Gil Desmarais

On slaughtering a pig

Table of contents

A warning beforehand

This post does not contain any photos, but it might be disturbing to read anyway. This post is not intended as an instruction manual. You will need experience to do this right and the best/legal way possible.
If you’re interested in deepening your knowledge, ask a slaughterer, a butcher or your local administration for pointers.

Introduction

I went to a farm to witness a home slaughtering in winter 2020. We’ve been a group of 5 people including the slaughterer.

The killing procedure

The killing procedure differs in other regions in the world for many reasons (rituals, laws, religion, tradition, personal preferences, etc).

When choosing a pig to kill, you want to avoid any stress possible. Our isolated pig weighted around 80 to 90kg and that seems like a normal weight of an adult pig. Expect some heavy lifting during the procedure:

Blood will squirt out of the cut. The pig will still twitch while and after it bleeds out. That’s normal: the brain’s last commands reach the muscles via the nerves and react accordingly.

The local laws might not always permit the most pain- and stress-less method. It’s hard to measure how pain- and stressless each method is. Discussing this topic objectively is hard as it is fueled with ethical, emotional and moral questions.
For example, some do not daze the animal and just cut the throat with a special knife and a clean cut.3 That cut causes an instant death. Before they do, they sit next to the animal and send prayers and talk to the animal calmly.4

Many traditions demand to have a toast on the now dead pig. So did we.

From a dead pig to two halves

When the blood stopped flowing, the procedure continues.

Now you have two halves which are (almost?) mirrored. You hang those halves for a day (or longer) in a cooling house to dry out and ease the meat up. The traditional house slaughtering happens in late autumn/winter for that reason.

Butchering: cutting halves to pieces

Depending on your butcher tradition, you start cutting pieces out of the halves. Without those pieces it would be hard to use the pig’s meat further.

The different parts of the pig also have different cooking characteristics: some parts are tender after a quick sear or grill, while other parts require a long cooking process to become tender. Some parts aren’t needed to be cooked, like ham but are conserved.

There are a bunch of different cutting methods, depending on the cuisine and the pig’s race mostly. Read more about in the Wikipedia8 or your favorite non-veggie cookbook9.

As our pig’s race is known for good (and lots of) fats, we concentrated on the belly, bacon, etc. When cutting, you usually avoid cutting through the red meat and cut along the fascia and through fat. Usually unnecessary fat is scraped of the meaty pieces. We put the fat aside and made lard out of it.

The end result are pieces of meat you can buy at your butchery: rips, cutlet, chops, tenderloin, neck, roasts, bacon, flank, etc …

Observations and thoughts

One pig causes a lot of work. A house slaughtering requires multiple people to physically work that day. During the day I’ve been quite busy. Most thoughts developed in the days afterwards.

Avoiding stress

You want to avoid any stress possible during the killing procedure. The situation when entering the sty should be totally normal for the pigs.10

So far, so good. Let’s change the perspective from pig to human for a second and imagine the situation yourself: if you know your life will be taken by that person entering the sty, you’d be pumped with adrenaline and fight back.11
Wouldn’t it be nicer if it would just get dark in front of your eyes and from that point on you’d notice nothing anymore?

Switching the perspective back to the pig: the adrenaline will cause blood pressure to raise and thus fill all organs with water and oxygen. Having blood in meat is to be avoided (it spoils) and water lowers the meat’s quality (you can find the water between fascia and muscles). Also the stress hormones released will decrease the meat’s taste.
Some pigs have aching muscles after the procedure. You can spot aching muscles from their color after hanging.

The isolation itself, which involves entering the sty and e.g. put an iron cage around it, looks stressful to me. While shooting a resting animal does not.12

I’m afraid most pigs who’s designation is to give their meat won’t have such good slaughtering conditions. I can’t see a pig being carried in a cramped lorry to the slaughter house for hours being relaxed and calm.

The meat industry utilizes a handful of techniques to daze pigs. They have them available because the law allows them to.13
For example, they use a gas chamber.
They put pigs in a gondola and move them underground. That room is filled with CO2. Since CO2 is heavier than oxygen, the pigs will suffocate. While this requires less human interaction, the death itself is pure agony.

Coping with routine

The slaughterer killed plenty of animals in his life. Still, while the procedure was executed professionally, it was not an easy thing to do for him. It touched him.

This impressed me and I wondered how people working at an industrial scale slaughterhouse cope with it.

The change from animal to product

I still struggle to determine when my mind switched from calling the object animal to product. I think that change happened closely after the throat was cut and blood was flowing. As soon as that switch happened, I felt personally obligated to make the best use of the product. That means to use everything the pig gave us.

Using everything from the pig

Except some innards (lung, heart, stomach), we used basically everything:

With the innards you can prepare small dishes for instant consumption:

Similarities to the human body

The pig’s body and its organs are similar to a human. I’ve analyzed a pig’s heart in the Biology course in school and opened one with a scalpel to comprehended how the two chambers work. That was decades ago and thus the mental connection was lost. The organs of a pig mostly exist and work the same inside a human body.

Lard makes a smooth skin

While I usually struggle in winter to maintain a smooth skin on my hands, that day was different. My skin was very soft as I was touching lots of fat and meat.

Would I recommend lard as skin care?
Well, it has its pros, but the con is a distinct smell. My verdict: no.

Applying animal produced substances on skin is not that uncommon as it sounds. Lanolin is widely used in skin care products and is sheep secrete.

Lost connection meat<>animal, and decline of knowledge across generations

Later that week I talked to my dad about the day. For him, it was a normal thing to do in winter but he hasn’t done it for decades. Back in the days he helped the family or neighbors to slaughter a pig. And it seems pretty normal for the generation who lived in 1960 / 1970.

That made me realize that the knowledge about slaughtering and its practical appliance slowly gets lost. It’s not widespread available anymore. It’s concentrated on a few people.

For me that knowledge is mandatory. It keeps a connection from the meat at the butchers outlet to the pig. The home slaughtering was a missing link.

A well feed pig tastes amazing

It’s true. There is nothing more to add to the headline.

People are skeptic on homemade Liverwurst

I brought a jar of conserved Liverwurst back home and brought it to the office the other day. I told some colleagues about my experience. Some where eager to try it. But the majority wasn’t so keen.
They usually do not refrain from trying the food I bring and offer. Somehow people where doubtful about the Liverwurst. My partner made the exact same experience with her colleagues.

And I wonder why that is?
Do people trust the meat industry more? Were they offended when I told them which parts of the pig were in it? Do they think the industrially produced liverwurst is of better quality? Or mine unsafe to consume?

Maybe we should have ground the meats finer so it would have been a unicolored mass without tiny chunks of meat in it. Or maybe we should have use pickling salt to keep a shiny red instead of gray product. ;)

I don’t mind too much about their reaction, don’t get me wrong. I suspect people just don’t want to get confronted with the whole process when eating meat products.

Changing habits

Did I change my eating habits because of this experience?
Yes, and I remain a carnivore. I buy only biological raised meat when possible and avoid low-cost mass product meat.14

I still eat sausages although I know what’s in them.

Closing

I recommend anyone who has the chance to witness a home slaughtering of an animal, to take part in it.

It won’t be a joyful day, but a day full of physical work, in your life. One you will remember and it might change your opinion on some things (in whatever way).

picture of pigs in a sty

  1. It’s important to not cut the trachae, as that would allow blood to fill the lungs. 

  2. We caught all the blood and mixed it in a bowl to make blood sausage out of it. In some religions consuming the blood is forbidden and is thus wasted. 

  3. Wikipedia: Shechita 

  4. If you’re eager to see more, search your favorite user-generated video platform. 

  5. The innards are full of valuable nutrients. However, I choose not to eat some innards from a commercial fattened pig due to the amount of medicine. 

  6. Especially for Trichinella (Wikipedia) 

  7. German: Schlachttier- und Fleischuntersuchung 

  8. e.g. compare English: Cut of pork and German: Teilstücke des Schweinefleischs 

  9. If your cookbook does not list cuts of meat, get a cookbook and not just a collection of instructions to create meals. 

  10. Also change their food beforehand to avoid a full pig’s stomach. 

  11. Pigs can jump man-high. I saw it. 

  12. In German speaking countries this is called Weideschlachtung. For Germany it is regulated in Anlage 1 Nr. 2 in TierSchlV. The slaughterer has to apply for allowance which is linked with some other duties. 

  13. For Germany, see Anlage 1 Nr. 2 in TierSchlV 

  14. The German laws aren’t really pushing to a sustainable consumption of meat. There’s no mandatory labeling for the growing-up standards and the different types of seals are more green-washing than an improvement for the animals.