Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The harvesting of the piglet

Today we have been busy investigating the innards of our Tamworth male piglet, the same  piglet which was born at the start of this year, and who is now in permanent repose in our freezer. But he is not entire. No. He is in bits. 

To cut him up was quite a task. He was a big boy (around 100 kg), having been fed well during the days of his life. Last weekend was supposed to be his last, but we were not psyched up enough to do the task. It takes effort to terminate a life. Having a homestead is not all full of fun and frolics, especially when it comes to the life cycles of the animals which live here. Sometimes nature takes it into her own hands to make a termination, as in the loss of our rabbits and our cockerel Orpy, other times it is our responsibility. 

We have been in avoidance mode though. Should have done him a few weeks back, but kept putting it off. One must be in the right frame of mind. One cannot approach the task in a gungho manner. One does not want to cause upset to all concerned. But winter is fast approaching and we need to get our Tamworth boar in with his two girls so they can start making next year's piglets, which means that the two youngsters born at the beginning of the year have to go. 

It came to be the morning of yesterday, Friday, and it was time. For the last couple of weeks Lester has been getting into pig pen with the two adult girls and the two youngsters so that they could get used to him being within touching distance. With pot under one arm, Lester was putting little piles of food on the ground. The pigs would then run after him, from pile to pile, finally settling for one pile each. 

It was an overcast day, drizzle was in the air, but Male Piggy was happy and full of life. The normal barging about with his aunt, sister and mum, then he settled himself at his chosen pile of food. Lester stood nearby, went to where he was, MP looked up, Lester reached down and gave him a pat and a fondle about the ears, MP gave a snortle, and put his snout into the food.

Kaboom. A fraction of a second later he was on the ground. The others kept eating. There was no other sound apart from some passing traffic and the sound of food being munched. Lester yelled at me to get the rope in to him. Rope was in a tangle. Took a few precious seconds. MP was quiet on the ground. Lester roped his back legs. Said for me to lift his front end while Lester said he would life his back end. Was not do-able. He weighed a ton. His eyes were open but not seeing. He was gone. His sister came over to give him a snout to snout sniff. Looked like she was saying goodbye to him. His mum and aunt disregarded him though, too busy with getting their breakfast inside of themselves.

Lester went into hurry-mode. Yelled at me to pull on the rope. Somehow we got MP out of the paddock. It was not a huge distance, just a couple of metres, but Lester and me got all puffed out. Nevertheless it had to be done. Sharp knife in, throat slit, blood drained out onto the ground, last twitches from his nervous system. All done. 

Needed to get him into the wheelbarrow. No chance. Couldn't even lift half of him off the ground let alone all of him. Nothing for it but to get the tractor. Up he was hauled, a little unceremoniously I must admit, but then it was our first time and so far the life termination had gone very well. No sound had been uttered, no panic, no upset, no squeals of outrage, no pain had been felt by MP. It had been a dignified death for him. 

Pots of water were already boiling on the stove. I checked up on them while Lester drove the tractor into the Courtyard, depositing MP on the floor of the Tall Barn. Scrub down time to get the bristle-like hair removed from the body of MP by pouring hot water onto the hair and scraping like fury. To and fro betwixt kitchen and Tall Barn I went, carrying pots of boiling water to soak the hair in so it would soften. All was awash. MP, Lester, the Tall Barn floor, me. Plenty of water everywhere. Over two hours later it was done. TM was now a pristine white, apart from his head which we could not bring ourselves to mess about with. Off it came. Went into a bag. Went into the freezer entire. It is now residing at the bottom of the freezer, waiting for the day when I can pluck up the courage to sort it out. It might be difficult. I might never do it. I can work on the body of an animal raised here, but the head is beyond me at the moment, probably because I knew the animal when it had life. 

Time to get inside MP. Everything out. MP wrapped all about with spare curtains and sheets. Left in peace. It was now past mid-day. 

The next morning, from Tall Barn to kitchen MP had to be got. With difficulty this was done. OK from Tall Barn to house as MP was still hoisted up on the tractor, but from tractor to kitchen the wheelbarrow had to be used, with difficulty, much difficulty, but we got MP into the kitchen eventually. 

Now into pieces MP was cut. He was lean, not much fat, and there was lots of him. The meat kept coming and coming, with Lester cutting and me bagging. 

All done. Lester and me in a mess again. Kitchen in a mess. MP now in tidy pieces in the freezer. 

And that is how we spent our weekend. In our freezer we now have rabbit, pork, lamb, and chicken. It is very hard work, this homesteading lark,which is why we spent the rest of the weekend zonked out. But we also feel as if we have taken another step towards becoming self sufficient with what we eat. 

I have already made lard from some of MP's back fat, the boiled and melting of the fat producing a nice pile of  small pieces of crackling. But we have not tried the meat yet. It is too soon, the memories of the weekend being still too fresh in our minds. When those memories have faded, then I shall start serving up portions of MP.

And it has rained! Not enough to soak the ground though, just enough to wet the surface, so I am going to plant some onions and garlic. Have just picked another load of tomatoes, but have left the last of the pole beans on the plants to dry for winter use. No more cutting of grass to make hay now, but still using the scythe to cut down everything which should not be growing where it is. 

Now wearing layers. It has turned chillier. No fires though, no need. 

And there is still one piglet to 'do', and three lambs, all of which are ten months old, so are really young adults and not rompy little beings!


rusty duck said...

You both did well. The next one will be easier. I hope you've got a big freezer!

Vera said...

Jessica, my freezer is not very big, so am saving up for the hugest one we can afford. Setting up a homestead can be very expensive in regards to the initial equipment, but having a bigger freezer means that I can harvest more produce next year apart from the animals we slaughter.

Denise said...

My gran had a scullery and oft as a child I would enter therein and find a pig's head sitting upon the draining board waiting to be...well, whatever it is one does with a pig's head. (Worse, there would sometimes be a half a pig's head - very weird sight indeed, like a pig sinking into the sideboard.)

As a woolly-headed vegetarian who could never do what you and Lester have done, I salute your integrity, Vera! An honest way to live the small-holding life.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Not easy and I really admire you two for getting on with the job, That head will make fantastic brawn with a couple of trotters added :-)
We also need a bigger freezer and we only have the veg and fruit to sort out! Well done. Diane

Horst in Edmonton said...

A very big freezer is very important on the farm. What you should also invest in is a vacuum bag sealer. So that you don't get freezer burn on your meat. I bought a vacuum sealer so that I don't have to throw any food away because of freezer burn.

Vera said...

Denise, you are a treasure! And a choir friend has offered to 'do' the pig's head for us, so it will be on her draining board as it is prepped and not ours, for which I am very grateful!

Diane, someone else is going to do the brawn for us, thank goodness. As for freezers, can't do without mine. Was going to try bottling the produce from the veg plot but have memories of the bottled produce my mum used to make which puts me off! Will think about having a go though, but next year!

Horst, thanks for the advice about the vacuum bag sealer. I did think about getting one but had not got round to it.

John Gray said...

I was so proud of myself when my pigs went to slaughter and I was happy that the little slaughter house was a family concern and very small scale....
I doubt I could do the deed though

well done

Vera said...

John, if we had such a similar slaughter house close to us, then we would have done the same as you, but our nearest place is Tarbes, which is forty or so minutes away and with lots of roundabouts to negotiate, and we didn't want to have to subject our piglets to the fright of such a journey. There did used to be an abattoir ten minutes away but that shut down during our second year here. So, DIY slaughtering it has to be!

the fly in the web said...

Our pigs go ten minutes down the road to a farm which slaughters.
I usually go with them to supervise and all is as quick as possible...but they know something is up.
Our slaughtermen are bemused by how much of the innards I want to recuperate...especially the caul fat.
Like you, I cut the meat myself to get what I want in terms of cuts....and, like you, need more freezer space!

Vera said...

Fly, you are fortunate in having a place which slaughters your pigs so close to you. We saw, but did not keep, the caul fat this time, but next time we shall. I think it is a good idea to cut the meat as well because you do get what you want, and freezers! Probably could fill another two if I did more veg produce freezing!

Jean said...

Well done. The only way is to be quite matter-of-fact about it, I suppose, a bit like being a doctor.