The sky was a sad, dull gray. Its overcast frown seemed to sap the life and energy and color out of everything it touched. The world around me was solemn and subdued. “Melancholy” would be a good word for it. A cold, wet wind was blowing steadily from the South, moaning a slow, mournful tune. Raindrops were pelting loudly against the corrugated tin of our pig pen.
All things considered, it was a pretty miserable day to be outside.
But there I was, standing dejectedly in the rain, and wishing deeply that I wasn’t.
I always get that way on butchering day though. As much as I enjoy cutting meat (and all the delicious meals that follow), I always hate the first part; the part when you actually have to put the animal(s) down — and our pigs were no different.
Y’see, I’ve been taking care of those stinkin’ things for 4 months now. I’ve been out with them every morning and every night, and I have to admit, they’ve kinda grown on me.
Sure, they can be pretty frustrating at times — like when they broke the brand new water de-icer, just a day or two after I installed it for them. Or how they started dumping entire tubs full of food into the mud, just so they could get to it “easier.” Heck, they even tried to eat my phone, for crying out loud! And then there’s the mud… It doesn’t matter how much straw you lay down for them, they still manage to churn their pen into a reeking, muddy quagmire every time it rains, snows, or thaws.
But despite all the frigid mornings and evenings spent breaking their ice; despite all the wasted feed; despite all the times I’d cussed those stinkin’ pigs and threatened to shoot them, I still couldn’t help feeling a little regretful when the time came to actually do the deed.
Like I said, it was a cold, gray morning. Very gloomy. I pulled my hood on a little tighter, trying to keep out the wind and rain.
Then, with a sigh of resignation, I turned to my father-in-law, who was standing by my side, and said:
“Well, we might as well get started, don’t ya think?”
He nodded, and I handed him my well-worn .22 rifle, and started the long, slow climb over the fence and into the sloppy pig pen. When I hopped down inside, I sunk up to my ankles in mud, and then turned around and took the rifle from him again.
I was feeling very somber and reluctant, but the pigs, on the other hand, were all sorts of curious. They had no idea what was coming. As I racked a shiny brass cartridge into the chamber, they just cocked their chubby heads and perked their floppy ears. Something important was happening; they could feel it. The black one even approached me and started sniffing the muzzle of my rifle.
That made a difficult task even harder…
In the end though, it went pretty quick; just a well-placed shot to the forehead, then a quick knife thrust to the throat, just above the breastbone; wait for the blood to stop flowing, and that was it.
Almost before I knew it, those three goofy porkers that I’d grown to know and love, were dead.
Steam was slowly rising from their warm bodies, and the cold, uncaring rain was pelting down on them, washing away the blood into swirling, muddy pools in the pig pen.
And that’s when the real work began.
Slowly, one by one, I dragged the heavy carcasses out of the pig pen and into the snow — sometimes slipping and sometimes sticking in the deep, squelching mud. By the time I’d finished, I was muddy and bloody clear up to my armpits, and all-around soggy from the constant drizzle. And that was just the beginning. To tell you the truth, the rest of the day was a stinking, soaking, shivering blur. Lindsey’s dad sprayed the carcasses off for me with a hose, and I got to work with the gutting, skinning, and sawing.
It was well after dark by the time I finished, with 6 sides of pork hanging beautifully in the shed.
I definitely slept good that night!
The next day, however, was even more exhausting than the first. From sun-up to sun-down, and beyond, I was hustling and bustling around that cold shed, breaking down sides of pork into your more recognizable cuts of meat: hams, roasts, bellies, sirloins, tenderloins, etc.
And thank goodness for electric space heaters! Even with our little garage sale special running overtime, that shed was still pretty frigid. At times I found myself just shivering in front of the heater, with my hands shoved deep into my armpits, trying to regain some feeling in my fingers before going back to cutting more nearly-frozen meat.
Believe you me, when the time came later that evening to wash up and sit down at the table for a fresh, hand-cut, home-grown pork chop, I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven!
I won’t bore you with all the details, but for the past 2 weeks, nearly every single evening has been spent doing something with the meat — whether it’s grinding sausage, brining hams, curing bacon, smoking bacon, or slicing bacon, we sure have been busy.
All told, we ended up with more than 400 pounds of pork, including more than 50 pounds of mouth-watering bacon!
Of course, we haven’t been without help.
A friend of mine who does a lot of butchering let us use his band-saw to cut the pork chops. Lindsey’s brother and his wife helped with some of the cutting and wrapping. My dad came up to help with one of our sausage grinding sessions, not to mention letting me borrow his smoker and meat slicer. And Lindsey’s parents have been real lifesavers through the whole process, doing everything from holding my rifle and spraying the carcasses that first day, to babysitting our girls while Lindsey and I worked on roasts.
I tell ya, it sure does take a village!
When we first got these weaner pigs back in September, I certainly didn’t intend to butcher all three of ’em myself. To tell you the truth, I had kinda intended to sell 2 of them. But now that we’re here, and the project is finally wrapping up, I can honestly say, I’m glad we did it ourselves.
It sure has been an adventure!