Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pig Day

Gorgeous sunrise on Grad day
It is pretty interesting the turn of events of this crazy life I am leading. A boy who had no exposure to farming or livestock is now working towards feeding people and building food security in my community. I remember at one time in my youth being afraid of the neighbours chicken hens that escaped and were milling about on our lawn. No way was I going near them! And now I get opportunities to slaughter and process chickens and pigs and even a cow! Oh the evolution of life.
In 2012, a new friend, Mandolyn, filled me in on a little plan she had. She was getting pigs! And followed that up with "Do you have a gun?" So I volunteered to assist in the slaughter and butchery of the sows when graduation day arrived. Having newly moved onto a small acreage she had homesteading goals and dreams. The pigs arrived, there were loved and fed only the finest organic foods, very little commercial feed, and grew to be very happy, healthy pastured pigs.
Stripping the belly out

Five months later I got the call."These pigs have got to go, they are getting huge!" A lump formed in my throat. Am I really going to do this. Shoot someones pets? As a hunter I have killed many birds and several deer, which cause a rush of adrenalin when the shot comes, as one works hard to have the chance to harvest an animal in the wild. But livestock? To go out and visit them, scratch their nose, and the take their life? I was anxious about that day for quite sometime. When it came down to it, the crew that gathered were very somber about the situation, having never done this before as a whole. One of the participants however was Bill, an old time farmer and hunter, who had worked in a slaughter house as a youth. We were so relieved that he was there with guidance and wisdom. That was an interesting day of skill and community building. I guess you could say fun experience, not because of the slaughter, more similar to helping a friend process any kind of food. Conversation, coffee, outdoor activity, getting to know new people. That first time was a gateway to more opportunities.
Splitting ribs and posing for cheesy shots!
Fast forward ten months. Having already completed our experiment with raising and slaughtering a steer, and butchering another hog at home, the call came again. Pig Day! I was feeling much more confident this go around. My girlfriend, Andi, was going to partake with us, as was Mandolyn's partner Justin. Bill was also coming back again to give his old time wisdom. I didn't lose any sleep over the coming event this time, and was uber prepared with multiple knives, sharpeners and packaging supplies. 2 is one, one is none. We rolled down the highway with a gorgeous sunrise coming over Baynes Sound, the temperature hovering at minus 12! Our area was at the backside of a ridiculous cold snap, and was soon to end with a snowfall warning! I think the timing of graduation day was impeccable.
We all gathered and made a plan for the process. Justin lit a fire to help warm us. I saw cooking fire! Bill rigged a hanging rope to make skinning and gutting easier. The bait came out, shots fired and it was time to work. Justin and Bill got busy with the skinning and I prepared for the butchery. It was no time at all before the sides were ready. A quick wash and hair check and the side was on the table. The initial side was a little slow going, figuring out which cuts they wanted. They made the cut list easy. Remove the rear leg and belly for processing into ham and bacon, make sausage from the shoulders and chops and roasts from the loin. Piece of cake! The first hog was done as the second one was finished being cleaned. I put a heart and a trimmed out rib rack over the fire for a snack after the butcher was done. The second side went even faster, after learning how to make the chops beautiful and easy! Andi, the massage therapist and anatomy geek, helped me decipher the spine and how it lines up with the ribs for perfect bone in loin chops. Done just like that and we were eating some fire roasted pork. Oh man that was tasty. I always prefer any meat cooked over hot wood coals, must be the caveman in me!

I love building skills! Being handy is one of the most resilient qualities a person can possess. A "jack of all trades" can always shelter and feed his family by maintaining and providing, building and growing. Learning these skill together in a situation like our pig harvest, one can grow as a person. We learn from more experienced folks, like Bill. Quiet and hardworking, happy to answer questions, and give advice with a little story. We learn by teaching those with less skill. Teaching is a fantastic way to learn, because we are constantly requested information we may not have at hand and have to think deeply for the answer. Every time I butcher, something new comes to light and my skills improve. I hope to pass that on to others who wish to learn!

There is never anything pretty about harvesting an animal. It is sad and gross and hard work. It doesn't matter if it is a hunted animal or livestock. However if you eat meat, I think that everyone should have a chance to take part in the journey from barnyard to plate. It will open your eyes, and make you appreciate what you are lucky enough to be able to consume in vast quantities in this country. Animals have become a commodity in North America, with very little thought in general, that the bits in styrofoam and plastic wrap once had a mother and a beating heart. We should all reflect on this fact often and thank those who allow us to thrive on a diet that includes animal products. And better yet, buy your meat wrapped in paper from a butcher or local grower, the way meat should be sold. Ask questions, find a farmer that will allow you to visit their stock. Pet a cow. Knowing your dinners name means you know it was food you want to feed your family.

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