It doesn’t cost much or take very long to raise and kill a pig (learn how to kill a pig the right way here). Whether you want to roast it whole or package it for later, learn how to butcher a pig the right way.
Why You Should Learn How to Butcher a Pig
Most people haul their pigs to have them butchered at a facility. The problem with hauling pigs off to the slaughter is twofold.
- Problem #1: Stress – The pigs get all stressed out from getting in the trailer, traveling and standing in a holding pen until killing time. This causes unfathomable stress on the animal. It’s difficult to think about.
- Problem #2: Taste – Because the pig gets all stressed out, it will release adrenaline which, in short, can affect the look, taste, pH, tenderness and storability of your meat. Essentially, when pigs are hauled off for slaughter, you are negating much of your good husbandry that you worked so hard to achieve their entire life.
What to Know Before Butchering Pigs
It’s important to restrict food for 12-24 hours before butchering. You don’t want their intestines to be full of food when you butcher. This increases the chance of the intestines rupturing and contaminating your meat.
An additional benefit to not feeding them is that when you are ready to kill your pig, you can give them a small amount of milk, and they will come right to you because they’re hungry. Having their head down and still will put them in the perfect position to shoot them. Pigs also hold still when they’re drinking, giving you a better shot to properly stun your pig.
Supplies Needed For Butchering Pigs
- Scalder – We are blessed to have a 100-gallon tank to scald our pigs in, but there are other ways to do it if you don’t have one available. Some people use a 55-gallon drum, or I’ve seen an oil tank cut in half like a bathtub used as well. You can also use the pour-over method of scalding, which is where you pour hot water over the pig repeatedly until the hair starts to release.
- Hose and Lots of Fresh Water – You’ll need a hose to fill your scalder and also to rinse your pig throughout the butchering process. It’s very important to always have clean surfaces when butchering. Pro-Tip: Set up your processing area where water will run away from you so that you don’t have a muddy work area.
- Firewood – You’ll need to build a fire under your scalder to bring it to temperature.
- Gun – Most people use a .22 caliber rifle when butchering their pigs at home. The benefits of using a .22 are that they are quiet and affordable. I prefer to use a 410 shotgun with a slug. The reason for this is that it’s not going to ricochet, and it also makes your sweet spot much bigger. Make sure you can use your firearm safely and accurately to ensure a humane kill. Some people use a bolt lock to stun the animal and then bleed it out, but I prefer a quicker kill method.
- Clean Bowl – If you are collecting blood for blood sausage or blood pudding, you will want to collect your blood in a clean manner.
- Sticking Knife – A sticking knife is an agricultural tool used to stick or bleed out farm animals while butchering.
- Tractor – It’s very helpful to have a tractor to move your pig and also to dip them in the scalder, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Sheer manpower can be used as well.
- Gambrel and Chains – You will need a gambrel to hang the pig and a chain to lift the pig with the tractor and also to hang your pig for evisceration.
- Hog Scraper – You will need a scraping bell or a sharp knife in order to scrape off the hair after scalding.
- Knives – Good sharp butchering knives will make this job much easier.
- Bone Saw – A 21-inch long bone saw with a 16-inch blade will quickly and easily cut through any bones and meat on your pig.
- Meat Grinder – For making things like sausage, you will need a good meat grinder.
How to Butcher a Pig Step by Step
- Get up early and get the water heating for your scalder. It takes a long time to get 100 gallons of water up to 145°F, so allow a few hours for this step. Pro Tip: It’s always better to overheat your water and have to cool it down than to be waiting for hours for the water to get up to temperature. Start earlier and be on the safe side!
- Review how to kill a pig to butcher prior to step two. Shoot your pig to stun it properly.
- After shooting your pig, you will slit its throat and, using a sticking knife, quickly cut those arteries in its neck to get the blood out. The heart will continue to beat for a couple of minutes and can help to force the blood out. Moving the legs will also help to work the blood out.
- Get your pig to the processing area. We’ve had to drag our pigs a short distance at times and hook them up to the tractor at other times. However you move them, do it carefully so that you don’t bruise the meat.
- Hang your pig to drain the remaining blood. The easiest way to hang your pig is with a gambrel. Slide the hooks of the gambrel through the pig’s hind legs and behind the tendons, deep enough to support the pig’s weight when hanging. Then, use the winch system to lift the pig to a height that is comfortable for you to work at. Pro-Tip: Hanging your pig head down will help the blood to run towards the head, which is where you want it to be when bleeding out your pig.
- It’s time to scald the pig. You want the scalding water to be at least 145°F when you lower the pig in. We’ve even found 150°F to be an ideal temperature because the pig will naturally lower the water temperature. This temperature will cause the hairs to release and sanitize everything. Be careful that your scalding water doesn’t get any higher than 150°F, or the hair follicle will seal the hair, making it very difficult to remove. Use the tractor to lift the pig and lower it into the scalding water head down. If you don’t have a large enough vessel to dip your pig into, you can use the pour-over method of scalding your pig. Heat your water and continue to pour buckets of water over your pig skin until the hair begins to release easily.
- Scrape the hair off your pig. A hog scraper works very well for scraping your pig, but a knife will work as well. Remember that you are scraping the hair out of the skin, not cutting the hair.
- It’s time to hang your pig for evisceration. We used the tractor and hung the pig with a gambrel and a pulley system. If you aren’t familiar with the word evisceration, it means to “get the guts out.”
- To start eviscerating your pig, cut the skin down around each side and around the gonads or where the gonads would be. It’s very much like skinning a deer.
- Make a circle cut around the anus approximately two inches wider than the anus so that you don’t accidentally put your knife through the colon.
- Grab ahold and gently pull up and out of the way. You can use a zip tie or a rubber band to pinch this area off. You will remove this with everything else once the chest cavity is opened.
- Cut from groin to sternum in between the two rows of nipples all the way down until you reach the front legs. You are only cutting through one layer at a time to avoid puncturing the intestines. First, pull the skin layer up and slice, and then the fat layer, and then you’ll carefully cut through the pleural cavity, which contains the guts. Then, using your hands to open the cavity, you can pull open and remove the intestines. Gravity has been known to start this process without assistance, so be sure to have a bucket ready under your pig. Everything should come out fairly easily, but you may need to use your knife to cut some of the connective tissues.
- After the entrails are out, you will need to split the sternum open to find the rest of the organs. The heart and liver are commonly eaten, so care should be used to remove these intact. Be sure to chill any organ meat as quickly as possible.
- Remove the head by working in a circular direction around the throat using the jawline as a guide. You will work through the meat to the neck bone, which you will need to cut through with a cleaver. Once the head is removed, the remaining blood will drain out.
- Now you are left with the feet only attached. Remove the feet at the wrist knuckle, which is located just above the hoof. You’ll need to use a hacksaw to slice through the joint.
And that’s it! Now you just need to follow a butcher’s diagram chart to cut your meat into the right cuts. You want to make sure to get your hams, bacon, shoulder, pork chops, etc.
What is leaf lard and where is it found on the pig?
Leaf lard is the fat that’s found around the pig’s kidneys and loin area. It is considered a delicacy and is spreadable like butter at room temperature.
The leaf lard does not have a pork flavor to it, which is why it’s considered to be the highest grade of lard, perfect for pastries and pie crusts. Learn how to render lard and don’t miss this healthy fat.
How much meat will I get off a 250-pound pig?
Typically, about 60% of the pig makes it to the pan. A 250-pound pig will give you about 150 pounds of regular cuts.
I tend to use much more of the pig than many people though, including the head meat (cheeks and headcheese) and feet meat. We also use the blood for blood sausage or blood pudding and to make blood meal for the garden.
Most people throw away the organs like the liver and heart, but those are full of nutrients and delicious too.
Is it cost-effective to raise pigs for meat?
Depending on your feed, you will generally put $200 to $300 into your pig in food costs.
If you butcher on your own, that will make your per pound amount around $2.00 a pound, and a homegrown pig will be the best-tasting pork you’ve ever had. Raising pigs is definitely worth it.
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