Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Butchering Time! (Cumberland Saga)

Roger and Alice scheduled the butchering of their two hogs on the last Saturday before Christmas.

They kept them on the east side of their collection of buildings and were out-of-sight (and downwind) of Sarah’s house so Blain had never paid them much attention until butchering day arrived.

The inside of the pen looked like the aftermath of a WWI battle with huge craters and freshly turned dirt and leaves. It had been a good year for acorns, especially the Northern Red Oaks and Roger had tasked a couple of his grandkids with raking leaves and acorns onto a tarp and dumping it over the side of the pen. The pigs enjoyed the rooting around and the acorns were free food.

“We used to notch the ears and let the hogs free-range” Roger told Blain.

“How did you get them to come back?” Blain wanted to know.

“Pigs like their comfort and their routines. I would feed them a half-bucket of corn every night at exactly the same time and then I would shut them into the pen until morning when I let them out again” Roger said.

“Why did you stop?” Blain asked.

“It was a combination of things” Roger admitted. “Too many neighbors who would complain about hogs tearing up their flower-beds. Too many crack-heads and city people who would shoot them just-for-fun.”

“That, and we got wild-hogs running around out there. I am not sure mine would come back. They might join-up with the wild ones or the wild-ones might rip them to pieces and eat them” he said.

Blain looked at the two hogs. To him, they looked as big as the M-60 that was parked outside the VFW Post in front of the airport back home. It was hard to imagine something mean enough to tear them apart.

“How big are they?” Blain asked.

“Not really sure but I figure the bigger one is pushing 400 and the smaller one is not far behind” Roger said. “There are only two times you can get a good price for a pig and that is when it is 30 pounds and when it is 230 pounds.”

“These are a lot bigger than 230 pounds, though” Blain reminded him.

“Farm animals are sorta like humans. First they grow their frames...their bones. Then they grow meat over those bones. Finally, they put on fat. The commercial markets are all about meat and most hogs are all meat and just a little bit of fat at 230 or 240 pounds” Roger told him. “We use a lot of lard up here and it makes sense to keep fattening them up as long as we have culled ‘taters and turnips and free acorns to feed them.”

“Everybody should kill a hog at least once in their life, so today you get to do it” Roger said.

Blain wasn’t too sure that he wanted to but the crowd of “Helpers” was mostly assembled waiting for the main event to start.

Roger showed him how to load a .22 LR into his “barn-gun”, an ancient, bolt-action single-shot rifle. Then he reached through the feedlot panel and traced on the closest pig's face. “Ya wanna draw two imaginary lines. One from his right ear-to-his left eye and another from his left ear-to-his right eye. The “X” marks the spot.”

“The only thing you gotta be careful about is to make sure that you are holding the barrel close to square with his forehead so the bullet goes in straight” he said.

The hog was contently chowing-down on some cidery, half-frozen apples that Roger had dropped along the base of the feed-lot panel that confined the animals. “Wait for him to lift his head…”

The end of the barrel was about 2” from the hog’s forehead when Blain pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot seemed like a pitifully small “pop” and Blain was amazed when the pig dropped in his tracks like a sack of potatoes.

Roger relieved Blain of the .22 and dispatched the other hog, which had suddenly realized that something was up and was a lot more skittery. Blain was glad that Roger had nominated him for doing-the-deed on the first one and not the second.

Roger used the bucket on the tractor to lift each pig, one-at-a-time by their hind-feet. He slit their throat and let the blood run into a large stock-pot. “The ladies will turn this into Blutwurst.”

Then, after the blood flow had dropped to just a trickle, Roger used the tractor to slowly dip them into the scalding cauldron. After lifting it out, he let it cool for a few minutes in the cool, chill air and then laid it down on a large tarp for the kids to start scraping off the hair.

The rest of the day was endless labor of cutting and splitting wood for the rendering pots which were nothing more than steel barrels with the paint burned out of them. The "kettle" was 1/3 of a 30 gallon steel barrel that nested into the top of the 55 gallon barrel.

Walking by the set-up, Blair saw that there was about an 1-1/2" of clearance between the sides of the kettle and the top of the 55 gallon barrel which had a small door cut near the bottom where wood could be added and which could be adjusted to tweak the draft. 

There was almost no stand-around time for Blain. When he wasn’t feeding the fires he was turning the handle on a meat-grinder or cutting pig-fat into strips for Sarah to feed into the rendering kettles.

Sarah used a dipper with screen on the end of it to scoop out the deep-brown, very shrunken strips before adding more new ones. She sprinkled them with salt and offered one to Blain. It was very, very hot...and absolutely delicious; better than any potato-chips he had ever eaten.

Blain passed on the “blood pudding” but surprised himself when he wasn’t squeamish about cleaning intestines for sausage casings.

Blain’s least favorite kettle to feed was the one boiling the pig’s heads. The slow boil kept them roiling up. He didn’t know which one was the one he had shot (the heads had been skinned) but he imagined that both of them were giving him looks of hurt and betrayal through their cloudy, cooked eyes.

The few short breaks he got he spent with the older men who were preparing the “pink brine” for curing the hams, bacon and other bits. Even Sig was chatty. Seeing that much rich food put everybody in a joyous mood.


  1. The aiming "X" described is exactly how my uncles used to drop beef cows in their tracks, though they used a .22 magnum bolt-action rifle and shooting sticks to take aim.

    1. Local butcher prefers a 22 Mag also, the inspectors take a dim view of needing follow up shots.

  2. Blain's first taste of cracklins. Bob in B.R

  3. ERJ - Having seen an actual butchering operation this year (steer though) this reads very similar.

    The lard rendering is interesting - I have read of it, but never the specifics of the process.

    The promise of a feast almost always puts people in a good mood.

  4. I have two pigs that are scheduled for harvest next month. I have never processed a pig so have scheduled a mobile butcher to come to the farm. We plan to have at least a couple litters per year, sell weaned piglets to other farms, and keep two or three to process ourselves.

  5. Did it a few times back in the 1960's when it wasn't too shocking even in a regular developed neighborhood. Still love cracklins, albeit the Mexican form chicharones. We get pork fat and skin at local carniceria so it is a regular treat. Best when warm - and I really like the ones with a little meat on them. Check the local Mexican market if you want to try a small batch - and keep that fat for beans or whatever! PS - waiting for discussion of head cheese. I never really developed the taste for it, but all the German's in the family sure loved it.

  6. For what it’s worth-
    We used a .22 LR on pigs.
    Cattle, we stun with a sledge hammer strike at the base of their skulls, then cut the throat (essentially from the base of the jaw crossways.
    When the pig dropped, we’d roll it onto its back and use a straight spined 6” blade to cut into its throat lengthwise above its inverted jawline, taking care not to veer into either shoulder. One jab in, back the blade out 2/3 of its length, turn it 90 degrees, then back in.
    A meat hook with an eye at the end of its shaft would be shoved sideways into the pig’s mouth, then turned 90 degrees so the hook would protrude pointed snoutward under the lower jaw. An ash handle, maybe 18” long, was through the hook’s eye.
    Two of us would grab the eye, and lift the pig up into a pickup’s tailgate.
    The truck would be back up to the barrel of heated water.
    We had a weighted stick thermometer with a steing on it that we’d have in the water barrel. When it reach just short of boiling, (210 F) we’d toss in a scoop of ashes from the fire. The hog would be dipped into the water, pulled out, and dipped a second time.
    My Dad insisted that the ashes made the bristles stand away from the hide better.
    After the second dip, we’d use hog scrapers and knives to remove bristles.

  7. Been there, done that.

  8. Swine rations have gotten so expensive the 4H/FFA kids can't hardly afford to raise a pig to auction. Along with the price of a fair quality weiner pig up %500. But of course there is no inflation we have been told.

  9. Scalding the hog was ladling the water on the dearly departed then scraping. We didn't have a way to lift the pig that high. It would have made things quicker .


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.