Hog Processing: Skinning, Scalding, Scraping, and Eviscerating

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CAUTION: This article, and the photos in it, include graphic details about hog processing. If you are disturbed by information and images of this nature, please use your own discretion when determining whether to read further.

This is part 3 in a multipart series on slaughtering pigs on the homestead. In previous posts, I wrote about preparations for the slaughter and making the kill. You can read the previous entries here:

Read More: “Preparing for a Pig Slaughter”

Read More: “Pig Slaughter”

Now, we are moving on to hog processing. Here’s a quick overview of the basic steps that we’ll cover in this post:

  • Step #1: Choose How You’ll Handle the Pig Hide
    • Option #1: Remove the Hide
    • Option #2: Remove the Hair
  • Step #2: Remove the Head
  • Step #3: Disconnect the Rectum
  • Step #4: Risks in Evisceration (Gutting)
  • Step #5: Remove Internal Organs
  • Step #6: Chill the Carcass

Step #1: Choose How You’ll Handle the Pig Hide

Option #1: Remove the Hide

After you make the kill, you have a few choices about how to handle the pig hide. Some people prefer to skin a pig. This is probably the fastest, easiest method and requires fewer tools. However, if you want to use the pig skin for curing, in your bone stock, to make pork rinds, or to make leather, you’ll want to remove the hair first (see “Option 2: Remove the Hair” below for more details).

I have never removed a whole hide on a pig. I have skinned other animals, and it is easy as long as you are comfortable using a sharp knife. I prefer to remove the head and tail before skinning. Then, you need to cut a few openings through the skin, like seams, and use the tip of your knife to gently separate the skin from the muscles and fat.

I start skinning at the feet by opening a seam around the hooves and along the inside of the legs and working the skin free from the muscles with the knife. Next, I make a slit from the neck to the pelvis on the bellyside and work the skin away from the muscles until it is loose on both sides (like flaps). Your cuts should only be skin deep—don’t cut into the belly yet.

In male animals, you need to separate the penis and urethra from the skin. The penis area is visible, and you can find the urethra by feeling around with your fingers starting from the penis. The urethra feels like semi-hard tubing or  straw. Cut around the penis and under the urethra until it is free from the skin.

Don’t disconnect the urethra from the rest of the urinary tract yet.  You’ll remove it later when you eviscerate.

If the pig is hanging by the hind legs, work the skin over the hind quarters and down the back, then move on to the sides, and finish with the front shoulders. Using this method, gravity works for you and the hide comes off in one piece.

Option #2: Remove the Hair

There are a couple of different ways to remove hair. Both involve scraping the hair off the pig after heating the skin to loosen the hair follicles.

Straw Scalding to Remove the Hair

A few years back I wrote a blog series about our first pig slaughter. We had a lot of awesome reader comments and suggestions on hog processing. One of the ideas came from Anne. She said:

We raised and butchered many pigs growing up. Instead of the scalding to get hair off we burned straw to singe it off and then scraped. Laid the pig on a bed of straw first and did the burning and scraping in sections.

Glen also chimed in with his experience:

Instead of heating water to scald the hog, we buried it in straw and set that afire. You found that some areas weren’t sufficiently scalded to allow for easy scraping, and we had a similar situation. Whereas you spent “a lot of time, elbow grease, and [disposable razor blades],” we hit the stubborn areas with the flame from a propane torch to make them scrape-able with normal effort. Don’t overdo the flame, burning through the skin into the meat! Just fan the torch over the stubborn areas enough to make the scraping work with reasonable effort, similar to the properly scalded areas.

I haven’t tried this method yet. But, I wanted to share Anne’s and Glen’s experience since this also seems to be an effective and common way to remove hair.

Water Scalding to Remove Hair

Water scalding is our method for softening the hair follicles. We heat a tub of water to 155°F. We use a hoist to raise and lower the pig carcass into the water. For smaller pigs, you can use a 55 gallon drum. For pigs over 225 pounds, though, you probably need something larger.

We modified an old oil drum to make it work like a big bath tub. This took a lot of cutting and welding. But, the shape allows us to put multiple propane burners under the tub to heat the water faster. You can use any kind of vessel that holds water, fits your pig, and is safe to heat.

The key to a good scald is to get the water uniformly to about 155°F before you lower your pig into it. Use a paddle or a 2×4 to stir the tub and mix warm water over the burners with cool water near the surface. We also made an insulated lid to fit our tub so that our water heats faster and retains more heat between pigs.

You need a way to lift your pigs into the water. Friends of ours use their front loader. We use a manual engine hoist rigged over a scaffold.

You need a way to attach your pig to your hoist. We make a slit between the hind ankle bone and the tendon. Then we push each side of a gambrel through the slits.  We also use a gambrel on the front hooves as a directional to help lift and lower our pig safely into the water.

We lay chains over both sides of our tub in the water under the pig. Then we use the chains to agitate the pig in the water, if necessary, to keep the hide from sticking to the hot metal of the scalding vat and to readjust if some areas aren’t underwater.

Air temperature impacts scalding time. Also, every hide is different. Start pulling on patches of hair after about 2 minutes of soaking onward. As soon as the hair is easy to pull out, raise the pig out of the water and immediately start scraping. Scalding too long sets the hair.

Also, keep a bucket handy. If areas of skin start to cool before you get them scraped, pour hot water from the scalding tub over the area to warm it up.

Pig Slaughter -Scraping

Photo by Tim Miles

Scraping

When you get a good scald, scraping is easy using a tool called a bell scraper. It’s not very sharp and the handle and the cupped shape of the blade work well to scrape the hair without ripping the skin.

We scrape the hams, back, belly, and jowl areas first while the scraping is easiest. After we have our key areas hair-free, then we work on the hocks, the rest of the head, and the front shoulders. Removing the hair on these parts of the hide is less critical for our later processing.

For tough patches, we use flat razors or even dull knives to fine-tune our scraping job. Once the carcass is scraped, hose off  residual hair and hang the carcass at a height that makes it convenient for you to squat down and remove the head.

Photo by Tim Miles

Step #2: Remove the Head

To remove the head, you need to cut a ring through all the meat and ligature down to the bone. We cut high on the back of the head so we leave more meat with the shoulder area. We cut below the jowl meat on the nose side so we can make bacon from the jowls.

After you have cut through to the bone all around, have one person hold the carcass steady while another twists the head by holding the ears. The head will twist off. You can manage this alone, but it’s easier with two people.

If the head doesn’t come off with twisting, you probably still have some meat or ligature to cut through. You should not have to saw through the spine to remove the head.

Step #3: Disconnect the Rectum

Hang your carcass at a height where you can easily reach the anus.

Pigs have chubby cheeks—and yes, I mean butt cheeks. This makes it hard to get your hands where you need them to cut out the rectum and tie up the anus. The first thing I do is cut through the pelvis bone on the belly side of the pig to give myself more space to work.

As a rule, cut meat with a knife and bone with a saw. I slice through the meat covering the pelvis bone and then saw through the pelvis bone. Similar to a human pelvis, the organs are behind the pelvis bone. As long as you aim your saw toward the sky through the legs of your pig and stop sawing as soon as you break through the bone, you won’t hit anything dangerous.

Also, similar to a human stomach, there is a layer of fat underneath the skin area just above the pelvis, so as long as you don’t cut through the fat while you are starting this process, that is a fairly safe zone, too.

With the pelvis bone cut, I cut a wide round hole around the anus to make sure I don’t hit anything important. Then I connect the line I started at the pelvis bone up to my circle cut around the anus. This way you can see the shape of the rectum (the poop pipe connected to the anus) and avoid puncturing it. You can use your fingers and the tip of your knife to cut the connective tissue holding the rectum in place.

Work carefully with your knife until the rectum is freed and can be pulled up a couple of inches to allow you to tie it off with twine to prevent spillage. Do not remove the rectum at this point, the goal is just to free it up so you can pull it through with the other internal organs from the belly side.

Pig Slaughter - Tasha Gutting

Photo by Tim Miles

Step #4: Risks in Evisceration (Gutting)

When we first started processing pigs, I was terrified of evisceration. Every article I read about hog processing emphasized not to accidentally cut the intestines like it was a criminal act.

There are some bad things that could be lurking in your pig’s intestinal tract. Bacteria and parasites like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Trichinella spiralis, Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli can all be found in a pig’s gut.

In fact, except for Trichinella spiralis and Toxoplasma gondii, which have mostly been eradicated from modern pork production, these bad things are commonly and routinely found in retail pork products from your grocery store or local butcher! Yet, despite being the most consumed meat worldwide, pork products have lower rates of foodborne illness than other meats.1)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12001

Pork products are only relatively safe to eat because they are chilled, well-cooked, or long-cured prior to consumption. As long as you apply the same processes to your pork products at home, your risks are the same at home as they are at the grocery store. Even if you bust a gut!

Busting a gut is stinky and messy. It also makes extra work because you will want to carefully hose off your carcass. So, do be careful, just don’t be paranoid! And keep a hose handy just in case.

Step #5: Remove Internal Organs

Pigs have large chest cavities and a lot of ribs. Before we begin cutting through the belly to free up the organs, we like to cut through the breastbone. Like you do with the pelvis, slice through the skin and muscle tissue over the hard sternum. Then use a saw to cut through the breastbone. Keep your saw parallel to the breastbone and stop sawing once you break through the bone.

As explained in the skinning section, in male pigs the penile area and urethra needs to be freed up and moved aside before you start cutting into the belly to get to the organs.

Now, get your gut bucket ready. Position it under the neck area of the pig, between your legs, while you face the belly. Insert your knife carefully under the fat and tissue where you cut the pelvis. Face your knife blade back out toward you from underneath the pig’s belly fat and skin so it is facing away from the organs. Cup your hand around your knife, to use the back of your hand to hold back the organs inside your pig and prevent punctures. Then cut a seam down the belly.

As you start to unzip the pig, the organs will start to fall toward you. Direct them toward the bucket between your legs. Once your seam connects to where you cut the breast bone, use your fingers and your knife to rip and cut any connective tissue and free up the organs. There are shiny whitish diaphragms on either side of the ribs along the back that need to be cut free with a knife and scraped out. Otherwise most other organs you can work free with your hands and occasional cutting.

We keep the kidneys, heart, caul fat, lungs, and liver (remove the gall bladder). I separate those out as I come across them and put them in a different bucket.

For our friends who use a front loader in their pig slaughter, they don’t use a gut bucket. They drop the viscera on the ground and scoop them up later with their front loader and bury them.

The important thing is to have a plan for how you will dispose of the parts you don’t want to eat. We dig a large trench in advance and bury the organs right after processing to avoid drawing unwanted animals to our slaughter area.

Step #6: Chill the Carcass

At this point, you have a hanging pig carcass that has been split from sternum to anus. The carcass will still be warm,  especially if you scalded the pig. To make butchering easier, you want to chill the meat and allow the fat to firm up.

Most people try to process when the overnight temperatures will be close to refrigerator temperatures so they can allow their pig to hang outside or in an unheated outbuilding to chill.

Make sure to chill your pig in a location where it won’t be bothered by other animals like coyotes. Hanging high, under lights, or in shelters can help.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you processed a pig?  Do you have any tricks to share?  Are you thinking about it? What are your concerns? Please use the comments section below to share your views and experiences or to ask any questions.

Also, if you’d like to read more on hog processing before we move on in the series, you can check out my earlier posts from my first time processing pigs:

Read More: “Part 1: Raising Hogs”

Read More: “Part 2: Hog Killin’”

Read More: “Part 3: Hog Cookin’”

 

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References   [ + ]

1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12001

The post Hog Processing: Skinning, Scalding, Scraping, and Eviscerating appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Butcher a Chicken

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Chicken slaughter is often a tough topic for new, and even experienced, chicken keepers. Even if you theoretically know how to butcher a chicken, actually doing it is another matter entirely.

Even though we all know where meat comes from and what has to happen for it to make it to our tables, there is some part of us that wants to pretend it just magically showed up at the grocery store or farmer’s market booth.

Part of becoming a backyard butcher is facing your meat consumption habits head on.

The most important advice we can give you on butchering your first chicken is, don’t overcomplicate the process.

Historically, backyard butchering was the norm. It didn’t take weeks of planning and preparation. It just took the will to do it, a little skill, and some basic tools.

Do Your Homework

Most of us didn’t grow up learning these skills, so we do have to do a little homework to prepare in advance.

But, unless you want to spend an unnecessary fortune or will be processing a ton of chickens, you probably want to make your process very similar to what your grandma’s (or great grandma’s) would have been.

There is an art to home butchery that comes only with experience.

Your first time butchering will be rough on you and possibly on your chicken.

In fact, even when you have become very skilled at doing it, it will probably still be rough on you.

You are taking a life, and if you don’t recognize the sentience of the being on the other side of that transaction, then maybe you need to seek psychological help!

That said, if you have been buying chicken at the grocery store, you have already been an active participant in slaughtering birds that were likely treated with less dignity and respect than you have shown the chickens you will be processing.

For meat eaters, home butchering could be one of the least ethically compromising decisions you can make.

Philosophical considerations aside, let’s talk about a few practical aspects of processing chickens.

Slaughter Planning

A clean kill starts with good planning. You need to decide how you are going to do it and what tools you are going to use.

Three Methods

Using a kill cone and sharp knife to slit a chicken’s throat on both sides is most common for small poultry processors. When using this method, some people put a straw bale under the cone area to collect the blood.

Since this is not a job you want to have to do twice on the same chicken, make it a habit to cut to the bone on both sides.

Chickens often try to back out of the cone in response to having their throats slit, so hold the head tightly and don’t let go until the chicken is no longer moving. This also prevents blood from splattering and making a big mess as dying chickens twitch.

You can also decapitate your chickens using a sharp knife and a butcher block or tree stump.

This method is easier if you have one person to hold the chicken and another to do the beheading.

One blogger decapitates her chickens using a feed bag to hold and then hang chickens during and after the kill. This method works really well and saves you the cost of a kill cone. Straw bale blood collection works in this scenario too.

You can also break a chicken’s neck. This method requires no tools for the kill, but as the blood is not drained during the process, it makes for a messier evisceration process. So be prepared to collect or clean the blood when you take the chicken to the table for evisceration.

Whichever method you use, speed and accuracy is critical. Watching videos of other successful kills and studying pictures in advance can help mentally prepare you for the task.

The neck has valuable stock meat and flavor, so the closer you can make your cut or break to the head, the more you get to keep.

Be Well-Prepared Prior to Culling

Set up your station before you start.

  • Slaughtering at home can be messy, so a lot of us opt to do it outside.
  • Having a hose with a sprayer makes it easy to keep things clean.
  • A work table makes evisceration easier.
  • Having some kind of hook for hanging to defeather helps.
  • If you plan to scald, you need a burner to heat your water.
  • You may also need electricity if you use a plucker.
  • Some people like to set up a three-bucket cleaning station, with soapy water, bleach water (1 Tablespoon per gallon), and fresh water to use to clean your knife and other equipment as needed during processing.
  • You also want to choose a location with good drainage so you don’t end up with chicken blood and scraps stinking up your backyard.

Plucking

Once you’ve dispatched your chicken, the next step is to defeather the carcass.

There are a couple ways to do this:

  • You can skin, dry-pluck, scald, and hand pluck.
  • You can scald and machine pluck.

Skinning

Some people skin the entire bird. However, for many, the skin is delicious and worth the extra work. You can check out this blog posting for a look at the process.

Dry-Plucking

Dry-plucking is exactly what it sounds like. You simply pull out the feathers after slaughtering.

It helps to hang the bird by the feet and pull down to extract the feathers.

The rule of thumb on defeathering the body is to pull away from the direction the feathers grow in. For wings, you need to hold the tip of the wing and then grip and pull the feathers straight out. Tail feathers are also easier to pull straight out.

Scalding

You can also scald a chicken before plucking, which makes it much easier to pull out the feathers.

You need a pot big enough to hold your entire chicken, a pair of tongs for dipping and stirring, and a thermometer (e.g., a fry thermometer) so you make sure you get the water to 135–145°F for scalding dry birds.

If I am processing a large flock, I like to use a garden hose to rinse my poultry thoroughly before scalding so the water does not need to be changed as frequently.

When I soak before scalding, I aim for a water temperature between 145–155°F since the cold water from the rinse, retained in the feathers, will drop my scalding pot temperature.

Also, birds like the Cornish Cross which have been breed for easier defeathering and are processed at a younger age scald well at around 135°F, and more heavily feathered birds are easier to pluck if scalded on the higher side of the scale.

  • If you’ve got your water temperature right, it takes about one to three minutes for the feathers to loosen. Use the tongs to move the chicken around, up, and down in the pot to make sure the hot water penetrates the feathers and reaches the skin.
  • After the first minute, tug on the body feathers with your tongs every 15–20 seconds to check.
  • As soon as the feathers are easy to pull, take the chicken from the pot, hang the carcass, and begin defeathering as described for dryplucking.
  • Pluck quickly for best results.
  • Also, don’t leave the chickens in the water too long, as they begin to cook and the feathers get harder to pluck.

Plucking manually, whether you scald or not, is about the hardest part of the process. It takes time and there are always some small feathers you have to pluck out with tweezers, torch off, or shave off with a straight razor.

If you’ll be processing chickens regularly, machine defeathering is a good option. You can build your own, like the Whizbang Plucker. Or, if that’s outside your budget and time constraints, you can buy drill attachments like the one that Marjory found at the Mother Earth News Fair a few years back. See her quick video about it here.

I like to think of plucking as a kind of meditation. And, sometimes, having company helps pass the time.

You can use the feathers for craft projects like jewelry, writing quills, and Halloween costumes. And anything you don’t use can be composted. Feathers are very high in nitrogen.

Evisceration

Once the feathers are removed, your next step is to eviscerate (remove the internal organs).

This is also usually the time you remove the feet, head (if not decapitated), and oil glands. Once you get the hang of it, evisceration is pretty easy to do. But it’s easier to learn if you have a coach or watch a few good videos, like this one with Joel Salatin.

Also, if you get your copy of the Mother Earth News Summit hosted by Marjory Wildcraft, it includes presentations from Joel Salatin and Patricia Foreman on raising and processing chickens. Patricia’s presentation on processing has very detailed pictures to make the process accessible to newcomers.

After you have a basic idea of the process, then keep in mind these few tips to have a successful first experience.

  • Use a clean cutting board or table. Plastic or stainless steel surfaces are easier to clean and disinfect, so they are recommended.
  • Have a hose at the ready in the event of accidental contamination, such as could be caused by cutting the intestines and contaminating your chicken area or work table with feces or by nicking the gall bladder when removing it from the liver.
  • Lungs don’t always come out clean in scalded chickens, so rinse the interior of the carcass and use your fingers to scrape out residual lung tissue if necessary.
  • Chill the heart, liver, and gizzard as soon as possible. The quality of organ meat degrades quickly once it comes in contact with air.

There are a lot of different techniques used to remove the head and feet, so feel free to use whatever works for you.

One method is to cut the feet above the orange socks and around the knee joint. Then, fold the knee in the opposing direction to loosen the tendon and cut through it. After that, twist and cut until the foot is off.

For the neck, you can cut the meat around the spine, twist the neck once around and then slice through the ligature.

Chilling, Aging, and Storing

Chilling

If you are processing poultry professionally, your goal after evisceration is to chill your meat to an internal temperature of 40°F as quickly as possible. That usually means plopping it into a cooler of ice water, like you would a bottle of champagne.

The longer it takes for a chicken to cool down, the more risk there is for bacterial contamination of the meat. And unless you happen to have a flash freezer at home, ice water baths are the fastest, safest, and cheapest way to chill your meat at home.

Ideally, you want to leave your carcass in ice water for about one hour per pound of carcass to make sure it is properly chilled.

Aging and Storing

At that point, you can package your chicken and place it in your refrigerator for aging or in your freezer for storing.

Whether you age your meat right after processing or after you defrost it, your meat will be more tender if you give it a day or two to “rest” at refrigerator temperatures. You can do double-duty by letting it rest in marinade before cooking, as well.

Some people keep chicken in their freezer for years. But, for best results, you should eat chicken within six months of processing.

Safety and Sanitation

When it comes to keeping things safe at a molecular level during processing, the No. 1 rule is to use common sense.

  • If you plan to process more than a chicken or two at a time, you’ll want to clean all your surfaces and equipment at least every couple hours.
  • If you suspect any kind of contamination (e.g., chicken feces, fly-by droppings from a wild bird, etc.), stop and sanitize.
  • A tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water makes a good sanitizer.
  • Use clean towels for handwashing.
  • Avoid touching your face or other body parts while processing.
  • Sharpen your knife before each kill and as needed during processing.

Again, use common sense. If your basic hygiene is bad, you could pass on norovirus and other nasty stuff, but only if you also fail to properly cook the meat before eating. Poor hygiene while processing and unsafe cooking procedures are both necessary for bad things to happen.

Just use your brain, and you’ll be ok!

You want to raise your own chickens, which means you’re probably a smart person. So use your own good judgment to keep risks out of your process.

Appreciation

After you raise, kill, and process your own chickens, take a few minutes to sit down, think about the experience, and figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how you want to do it better next time.

Then remember all that went into it—from picking your breed, to brooding your chicks, to moving them around in your pasture tractor, to watching them chase grasshoppers in your lawn.

Be amazed at all you learned in the process.

Celebrate your success in raising high-quality food for you and your family.

And of course, give thanks for the way nature provides, for the chickens who will grace your table, for anyone who helped you along the way, and for the fact that you have healthy food to eat and choices about how to provide for yourself.

The post How to Butcher a Chicken appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Skin and Cut Up a Squirrel in 9 Steps

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How to Skin and Cut Up a Squirrel in 9 Steps There has long been a negative connotation when it comes to the humble squirrel. People just don’t like the idea of eating squirrels. It has to do with their proximity to us and I think it also has something to do with accusations that …

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