CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about pig slaughter. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.
To read the first entry in this multi-part series on pig processing, start here.
Read More: “Preparing for a Pig Slaughter”
I really love raising pigs. Their innate joy for rolling in the mud, chasing each other around their paddocks, pig-piling, and enjoying long-lingering naps is inspirational to me. I honestly think they can teach us a few things on how to bring more joie de vivre to our human lives.
Unfortunately, not all pigs get to live like this. Some spend their entire lives in spaces so small they can’t run, play, feel the sunshine on their bodies, or use their powerful snouts for digging up dirt and searching for food.
So, whenever someone asks me how I can stand to kill pigs when they are so adorable and affable, I have my answer ready. And here it is.
Mental Preparation for the Slaughter
I have a deep and abiding love for pigs – not just the pigs we raise, but for pigs in general.
I can’t imagine eating a pig that spent its life in industrial squalor. I also can’t stand the idea that these beautiful, domesticated beasts would become hated feral pests, or be forced into extinction, if we stopped eating them. They grow to be hundreds of pounds. Their powerful digging ability, in the wrong locations, can decimate whole ecosystems. Their nearly insatiable appetites for both food and adventure is the reason why packs of feral pigs end up digging through trash in urban shopping areas. Without a cultivated, co-dependent relationships with human care-takers, more and more pigs would quickly become dangerous to us. This is why so many of them are hunted with impunity and hated around the world.
Plain and simple – in my opinion – the best thing for pigs is to be raised on small farms, by farmers who care about their well-being and do have a hard time killing their pigs on slaughter day.
My point in sharing this is not to proselytize my pig views. It’s because, for me, having a genuine love for pigs and meaningful philosophical reasons for raising and slaughtering them is the only way I can face doing the act when the day comes. Coming to terms with my reasons for doing this is my method of mentally preparing for the slaughter.
Preparing Piglets for Slaughter
My other preparations for slaughter day actually start well before that final moment. As soon as a new set of piglets join our farm family, I begin training them by feeding them in a line at the edge of the electric fence.
After a few days of standing close by as they eat, allowing them to become comfortable with my presence, I begin to touch the tops of their heads. At first they shy away, but after a few attempts, they let me scratch behind their ears. In time, we move on to back scratches, then belly rubs.
Petting piglets is a pleasure. Like puppies, they can easily get riled up and start nipping excitedly at your fingers and feet. So, I am really careful not to let this happen. Instead I focus on making them calm with my petting practices. If I am effective, they stretch out like cats do and bask in the affection. Then they flop over on their sides and expose their bellies as a sign of trust.
As much as I enjoy this bonding, it also serves other purposes. It helps if I need to inspect or treat them for health problems. Most importantly though, when their final day comes, our pigs come easily to the fence line for feed. I give them a calming pet on the head and behind the ears, as they put their heads down and eat.
They have no fear of death – not even as we take aim. And if something were to go wrong with our first shot, I can use this established pattern to lull them back to calm quickly so there is no unnecessary suffering.
Only when they are calm and quiet, and distracted by the food in front of them, do we take the shot.
Taking the Shot
When we first started processing pigs, we would stand back some distance and take our time waiting for the perfect shot. We’d seen this on videos and figured this was the best way to do it.
It worked well most of the time. But we had a couple instances of the pigs turning their heads at the last moment and the shot bouncing off their tough forehead plates. The pigs were then frightened and had to be coaxed and calmed for a long time before we could get them back in the slaughter zone. We even saw signs of stress in the meat of one of our pigs.
Now, since I take so much time to tame our pigs from the moment they arrive on our homestead, we stand just a couple feet in front of them and take the shot. This way we don’t miss.
The target for the shot is right between the ears and the eyes. If you draw an “X” in your imagination between these locations and then shoot for the center of the X, the pig will drop on its side and twitch with nervous convulsions.
We use a .22 rifle do to the job. But we suspect that at that close range a .22 handgun might work just as well.
Also, make sure you are not on the downhill side of the pig when you take the shot in case they roll in your direction when they drop.
Bleeding out a Pig
The shot stuns and immobilizes the pig so that you can then use a knife to bleed the pig. You don’t want the pigs to be in pain as they die, but you do want to keep their heart beating until the last of their blood flows from their body. This makes evisceration (gutting) much easier.
There are three common techniques for bleeding out a pig.
Cutting the Carotid Arteries on each Side of the Neck
The first method is to cut the carotid arteries on each side of the neck. The arteries basically run along either side of the throat. Because we like to make jowl bacon, we try to make our cut below the jaw line closer to the clavicle. Then we use that cut as the line for decapitating the pig later.
Since the pig normally drops on one side, you can cut the artery on whichever side is facing up first. The blood will run quickly and thickly if you have cut the artery. If it doesn’t, then you know you have missed and need to cut deeper. To cut the other artery, you usually have to flip the pig to the other side and repeat the procedure.
The pig will die faster if you cut both arteries. However, depending on the size of your pig and how they fell, it’s not always easy to flip them over or get your knife in position to cut the other side. If the pig is bleeding out quickly and shows no signs of suffering, sometimes you can just cut one side and still get a quick death.
Cutting both Carotid Arteries from One Side of the Pig
To get both arteries from one side of the pig, poke your knife through both sides of the neck tissue on the stomach side of the pig. Then face the blade of your knife towards the pig’s throat and cut until you cause both arteries to gush. This is the method most of the “old-timers” (experts of a certain age) seem to use in my area.
Severing all of the Arteries at the Heart Junction
Alternatively, you can severe all the arteries at the juncture where they meet the top of the heart. Plunge the knife in the space between the clavicle and the neck tissue and direct your knife towards the center of the pigs body at an angle until blood gushes. You can see a really simple diagram of the correct angle at this site.
Read More: https://www.hsa.org.uk/bleeding-and-pithing/bleeding
This method is a bit easier than cutting the carotid arteries. However, many people who use this method also tend to puncture the heart. The tissue damage and subsequent clotting can make the heart a little unappetizing if you plan to eat it.
With any of these methods, when the blood begins to slow, you can lift and lower the pig’s front foot to force pump any remaining blood.
After the blood visibly stops flowing, before we drag the pig the few feet to our scaffold area for scalding, we pause to have a moment of silence and honor our now deceased pig. We also let out a sigh of relief at giving our pig the most merciful death we were capable of.
If you are processing more than one pig, you’ll probably be pretty surprised to realize that the other pigs don’t seem at all bothered by the loss of their paddock mate. In fact, they will often come over and push the dead pig out of the way so they can eat any food and blood on the ground.
When things go well, even your last pig of the day still has no concerns about what’s coming. However if things go wrong, such as you miss a shot and one pig squeals in fear, the other pigs do notice, and are wary of you until their moment comes.
We learned this the hard way our first year of raising pigs. Now, we strive never to have our pigs know the fear of death again.
Writing this is nearly as difficult as doing the deed. I have five pigs up in the paddock now who will meet this fate just a couple months from now. So, this seems like a good point to pause and go give them some pets and appreciate their perfect pigness while I can.
Our next installment in this series will cover scalding and evisceration. Then, we’ll move on to butchering. And after that we’ll get to sausage making, ham curing, bacon making, and more. So, stay tuned for more posts to come!
Also, if you feel as we do and want to raise your own pigs, now is the time to start thinking about piglets.
Depending on breed maturity rates, you’ll want to get your piglets about 6-8 months before you plan to process them. Since you want fairly cool, but not freezing temperatures for processing, in many climates, most people starting thinking about getting piglets in spring time to have them ready by fall. Piglets from good breeders tend to sell out quickly, so if raising and processing pigs is on your radar for this year, start looking for your piglet source and get your reservations in early.
If you’ve managed to read this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts on raising and slaughtering pigs at home. Please use the comments section below to share your views, experiences, or ask any questions you may have.
Also, if you’d like to read more on pig processing before we move on in the series, you can check out my earlier posts from my first time processing pigs.