Ramble On

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Call Me a Sustainable Eater - Butchering 2014

This year is the third year that I have taken part in butchering at the little red roofed shack down near the Shenandoah River.  I’m pretty comfortable with the whole process by now, but 5am Friday still rolls around early, and no matter how you slice it, it’s cold out there on the pasture when we go to get the pigs.

The first year I blogged about the experience, I generally wouldn’t even post photos of the action, out of some sense I had that I could respect the animals that way.

I've changed my opinion about this, so this year I will include some of the milder images, especially after seeing a recent series of posts by Andrew Zimmern (Twitter handle @andrewzimmern)  – and recalled seeing an image of a beef carcass strung up for butchering.  

He gets complaints about some of those images.  I saw one where he responded recently with the comment, “Connecting to our food sources makes us more sustainable eaters.  Shocking to some, necessary for all.”

Shortly after, when there was continued discourse about how gross it was to see the process play out, a reader wrote the following in support of his post:  “That’s exactly why he posted.  It challenges us to face reality and to appreciate – to be humbled – by the animal we consume.”

Ironically, this was my justification for not posting the photos the first two years.  The thing is, I know that these animals have a good life as they are prepared for us.  They're taken care of, ranging out in their pasture; and they even have a relationship with the other animals on the farm - not to mention the humans that come and go.  I think this was the first time all four of them actually were given names (although that's not recommended!)

When I say that we have a relationship with them, I want to be clear - we don't climb in the little shed with them and hug them.  Leave that to Joel Salatin...but this year even I had the chance to do a couple of ad hoc chores with them (for the record, I know I'm not much help when the rubber hits the road) – I wrote about “wrangling” them from the barnyard out to pasture back in October, here:


Back then, they were four little piglets that weighed no more than 50 pounds each.  When we harvested them last Friday, even the lightest – the runt that the farm hands had named Kevin Bacon – topped out at around an estimated 300 pounds, and the largest was probably above 350.  

Turns out that Kevin was the first to go down, and it was quick and painless.  She took a single shot and went stone dead, to start the process.  Over the course of the next half hour or so, her three siblings followed, and then we load them up to take them over to the red-roofed butchering shed, just outside of Luray.


posumcop said...

Of course you know I live near Luray however i work in Reston. When people ask what I am doing over the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday and I tell them I will be butchering hogs and beef cattle...most act like they have no clue where thier grocery store meat comes from.

Jim said...

Now that I have been doing this a few years and it is routine for my office mates, I don't get a whole lot of that kind of feedback. However, the wife and I aren't fans of scrapple, but I'm obligated to take a share of it after butchering. Three office mates will take it from me, so I get through the allocation over the course of the year. Yesterday, one of them - the guy who drives in from PA - said, "Your guy's recipe is pretty good." I wouldn't be able to tell the difference, to be honest!