out of the best meat - because if you are selling to the no-nitrite crowd, you can get away with a lot (as long as you avoid nitrites).