Everything that can go wrong when you try to butcher your pigs (GRAPHIC IMAGES)

Sean and I came home from school on Friday and snapped into action, cleaning the house and putting away anything we didn’t want covered in the inevitable mud and blood attendant with home butchery. We folded up the futon, tucked away the books, moved everything within three feet of the sink to a safe zone. We felt we knew how to prepare for this process. Sizzle would be the fifth pig that we had tackled, and we felt confident and experienced.

The plan:
4:00 get home, clean up, prepare the tools, and light a fire to heat water for scalding
5:00 shoot Sizzle and begin skinning her
7:00 shoot Levi and have one team work on scalding while the other finishes butchering Sizzle.
11:00 bed time.

We had some friends coming over to help, and we experienced a delay when no-one turned up until much later than we’d hoped. No big deal, there was plenty of prep to do. When Katie arrived, we were ready to go and it was getting dark, so we decided not to wait for the rest of the team, but instead to get on with the first pig of the evening.

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#1 The pig won’t die (7:00 pm)
Sizzle was Katie’s pig: she had planned with us for this moment since spring break. Sean gave her a quick primer on where and how to shoot the pig, and she did well, but instead of lying down silently at the first shot, Sizzle ran screaming. It was awful. She wouldn’t stay still enough for us to get a second shot in, and at one point she ran under the front porch for safety. “Straddle her Keely, hold her so I can get a shot!” For the record, I didn’t, but we were in the sort of agonizing panic that makes you do stupid things. Sean put three more shots in her head before she fell. When we examined the skull, we found the four shots clustered just a hair lower than they should have been. I saw Sean sobbing as he ran after her, gun in hand. When she finally dropped, I flipped her and Sean stuck her beautifully. We all took deep breaths while she bled out.

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As a team, we dragged the carcass to the hanging tree. We sprayed the carcass down and laid it out on a board to skin the hams and the belly. Things began smoothly, and I felt good about the skinning process. Belly and hams done, it was time to hang the carcass.

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#2 Equipment failure (8:30 pm)
We had a spreader bar hung by a rope over a limb on the big oak tree in the yard. We had another rope made off to a stump and the two ropes linked by a comealong. We stuck  300lb super zipties through the hocks (we used these same zipties for a much larger pig last fall) and looped the zipties over the hooks in the spreader bar. Using the comealong, we began ratcheting the carcass up to finish the skinning. At about eye-height, one of the zipties snapped and sent the skinned carcass wobbling dangerously over the dirt. We sprang into action and steadied the pig, casting suspicious eyes on the other ziptied leg. Crisis averted, we lowered the spreader bar slowly and tried again, figuring we’d just had a little bad luck with a flawed ziptie. Nope. After another ziptie failure, we strung rope loops through the hocks and got back to ratcheting the carcass into the air, satisfied that those couldn’t possibly fail. Boy we were in for it.
When the hams were at about eye-height, there was an ominous cracking noise. Sean jumped away from the comealong and cursed at the top of his lungs. The bolt that holds the whole thing together had split and jammed the mechanism. It wasn’t slipping, but we’d gotten all the lift we’d ever get out of the tool, and our pig was still resting half on its back.

We considered trying to hoist the carcass using the Nissan, but our truck was officially diagnosed with terminal rust on Friday, and we couldn’t risk ruining the transmission on our only working vehicle.

Somewhere in there our other friends showed up with no clue what they’d bargained for. We put them right to work by having them help to lift the carcass while I tightened the rope around the stump. All of their help got the carcass resting on its shoulders, and we had to settle for that.
This constituted a serious setback. We’d planned to skin the entire pig, gut it, then saw it clean down the middle, judging whether to saw through the skull or cut off the head, depending on what was easier. With the weight of the carcass resting on the head and shoulder, we couldn’t finish skinning it. Each time we made a major shift in the position of the carcass, we risked soiling the exposed flesh.

Here’s where we made an unforgiveable mistake that will haunt us for a long time.

 #3 Human Stupidity (11:00 pm)

We shot the second pig. We knew full well that we didn’t have a comealong (we’d tried calling neighbors, but no one had answered) and that we wouldn’t be able to hang the carcass. We were already exhausted, frustrated and we knew processing Levi would take some doing. It was a profoundly stupid, careless thing to do.
Sean lured Levi out of the pen with corn and she was clearly nervous. She wandered around the yard a bit, anxious, and Sean took the first good shot he could get. Levi dropped quiet after three quick shots, right behind the tree where we’d strung the first carcass. As she died, she kicked and wriggled and spattered dirt over all of the bystanders.

#4 Spiteful Porcine Sabotage (11:05 pm)

Levi’s death throes spewed clod after clod of dirt directly onto the skinned carcass hanging from the tree. I dived between the kicking hooves and the hanging flesh, trying to block the dirt with my body, and I have the bruises to prove it.

We split the group into two teams, one to focus on scalding the newly-dead pig, one to finish up the already hanging, nearly-skinned carcass. We on the skinning team soon encountered item #5.

#5 Ants (11:30 pm and ongoing)

Perhaps hosing down the carcass stirred up the hive. Whatever it was, our crew was soon hopping and swatting at clothes and shoes. The ant bites sting for long minutes, and the drop in morale that went with the pain made us realize how foolish we’d been in killing the second hog. Our friends weren’t enjoying themselves at all, and the end of the chore was a long way away. We looked at the unfinished hog hanging from the tree and the dead one lying beside the fire and suddenly felt the weight of all the work to come.

The scalding team began dipping the hog in the barrel we’d positioned on an angle over the pit-fire we’d prepared hours before. The water was good and hot and they experienced some success. It put a smile back on Sean’s face: he’d been looking forward to having some skin-on cuts for charcuterie and things finally seemed to be going his way.

I did as much skinning as I could, and I called him up to the tree for assistance with gutting and halving. DSC00777The gutting went smoothly, and the halving went well until we reached the shoulders. Here the spine curved because the weight of the carcass was still resting on the unskinned head. We tried ziptying the forelegs to our swingset, but the zipties failed (we are slow learners). We wound up bleaching the hood of the car and driving it up under the tree, then lifting the carcass onto it to finish splitting the halves and cutting away the head. DSC00793The shoulders were a little botched, but we finally had the first pig in the freezer at 1:00 am.

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#6 Scalding ain’t happenin’ y’all (1:30 am)

At first the scalding had worked: the scalding team had one shoulder and half the head scraped clean, but the water in the barrel had mostly splashed out onto the fire. They had begun heating pots on the stove, and the stove-heated water just wasn’t working. Sean was starting to have a mental breakdown, and everyone was staring off into space sort of blankly.

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We had to skin it, which was a brutal letdown, but we did it fast and we did it as a team.

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We hung the second carcass by its hocks from the swingset, and, when it came time, we drove the car up and slung it over the hood.

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We processed the whole hog in under three hours, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. We spilled some shit from the intestines all over ourselves and made a tremendous mess, but the carcass stayed surprisingly clean. Some meat had to be discarded the next day when the carcass was cut into primals, but the loss wasn’t nearly what it could have been.

I was in bed at 4:30 am and my entire body already hurt. There was mud and blood (as predicted) all over my house, and I had days of processing work ahead of me before I could sit down and blog about it all.

Thank you 7.8 times ten to the millionth to our amazing friends who came to our aid the strength of oxen and the stamina of nuclear submarines. There’s just no freaking way we would have survived Friday without you all.

Why do we do it? Why put ourselves through the pain and stress and mess and risk?
I do it to for that moment when I feel like Alanna on the roof of the world, stepping up and making decisions and pushing through the pain when everyone else is flagging around me. I do it for the challenge of solving an urgent problem that seemed impossible and devastating moments ago.  I do it because I like to eat local, antibiotic-free, happy-meat and my region doesn’t have farmers markets or co-ops or natural food stores. I do it because my partner dreams of salami and dry-cured ham. I do it because I like having pigs around for their characters and spunk and garden utility, but I don’t want to feed a three or four-hundred-pound pet. I do it because I believe I can raise and slaughter an animal more humanely than a factory can. I do it because there’s nothing more incredible than the taste of Sean’s fresh-ground bratwurst, unless it’s the breakfast sausage or spicy Italian or chorizo or just plain pork medallions, never-been-frozen, fried up in the skillet.

I’ll do it again, and I’ll do it better.

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Flight 2

I didn’t think that I would ever know the end of your story, but I do, and I want to share it.

In the evening dusk, hours after your flight, I looked for you on the steps and in the trees around the driveway. I went to bed, and when I got up in the morning, you were nowhere in sight. I gave you up, and smiled at the thought of you. I imagined you in a green light, glittering like your bright eyes.

The truth is that, huddled flat-footed on the linoleum, you looked up at me with those bright eyes when I found you, even though your wing sagged and your feathers were bent. Perhaps the cat thought he was bringing you back to me, and that’s why he didn’t make your soft, featherweight body into a toy as he’s done with so many birds. I imagine he tried to be gentle, but your beak was broken and you had a deep gash in your breast.

I picked you up from the floor and you relaxed in my palms like you had done so many times before, and your eyes were bright circles. I cleaned and bandaged the wound, and looked for superglue to splint the beak. When you tried to eat with the cockeyed bill, it was comical. You chased seeds across the floor, slapping your feet with each clumsy, sturdy step. I thought surely you’d get better, like you’d done before. I thought of how your will to live astonished me: all that heart in such a little breast. All that desire from a creature that couldn’t have any idea what there was out there to desire.

When I came home tonight, you were collapsed and panting under the light, liquid oozing from your bill. You opened your eyes to look at me when I picked you up, and, as I watched, you blinked matte black eyes and dribbled a clear bubble and my palm was wet. You heaved and gurgled in the tiny world of my hands, a lost cause, and my cheeks were wet.

I asked Sean to put you down, and he did. I trust his hands to kill with compassion. I asked him to leave your body in a tree and he did. Little one, you’re a bigger meal for the woods than you would have been if I’d never picked you up. In the little world of my hands, I said goodbye to your eyes, glad that they had seen what was out there to desire, and goodbye to your wings, glad that they had known what it is to fly. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

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Ultimately, I am responsible for the life and death of the dove. I fed him when he would have died, and when he might have lived, my cat dragged him in. Keeping cats is a small hypocrisy that this event crystallizes: I know that domestic cats are responsible for diminishing songbird populations, yet I keep two indoor-outdoor cats and refuse to declaw or bell them. Coyotes prey on housecats in this area, and I want my pets to have all of their stealth and weaponry intact when they are outside. I let them go outside because I’m too lazy to clean a litterbox and I don’t want to confine a creature that doesn’t like to be confined. They are happy cats.

Stray and feral cats are a problem in our area, and we often find ourselves caring for unwanted kittens that have been dumped out here in the country. My cats are both neutered, but that’s unusual in this region. From now on, I commit to see to it that every kitten that passes through my care, however briefly, is neutered before it leaves me. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

Flight

Three weeks ago, I started raising a baby dove that had fallen from a tree near our house. He had no feathers and no chance of survival. With a straw, dropper-style, I fed him soaked starter-grower for chicks every few hours. When he survived the first night, I was surprised. I’ve never had a baby bird live more than a few hours. For the first few days, he had to sit, flat-footed, in my palm. After a while, he could grip my finger. His feathers grew in, and soon he was making short, awkward flights across tabletops and then clumsily across rooms into walls or furniture.  I carried him to school with me every day for two weeks, and he sat in his box, chirping, under my desk.

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Today, I carried him outside with me when I went to start a campfire. I set him on the ground next to the fire circle and he perked up, black eyes shining, and pecked at the ground a few times. I picked him up when he peeped, stroked his long, tapered wings, and set him on the ground again.

Without ceremony, he made his longest flight ever, wings beating in the air like a paper engine, low over the ground at first, then higher, then confident as he banked into the trees.

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That was twenty minutes ago, and I wish I could see him now, those dark little eyes glittering, the soft, dove’s neck curving up from his breast in the hush and sparkle of the tree-lit woods. I know his chances for survival aren’t good, and perhaps it was unwise of me to bring him outside, but I swear I will never forget the morning sun on his wings and the sound they made, and then didn’t, as he got too far away for me to hear and became just another dove, flying low over a country road.

Sex Ed

“They should be paying you by the mile,” she said, as I flew by the office for the fifteenth time that hour. I had students in the library using the laminator, students in the copy room, students in the computer lab and students in my classroom. Supervision was impossible without superdupervision (which I don’t have). I had to settle for intermittent supervision and superduperspeed (which I can at least try to have).

The boys’ sex-ed class was meeting the library this week, and on one trip to the laminator, I overheard the following from the teacher:

If you know someone who’s having an abortion, you should talk to her. Ask her some of the questions we talked about. If she’s planning to have an abortion, that’s bad. She’ll regret it.

I almost hurled. I hate that I work for a school that allows these contractors to come in and pass off utter crap as information. I now wish that I had stopped and said something to them, even just “I absolutely disagree with the blanket statements that you just made. Reality is far more nuanced.” My kids deserve better, and I should have spoken up just to let them know that I’m comfortable with the topic and that they can come to me.

I’ve found kids reading flyers with the stunning title “Is Virginity What’s Missing in Your Life?” about how you can restore your virginity if you’ve lost it. There are five or six very unsettling things going on there.

At a bake sale this summer, two of my former students opened up to me a little about their sex-ed class. It’s abstinence only, and they don’t feel adequately informed. I asked them if they knew what “consensual sex” is, and  they said “is that when you have your parents’ permission?” We’re really missing the point here, folks, if kids are led to believe that abortion is always bad and that consensual sex is when you have your parents’ permission. I don’t know how much information those two (both were boys) had about birth control.

Some of Sean’s female students seem to have a lot of information about birth control (he overheard them comparing the pill, the patch, the ring etc.), but one of them explained that she doesn’t want to use birth control because she’s afraid she’ll get fat. Sean fields a number of fairly interesting inquiries about sex because he’s a science teacher. His badass feminist self handles them beautifully. A 7th grader once asked him if a baby could have more than one daddy. They were learning about reproduction in class, so the kid drew a picture to illustrate:

two daddies

My students don’t ask me those questions outright. Occasionally, in a quiet moment in the afternoon, they’ll ask me personal questions that relate to sex. It’s not hard to tell the difference between idle curiosity and a desperate need to know something.

The pregnancies that I’ve been closest to as an adult have been teen pregnancies: Girls growing bellies that no longer fit in the chair-desks in my classroom, standing by a bank of lockers holding their wondering friends’ hands flat against their tight-stretched shirts to feel the baby kick, and missing day after day of school for doctor’s appointments. A young mother that I teach bribed me with a cupcake to let the class share her birthday snacks a few weeks ago. She was turning sixteen. Another, a promising math student, dropped out of the tenth grade last year. It’s the same way for Sean. I remember him standing in front of a shelf at the pharmacy, reading labels and selecting prenatal vitamins for a middle schooler.

If I haven’t said something controversial yet, here it is:

Despite the misinformation and lack of information provided at school, I think some girls get pregnant not out of absolute ignorance (this is the age of the internet, and I know they know the basics of where babies come from), but out of emptiness. Accidents happen, but I think that girls are taking greater risks than they do elsewhere (Arkansas has the country’s highest teen birth rate) because they want to feel needed. They want to be of value to someone. It’s a pretty dismal outlook for girls here. They’re second-rate citizens, and they know it. A baby fills the void that should be filled with aspirations and plans and confidence and self-efficacy, all of which have been forced down or stunted by the time girls reach high school. Additionally, when a girl gets pregnant, there’s no great stigma. The hard conversations are for her family: at school, we try to be supportive and loving and excited about the baby. Besides, many of our students’ parents had children in high school. One girl told me that her mother was married at fourteen. Sean teaches a sophomore whose mother is only a few years older than Sean himself.

At homecoming last night, I watched for the boyfriends of the girls in the homecoming court. They followed the girls like devoted puppies, almost sad-eyed. They wouldn’t let the girls swish out of sight in those bright, flowing dresses.

Homecoming

Homecoming

I intercepted a note at summer school, where I taught rising ninth graders, that contained the charmingly sexist phrase “I’m gonna put a baby in her.”
After school one day recently, a boy (now a junior) that I taught in ninth grade came to visit me.
“Ms. O’Connell, you know I’m gonna be a daddy?”
I glared at him, waiting. We’d had a conversation or two about the responsibilities of fatherhood last year.
“Okay. I was just kidding.”
“Good. You dink.”
“I’m gonna be a baby-daddy before I graduate, though.”
“You know I think you’re better than that. I think you’re father material. Don’t be a baby-daddy. Be a Daddy.”
On the flip side, one tenth grader expounded in my classroom during lunch (he had been debating the morality of abortion with a female student)
“If you’re not prepared to be a father, don’t have sex. I accept that risk, but I’d rather wait to have kids. That’s why I use a condom every time I have sex with my girlfriend.” The debate went on, but I stopped listening. I’d heard those two argue over that subject before.

What is there to say here? What conclusion can I draw? This is just one more spoke in the wheel that turns the world here. It’s connected to poverty and health care access and education and racism and environmental injustice and sexism, and you can’t repair one without stopping the wheel and fixing them all.

In the hallway of the schoolhouse at sunset

In the hallway of the schoolhouse at sunset

 

I’m not yelling!

It was sixth period. The noise level in my classroom slowly ratcheted up and stayed up. The leader of this particular, subtle coup sat with a smug little grin on his face and chatted with his friends while he tried (perhaps pretended to try) to do his work. I should have spoken to him sooner, but I was preoccupied by helping students who really needed help at the other end of the classroom. Have you ever noticed that they group kids with behavior issues and kids who need a lot of support together, to the effect that nobody in that period learns anything at all? by the time I reached the now loud and totally off-task child, I was frustrated and I jumped a rung on the consequence ladder. After an initial outburst before I reminded him of protocol, he kept his feelings to himself and stayed after class to talk about it, which is exactly what I want kids to do when they think I’m being unfair.

“Did you want to talk to me?”
“Yes I did. You treated me unfairly.”
“You were not following directions.”
“Neither was anyone else.”
“That’s because you’re a leader! You’re smart and respected! When you’re off-task, people think it’s okay to be off-task. Help me lead this class in a way that allows people to learn”
“Just because I’m a leader doesn’t mean you can treat me differently. I didn’t even get a warning!”
“I spoke to you several times, though.”
“What about [he named several students who had been talking]? They didn’t get detention.”
“I couldn’t hear them talking from the other end of the room. They didn’t start a shockwave of off-topic chatter”
“It’s not my fault I have a loud voice!” (he was yelling)
“Please don’t yell at me.”
“I’m not yelling!”
“You will be here for your detention on Monday” (I was yelling)
“Okay” (he stalked out with a look of total disgust)

By this time, my 7th period had come in. They were seated, silent and bug-eyed. My eyes welled up. “Get to work on the do-now, guys. I’ll be right back.” I stepped into the hallway and slumped against a bank of lockers with a clang, trying to keep myself from howling. Two kids stopped in the hall to ask what was wrong and to tell me they loved me. When I went back to my class, face all blotchy and puffy, a girl got up and hugged me tightly. I took some deep breaths and taught, but I felt sick with self-loathing, and every once in a while my eyes would spill over. That class was dismissed early for a pep rally, and I sat with the kids in the bleachers, trying to be inconspicuously devastated while the cheerleaders got fired up.

“We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ’bout you?”
“…”

I spotted my young insurrectionist a few rows behind me, and when I felt I had some dry-eyed minutes, I nudged another ninth grader aside and sat down next to him.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Y’know, don’t worry about it Ms. O’Connell. I’m used to it.”
“That doesn’t make it okay. Besides, you were right; I should have given you a warning.”
“It’s okay. Just don’t worry about it.”
“I am worried about it. It’s important to me that I treat people fairly, and it’s important to me that you feel respected. I’ll do better on Monday, so be ready for those warnings. They’ll be coming down like rain. Forget about that detention.”
“Okay.”
“Have a good weekend”
“You too.”

I went back to my seat and, mercifully, the pep rally ended. The kids trickled out of the bleachers to their cars and buses and I sat alone at the top of the stands, letting the scorching sun dry me up. When it got too hot, I walked across the grass and unrolled a yoga mat on the floor of Vanessa’s classroom trailer, and she and the color guard said sweet things and soothed me. A student of mine found me there. He got down under the table next to me and asked if he could have his confiscated phone back.  I told him where it was, and his casual manner and good humor made me laugh. Soon I was vertical, and after a while I went back to my classroom, fed Buggy (the baby mourning dove that I’ve been looking after), visited with A (my second little brother from last year) and hopped in the car to go home.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t muddy up the dusty dashboard with some tears on the road.

I can think of a hundred ways that I could have prevented or defused the situation with the loud young man, but I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to stop digging myself a deeper hole. I think I did right by apologizing. I don’t feel sick when I think about it, and I’m not dreading seeing the kid tomorrow. I know he’s clever and I know he has a strong sense of right and wrong. If I treat him with dignity and respect, I think I’ll have a great ally, and I think he’ll learn more from me than he would if I just smashed him flat with my consequences every day until he behaved out of fear. I hope he won’t take my apology as a show of weakness. I think humility takes considerable strength, and I try to recognize that in people, but that’s a realization I came to well after ninth grade. We’ll see.

I love teaching, even on days when I don’t get to eat my lunch because I’m tutoring, or I’m on duty, or someone has challenged me to a Stratego show-down. I love it even on days when I can’t find time to pee so I have to hold it for half the day, and on days when I can’t be alone to bawl for a five minutes, so I spend two hours pushing down sobs. I love it on days when it feels like no one else is doing their job, and I love it on days when it feels impossible to do mine.  I have the chance, every single day, even (especially?) on the worst ones, to humanize and to empower and to be humanized and empowered in return.

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I have taught and loved every cheerleader and football player in this photo; the fellow with the sousaphone, too. Thanks for the hugs on Friday, guys. You don’t know what it means to me.

How to Sprout Grains for Animal Feed

The library is a wonderful thing. There, I found Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, and within, inspiration. I read about Parma ham and the special diet these pigs eat (including lots of acorns), that some say is the secret to the extra divine end product. I spent the next few hours researching everything from acorns to peanuts, looking for the perfect addition to our finishing ration. The perfect something to give our pork it’s own regional-specific je ne sais quoi . What I settled on was a mix of sprouted grains and sunflower seeds; the grains produced and sold locally here in the Arkansas Delta.

Here is a rough guide to doing what I have done here for the pigs. I’m not really sure how much they like the sprouts, but between the pigs and the chickens, they’ll all get eaten.

 

Materials:

Five gallon bucket

Grains and or seeds to sprout

Some sort of trays to keep your sprouting grains in

My makeshift sprouting set up.

My makeshift sprouting set up.

1. The first step is soaking the grains. Put the desired amount of grains in your bucket, add water to more than cover (the grains expand when they absorb water) and add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to help prevent mold. The first couple of times you might want to measure your grains into your sprouting container. The ideal is to have a layer a couple grains/seeds thick. Mine starts out typically about an inch thick. Soak seeds 8-12 hours. You can experiment with soak time to find the ideal for your specific grain and climate.

I mix everything together, but if you soaked and sprouted things separately you could have more control over how much foliage you get from the different components.

 

2. Pour your seeds in water into a perforated container in which they can sprout. I used metal pans (3 gallon?) from Tractor Supply.  I took the stack of six that I bought and drilled about 50 holes in the bottoms, all at once. Rinse them thoroughly with fresh water.

3. Store sprouting grains in an “ideal” location. Various internet sources would have me believe that you want relatively high humidity (around 75%), and air flow for good success. I leave mine on the porch where they can get some light.

4. Rinse sprouts a couple of times a day, roughly every 8-12 hours. This keeps them hydrated and clean.

5. Soak a new batch of seeds. If you want to have a batch of sprouts ready to go every 24 hours, start a new batch to soak that often.

Here are some pictures of the sprouts in various stages of development.

Sprouts just barley popping out. This is 24 hours after soaking.

Sprouts just bareley popping out. This is 24 hours after soaking.

You can clearly see the little sprouty. Two days after soaking

You can clearly see the little sprouties. Two days after soaking

3 days in.

3 days in.

Five days in and there is lots of green.

Five days in and there is lots of green.

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Lots of green after six days. This is what the pigs and chickens will be eating for dinner from now on.

Close up of the roots and shoots

Close up of the roots and shoots

This is what our steps will look like for the foreseeable future.

This is what our steps will look like for the foreseeable future.

You can see a pretty solid root mat forms. Also, a good view of the drainage holes.

You can see a pretty solid root mat forms. Also, a good view of the drainage holes.

 

The pigs ate a good bit of it. They seem to favor the grainy bits, believe it or not. They sure had a good time tossing them around though. Given a little time and hunger, the pigs would eat anything.

The pigs ate a good bit of it. They seem to favor the grainy bits, believe it or not. They sure had a good time tossing them around though. Given a little time and hunger, the pigs would eat anything.

A few things to consider:

Mold can be an issue. Make sure you clean out your trays and bucket. I clean the bucket every few days with a bleach solution and do the same for the trays in between uses. Also, if you don’t have enough air flow or too much moisture, mold can take hold. I tried using some old flats for starting transplants. They had drainage and seemed sturdy enough, but I was too lazy to clean them out. The corn I had in these puppies got nasty. It was moldy, slimy, and eventually full of maggots. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Seed cleanliness (how clean it is in the bag) can also be an issue, but since I don’t have many options or any control over the matter, I don’t worry too much.

Mold can produce myotoxins which can be harmful to pigs (and probably other critters, but I haven’t done much internet research about them). Myotoxins can kill small pigs and reduce growth rate/feed conversion rates and cause other more serious health issues. Do some research. With my current system, all my sprouts have looked and smelled fresh enough for human consumption, though I wouldn’t recommend it.

Know that everything you buy will not sprout. Some grain is heat dried, which may cause it to not sprout. I had no luck with the Tractor Supply Oats, but great success with the sunflower seeds I bought there. Also, when selecteing grains/seeds, think about what season those things typically sprout. Some things like it warmer, like corn.

 

It has been a great experiment. It feels awesome to take more control over what we are feeding our animals. If you have any questions, post them in the comments or do some googling. There is plenty of info out on the net, but I would be happy to reply with a more personal touch.

Good luck, and happy sprouting!

Advice From a Not-Quite-Rookie Butcher

There’s a nip in the air today, bizarrely. At the football games these past two evenings, we’ve been grateful for the picnic quilt that’s always somehow left in the back seat. The cool night air got me to thinking of friends in Maine who are planning to butcher their own hogs for the first time very soon. We have to wait for colder nights before we tackle Levi and Sizzle, but it’s a good time to start mentally preparing.

This is the list of things we need to find, clean, sharpen and jury rig before the big day:

  1. A variety of knives
  2. A butcher’s saw
  3. A fairly level location with running water and something to hang the carcass from
  4. An indoor (bug and possum free) space to hang the halves
  5. A barrel and plenty of dry firewood
  6. A (working, ahem) vacuum sealer and plenty of bags
  7. Clean containers to sort sausage scraps and lard chunks into
  8. Trays for freezing or chilling chunks of meat and lard before grinding
  9. Plenty of freezer space
  10. A comealong
  11. A shovel
  12. Several heavy duty (200 lb+) zipties for hanging the hog.
  13. The gun

These are the things I wish we had known mistakes we made when butchering our hogs last fall. With a little preparation, this year will go much more smoothly.

  1. We usually always (we’re four for four on this) underestimate how long boiling water to scald the pig will take, especially since we use a metal barrel on an open fire, and there are a lot of variables there. It’s a lot of water, and it’s important early in the process, so give it a couple of hours. We haven’t successfully scalded and scraped either of the large hogs we’ve butchered (I suspect we haven’t gotten the water hot enough), but we’re going to try again. Sean has some particular cuts he’s hoping to get for charcuterie projects which will require that the skin be left on.
  2. I’ve twice found myself standing beside a wheelbarrow full of viscera, beating back exhaustion while chipping away at the ground with a shovel after dark. Dig a hole for unwanted guts and, if you aren’t scraping, the skin, well in advance of butchery. It’s awful doing this after dark, when you’re exhausted from manhandling a carcass, knowing that if you don’t take care of it, the coyotes will, and they’ll create a really truly disgusting mess, then eat your chickens.
  3. We once moved a 250-pound, mud-and-blood-covered hog into the pickup and then up a steep grassy hill, though our truck’s 4wd is questionable at best. If the hog is sizeable, shoot and stick it as near as possible to where you plan to hang it for evisceration.
  4. It’s hard to get the little bits of bark that inevitably fall from the tree off of the flesh and fat, so try to avoid hanging the carcass from a tree.
  5. When you halve the carcass, make sure you get a straight cut down the spine from the beginning. It’ll be hard to correct, and a botched cut will damage the loin (oh the pork chops!).
  6. Consider wearing a poncho or raincoat that can be soaped and rinsed with the hose to carry the halves to your workspace. They’re very heavy and awkward (Pinkie’s halves took three strapping farmers to shift) and you have to kind of hug them to your chest. You’ll get covered in lard, and it doesn’t wash out of winter work coats very well.
  7. I washed ground-in bits of raw fat out of the carpet once, and I hope to never do it again. If you’re butchering in your home, tape off a designated meat-free walkway through the room, and wear shoes that are easy to kick off and on for when you need to go grab the forgotten tool or hit the head or look something up on youtube. You will totally grease the area that you’re using, so plan ahead and avoid tracking chunks of flesh all over the house. Keeping the raw meat contamination zone contained did wonders for my stress level the second time we butchered.
  8. We made the mistake of packing soft chunks of lard that we couldn’t process right away into grocery bags for freezing, and that resulted in twenty-pound lardbergs that had to be thawed and refrozen before grating. As you process each half, set aside the leaf lard for pastries and cooking and the caul fat (my friend says this is delicious wrapped around cubes of liver, seasoned with herbs, and grilled, though I can’t speak to this myself), and use the rest for soap. You can grind and render it immediately or freeze it, then grate and render it later. If you freeze it, freeze smallish chunks on trays and bag them afterward.
  9. Sausage (scraps and odd bits) should be ground cold. We ground it straight off the carcass, by which point it was approaching room temperature. Grinding it at room temperature causes the fat to separate and escape during cooking, making a less-tasty, denser sausage.
  10. Don’t freak out. Everything is washable.

No matter what, in the end, you will have some of the best meat you’ve ever eaten. The process is forgiving, and even those funny-shaped raggedy cuts with a little dirt on one side are delicious. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on some chops as soon as the last bit of the last pig is in the freezer and grill them up right away. It’ll put a smile on your face.