Posts Tagged ‘butchering’

Friday, February 15:

We are tapping trees this week.  Two of the boys went out Wednesday with a brace and bit and a bucket of spiles; now on the hill two-gallon pails hang on the southeast side of ten or fifteen maple trees, enough to produce all the sap our backyard operation can process, all our household needs for a year of pancakes and waffles.

It is a feat to scramble diagonally across our steep hills filling five gallon buckets from the sap pails on each tree and trying not to spill too much or fall fifty feet into North creek below.   The dogs think this is an exercise designed for their personal amusement and stay close to us, showing us deer sign and getting tangled up with our feet.  Bridget the sorrel pony knows we are wasting our time and stands at the pasture fence to show us that we would be better employed bringing her half a bale of second cutting clover and timothy.  Despite her, and despite the way our boots are slipping on the thin wet snow and the mud beneath it, we are purposeful, determined:  the trees have something to give us, wild food to be had for the gathering, and we are out here to get it.

The cattle at the monastery are only half-way through the forage in the very large paddock that was made for them last Saturday.  When they are given too much space they browse inefficiently, stepping on grass they would eat if they thought they were feeling competetive.  Nevertheless we are going to leave them in that paddock for another two or three days, there is still so much grass.  We will not run out of forage this winter, and in the spring, if the gods smile, we must consider buying extra steers just to keep the pasture grazed.

The black hog made the great transition this afternoon, from Fed to Food.  The boys brought home a bucket of casings to be scraped and tomorrow they’ll break down the sides into chops, hams, belly and sausage meat.  No more going without breakfast meat on Sundays.  On Thursday the farm science class will learn to scrape hogs’ intestines and make five kinds of sausage.

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Saturday, August 18:

What we are here – here on this website – to do is to catalogue, for the benefit of the similarly-inclined, just how attainable is a family-scale farm, that few acres which, tended by those who live on them, will produce almost unbelievable amounts of food, enough to feed all the people, and all the animals, whose efforts make that farm happen.  Summer is the most astonishing evidence of that attainability.

This is most certainly the time of year when we do the most and can say the least about it; there is no time.

Most of the corn has been eaten or frozen.  Every few days means another ten or fifteen gallons of tomatoes to sauce and can.  The apples at the monastery must be picked this week, or they will begin falling and bruising.  Green beans are on the menu every night, and we can only be glad to see the last cucumber vines succumbing to wilt, as we have eaten and pickled about all we can stand.

Seasonal eating means delighting in it, depending upon it, and getting tired of it, in quick succession.

Everyone is presently at home, and, the sky being open and dry, the men took the second cutting of hay from the meadows today.  There were three of them in the field from breakfast until dinner, and afterward, while some were doing the milking, others went back to the field to cut the last swathes.  If the weather holds we will be baling on Monday or Tuesday.

The freezer and the shelves in the basement must attest to the persistence of our efforts, they and the growing number of cheeses waxed and aging in the dairy refrigerator until we can build a rodent-proof cool box for the cave, as we call the dirt-floored cellar under the new part of the house.   In the best of all possible worlds we would not presently be making cheeses during this so-busy gardening season, but when the last pig went into the freezer we had to choose between making cheese with the extra four of five gallons of milk a day, or pouring it on the compost heaps.  The decision did not require much thought.  There are two young parmesans in the refrigerator, two colbys drying, and a third colby in the press.

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Saturday, March 10:

There will be no hyperbole today.  This is pig butchering.

Find one or two friends who like good, clean pork and working with manure and guts.  Raise a few pigs with them, making arrangements to share costs and chores, and when the pigs reach roughly the proportions of an upholstered sofa and the weather takes a turn for the cold, gather all available forces and butcher them.  You can find a manual to describe how you find a point equidistant from the pig’s ears and its snout, etc, details which we will not describe here because we do not want hate mail from people who feel sensitive about other people eating piggies.  In this post we mean to describe the operation known politely as Scraping Casings and impolitely as Cleaning Hog Intestines.

This job is smelly, tedious and long and reserved for the sissies who spend Hog Butchering in the house making coffee and cinnamon rolls for the Real Men of both sexes who work outside with the blood and guts.  These latter are the people who find the point equidistant, etc, and their jobs include blooding, scraping, gutting, hanging, splitting, piecing, grinding, wrapping, salting, and smoking.  The inside crew are kept to a tight schedule delivering doughnuts, coffee cake, cocoa, and other, more substantial substantial fare promptly at ten, twelve, three, and six o’clock to the real workers.  And, as I say, scraping casings.  Less important than the jobs above-named, but indispensable to the making of sausage links, and an art in danger of being lost to posterity.  So, we will describe it here.

First of all, before the intestines come inside the real butchers have to separate the hog’s intestines from the other parts of the switch – parts taken from inside the animal – hook one end to a hose pipe, and turn it on, first making sure everyone within a radius of fifteen feet is out of the way.  The tap is allowed to run until what issues from the nether end of the intestines is clear water.  Then the intestines, which are held by connective tissue in neat loops, are cut at two roughly opposite points, severing each and every loop at both points.  If this is not clear, imagine running over a coil of garden hose with a circular saw, leaving a bunch of short lengths of hose of more or less equal length, and you will have the right idea.  The resulting mess is submerged in a pan of cold water and sent to the house, where the people are warm and so they deserve it.

What do we do with such a thing in the house?  First of all, don’t let it be brought in the kitchen.  The smell is not fecal, but it is visceral, and it tends to linger.  We use Mike’s kitchen, because he deserves it too.   The method of cleaning is this:  first, get a baking pan, or maybe three baking pans, and put one in the sink.  Now take a wooden cutting board or a length of maple or beechwood plank long enough to span the sink diagonally,  the right-hand side sitting in the baking pan and the left end resting on the edge of the sink.  If you are left-handed, reverse the sides.  Take a length of intestine, to which we will refer hereafter as “casing”, and hold it at the top of the cutting board slope so that three or four inches of casing hang down the board.  With a (preferably old and unloved) table knife with a flat cutting edge, scrape firmly down the thick, squishy, pinky-grey tube.

Stuff will come out the end.  Lots of stuff, thick, gooey stuff, the lining of the intestines.  Remember, this tubing was thoroughly cleaned by the people outside.  The guck you are looking at is pig, not pig excrement.  Tissue, not poo.  Scrape the casing again, more firmly.  Keep drawing the knife blade flat down the board until the casing is clear, or faintly pink.  You will probably be surprised to see just how thin – much more than paper-thin – pig casings are, and you will certainly be surprised to find out how very tough they are.  When you think about what they do, you will realize that this must be so.  I mean, suppose you were designing a system where a hose of some really toxic guck was going to run through the interior of a living being, you’d make the hose strong, wouldn’t you?  And so it is.

You are going to scrape the whole length of the casing, a few inches at a time, and you are going to scrape it hard.  Push the soft lining tissue out at the bottom end (this is the reason for the baking pan).  For reasons which will be obvious if you think about it, you will probably want to reverse the ends when you get half-way up the tube.  When nothing more will come out, hold one end of the tube over the faucet and run water through it.  Keep cleaned casings in another baking pan of clean water.  If no one helps you with this job, you are going to have a sore arm at the end of the day; and if you’ve never done this before, it may take you all day, too.  But the effort is worth it; natural casings are the only kind worth having, and if you buy them they are costly as sin.  Scrape your own casings.

Or be a Real Man and join the people working outdoors.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012:

Spring is putting its nose through the climactic door with the full moon.  Today temperatures reached into the sixties, the sky was almost cloudless, and consequently all our winter-bleached faces and arms are wearing red, and stinging just a little. We prepared raised bed number two last week and put hoops over it, and tomorrow we’ll begin sowing spring lettuce and carrots. Baby Belle is due to calve this month, and some of the steers will go out to their summer pasture.  Already the south pasture is showing a mist of green, and the animals must be fenced off it to let the young grass get some height to it.

The Sow’s Ear came to us seventeen years ago today.

Some noises can wake you out of a sound sleep.  For a mother, one of these is the sound of a child beginning to retch.  This can rouse a woman from a sound sleep and materialize her with a bath towel in her hand in a room one floor and two closed doors away, in time to catch vomit from a child too sick to make it to the bathroom.  Every mother knows that while it is disgusting catching vomit in a towel, it is much more disgusting having to wash it out of bedsheets at two o’clock in the morning.  The ringing of a telephone can move a toddler to light speed, especially if he has previously been forbidden to answer the phone.  And for the farm wife, the squawking of a chicken in fear for its life can cause her to rocket from her warm sheets like a rising pheasant and sprint through a dark house vaulting furniture, bringing up barefoot in the snow against the back fence from which she has a more-or-less clear view of the chicken house.

Such was the event of last Friday night.

We straggled in in shifts Friday night, all tired and fuzzy-minded from the second day of pig butchering.  Little wonder S-4 and Mom, unofficial custodians of the chicken house, forgot to shut the poultry door.  It is an easy matter to close it, most nights, the small door being hinged at the top, and the hook and eye closure being released by pulling a handle and string which run up the back of the hill to the woodshed behind the house.  Fifteen steps from the back door, on the west side of the woodshed, and a quick yank results in the satisfying thump of the door closing.  It is a model of technology which is commensurate with its job.  But, as I say, Mom forgot about it.  We washed off the worst of the smells and stains, set all the alarm clocks in the house for an early hour, and fell into our beds and a sound sleep.

Four o’clock ack emma something goes off outside like all the Iroquois in the New World roasting a convention of Jesuits.  From vague pig-dreams of scraping sausage casings (find more on this uplifting subject under Pig Butchering) the farm wife passes instantaneously to a state of multiple awarenesses, of her unclosed chicken house door, of her neighbor the fox on the ridge of the south hill, that she is half-way down the basement stairs, and that, once she pulls the string and shuts the fox in the chicken house with the poultry, she is going to have to get a gun and go shoot the bloodthirsty canine.  Something she has often expressed, vehemently, a desire to do, but which would go better on a full stomach and a beer, not in pajamas and bare feet in half-an-inch of snow.

She reaches the fence in a state of adrenal shock and leans over the frosty honeysuckle.

The night is silent as the tomb and the chicken door is closed.  The full moon would reveal such in any case, but as it happens the timer for the chickens’ night light has gotten bumped and no one has bothered to set it right.  The sixty-watt bulb which is glowing through two layers of six-mil plastic sheeting on the windows also shines dimly through the hens’ door when it is open, and it is not open.  It is demurely, completely, and properly closed.  And, as I say, the night is without a sound.

What am I doing down here in my pajamas?

Already almost asleep again, the farm wife falls back into bed with some notion that the three tom cats who keep our rodent population in submission must have been testing their yowls again.  Darkness descends on body and mind, for about three minutes.  Then the Iroquois attack is renewed.

Not being taken so completely by surprise, this time the farm wife is able to assess the noise as coming not from the back of the house, but from the west side, and she investigates through a window.  The moonlight, as has already been observed, is at its best and brightest, and the front yard reveals two rat terriers in a state of some excitement.  Also more of the blood-chilling noises.  With a whispered command to the four-year old Sherlock who has joined her to go back to bed and be quiet, she takes the cold stairs for the second time.   The frosty gravel drive is like knives to bare feet.  The dogs want to play.  The noise has stopped again.  But, nattering up and down on the wrong side of the white picket fence in the moonlight is one adolescent Rhode Island Red, somnambulating.  And nothing to show what she is doing there.  She seems to be unharmed, and with a sleepy logic which will later evade me, I shove her into one of the dog houses on the porch, block it up with an abandoned sled, and go back to bed.  And, believe it or not, to sleep.  I confide my nocturnal adventures to S-3 when we meet over the milk bucket in the morning, and then forget about it.

He returns to the house twenty-five minutes later with the milk and the report that there are in the barnyard one dead RI Red, and one on the injured list.  Speculation is that the miniature horse Bridget, who is never happy if she is not annoying someone, must have knocked the chicken door shut in one of her forays into the poultry yard.  Fifteen of the layers have spent the night on the chicken house steps.  Some local predator, ‘possum being my favorite candidate since the corpse is undamaged, if an undamaged corpse is not an oxymoron, has made a raid on my birds.  The dead and wounded may not be the only casualties; other birds may be missing.  The chicken which I found sleepwalking on the parking area is still a puzzle; how, frightened from sleep in the middle of the night, did she move herself seventy horizontal and fifteen vertical  yards, not to mention at least three fences, to the north?

To those who know chickens, this implies both more decision and more resiliency of purpose than is commensurate with the chicken psyche.

The four hogs hung in at one-thousand seventy-three pounds, and were some twenty-two hours in the processing.  The hams and sides are brining, and the freezers bulge with pork.  We grilled chops for dinner to celebrate.

We spend our time in funny ways, but we eat really well.

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Tuesday, February 7:

Saturday’s snow lingers only on the shady side of rail fences and fallen trees, or as a soft slump carpeting the north-facing slope of the south hill pasture.  Just by raising our eyes from the dishes we can trace the contour lines, black wanderings across a white ground, laid down across the face of the hill by the cows’ unerring instinct for the level path; like the lines on a topographical map these trails, by their close proximity one to the other, show the extreme steepness of our pasture.  No one except the farmer who had nowhere else would have attempted to use this place for animals; yet, having nowhere else, we find that it will indeed pasture our livestock, and they, and the grass species, are thriving.  We want it to be known that if we can do it here, it can be done almost anywhere.

Another trip to the mill to purchase feed for the pigs up at the neighbors’; by March, when we are planning to butcher, those pigs may be absolutely enormous.  By contrast the home pigs, which receive cooked slops, dairy waste, and bakery scraps, continue to grow at a steady, moderate pace.  The baby bull is again the subject of discussion:  the girls want to keep him in the bottom of the white barn, where they have been giving him a half-gallon of milk a day and making a pet of him, while Papa thinks he is ready to go out with the other animals and rustle grub for himself.  Baby Belle, the young cow who is supposed to replace Isabel this year, is an aggressive pasture mate, and the boys, in a move unusual to them, are backing up the girls. They will probably win this one.

As the days grow longer the chickens lay a few more eggs every day, and wander farther from their chicken house to scratch.

The fan on the furnace is finally working, and the house is now almost too warm.

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Sunday, January 22:

Shawn’s business trip meant some of us could go along for two days of luxury – no farm chores, and an indoor pool.  The older boys stayed home to milk and do their own cooking – bacon and eggs for every meal – while S-5 and Mom took the small people to the pool three times a day, and watched movies crowded four across the top of a hotel bed – S-6 occupied a lap. You had to squeeze in close because the audio on the Dell is very quiet.  We all came home with very clean fingernails, and the skin worn off the tips of our toes on the bottom of the pool.  Four inches of new snow smoothed the contours of the south hill pasture, and the pigs had been into the tack room, leaving behind them unmistakable evidence; still, it is very good to be home.  We live so far outside the world of business and hotels and movies that they can be a little disorienting.

With the third steer in the freezer we can stop and assess our hay consumption this winter.  Good rainfall last summer meant that we didn’t have to give the animals hay until November; so far, so good.  Warm weather well into December meant we didn’t dare butcher the two-year-old steers until December and January; not so good.  Those big boys consume a lot of hay, hay we didn’t budget for when we were putting it up in May and July.  We are discussing two strategies to avoid a recurrence of this situation:  one, buying our baby bulls very early in the spring, and butchering them at baby beef stage in November or December; or, two, buying them very late in the fall and overwintering them when they are still tiny and milk-fed.  We’ll let you know.

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Sunday, January 15:

Our philosophical conviction that to raise his own food is one of Man’s inalienable rights, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is reinforced by our practical conviction that it is possible to produce most of what one eats, on a small piece of indifferent ground, without costing more in cash than is realized in food value.  We believe that a man should be able to sow seed, graze ruminants, feed his garbage to swine and poultry, and produce thereby food of a quality not presently available to anyone except the paisano or the billionaire, by the investment of time, sweat, labor, and only as much cash as you might otherwise spend on lattes, imported beer, Netflix, new clothes, and comprehensive coverage on a nice car.  In other words, you ought to be able to do it.

We are trying to demonstrate that you can.

The pigs at the bottom of the hill – the slop pigs, as opposed to the grain-fed ones at Barry’s – are one part of that demonstration.  Unlike baby Jersey bulls, weanling pigs are not cheap.  Typically we pay about fifty dollars for each young animal — about a dollar a pound it works out to be.  Therefore, they are for us a substantial investment from the word go, and if we want a good return on our investment we must minimize further cash outlay per animal.  For ten years we have raised pigs on purchased grain; kept for five months, until they weigh about three hundred pounds, butchered and cured at home, they produce pork at a cost of somewhere between a dollar and a dollar-twenty a pound.  Hams, bacon, chops, loin, sausage, roasts and ribs, and not including many pounds of excellent lard, for less than half what the cheapest pork in the stores would cost, and chemical-free at that.

Undeniably, a worthwhile exercise.  Yet we were dissatisfied with a process which required the constant addition of purchased inputs, and were at the same time certain these inputs could be reduced, perhaps even rendered unnecessary.  So for the last two years we have kept pigs on our own place, as well as the ones at the neighbors’, feeding the home swine table, kitchen, and garden scraps, from our own household and from a friendly restaurant in town, and all the buttermilk and whey naturally generated by a family with a milk cow.  Result:  the three pigs purchased this fall, have, so far, used about six bags of supplementary feed.  This in contrast to the conventionally fed pigs up the hill, which, I can say without consulting the records (it’s almost bedtime), are well above fifty bags.  Pig feed is presently about twelve dollars a fifty-pound sack.  At least five hundred dollars less outlay, so far.

Peasant farming for the man of modest means.

We’re out to prove you can do it.

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