Last spring we began our first experience with pigs, when a neighbor stopped by in April and asked if we were interested in some piglets. We took two, and kept them in the pasture with the cows. Our field dog Samson took to them right away, and for months they were constant companions. We fed them, hog feed and table scraps and extra milk, but otherwise didn’t pay much attention to them.
We had vaguely expected them to go to the slaughterhouse sometime in the fall, but about a month ago we noticed that they were big—really big, bigger than Samson the Great Pyrenees. Then a couple of weeks they got out of the pasture, through a cattle panel that had come loose. Then they got out again. When they got out the third time, it occurred to us that they may have gotten a taste for getting out, and so the kids went around the pasture perimeter reinforcing the fence panels. Sad to say, not only had the pigs gotten a taste for getting out, they had gotten a sense of their own strength and were now testing the fence regularly. Worse, they were clearly strong enough to push and bend their way through a cattle panel, no matter how well attached.
The good news was that the pigs weren’t interested in roaming far, and always made their way back for evening feeding. But we were worried about them doing damage to someone else’s garden or property on one of their jaunts, so when they got out last night we decided it was time for them to meet their final reward.
This morning Debbie called the slaughterhouse and found out that they could take the pigs right away, so we scrambled to borrow a trailer for transporting them. Loading them ended up being fairly easy; they hadn’t been fed that morning, and were eager to get at the feed Chris used to lure them up the ramp into the trailer. And the ten-mile ride was uneventful; the trailer floor was covered with sweet feed from when it had been last used to haul cows, so they contentedly munched on that all the while. Unloading into the chute at the slaughterhouse was just about as easy.
The pigs were six months old and weighed in at 230 and 232 pounds. This was good news to me, not only because it was a respectable weight, but it is the weight at which Europeans usually slaughter “entire” (i.e. uncastrated) boars so as to avoid the risk of boar taint, an unpleasant flavor that can permeate the meat of a sexually mature hog (the American average slaughter weight is 260-270 pounds, i.e. the pigs tend to be older). I decided after some research not to castrate our own pigs, and I’m still a bit anxious about possibly having doomed a couple of hundred pounds of pork to inedibility. You can be sure that when I pick up the meat on Monday, the first thing I will do is thaw a pack of pork chops and anxiously throw them on the grill.
We expect to end up with meat weighing half the live weight, 230 pounds of it. We asked for the bacon and hams to be kept whole so that we can take it elsewhere to be smoked and cured. And we’re looking around to see if anyone in the neighborhood might be interested in buying a portion of the harvest, since 230 pounds would probably feed us (and take up valuable freezer space) for a couple of years.
We will almost certainly raise one or two pigs again next year. The taste of these will decide whether we castrate them or not. And we will probably try to figure out how to keep them in the woods rather than on pasture.