Butchering a pig

Butchering a pig can be a hard day's work, but being prepared for it makes things go a lot smoother.

The ideal weight of a butcher pig is about 220 lbs. The age they reach that weight depends on the breed and food given to the pig, but at 6 months old it starts to be possible.

A word of warning with any butchering enterprise: preparation and planning saves heaps of headaches.

Step 1: Preparation

It’s best to get this set up at least a day beforehand.  You’ll need the following: singletree, table, several sharp knives of different sizes, gun, several buckets, plastic bags, trash bags, cold water (at least 10 gallons), and a way to heat at least 10 gallons of water. It helps to have another person to help.

Start off by preparing your singletree and winch.  Your singletree should be at least 2 feet wide, and your winch should be able to haul at least 500 lbs without an issue.  We use a big tree for an anchor, so that we can also work in the shade.

Prep your table and work area by cleaning everything really well, and spreading things out so that you can get to everything without having to walk around.

If you plan on scraping the skin, get your wood or fuel ready for heating the water.

Don’t feed your pig anything for 24 hours before it is to be killed.  Give it plenty of water, though.


Step 2: Kill day

Start as early in the morning as possible.

  1. If you’ll be scraping the skin, you should begin by warming up 10 gallons of water.
  2. Take the gun (preferable a .22), a good knife (at least 7”), and some pig food (corn or apples are good for this).  Look at the area in which you will kill the pig and make a mental picture of how things will work. You want the pig to be on a relatively clean surface with a downhill slope for letting it bleed.
  3. Lead the pig to the chosen spot (our pigs are used to following us around the pasture, and will always follow food), and then set the food/treat down. Let the pig eat for about 10-20 seconds, or until he’s calm and distracted.
  4. Stand to the right of the pig, and behind his shoulder.  Aim the gun right behind his right ear and towards his left eye, so that the bullet will travel straight through the brain (there are many alternatives to this, but this is the surest way to kill a pig, in my opinion).  Pull the trigger quickly and deliberately.
  5. Once the pig is shot, he’ll fall down and start convulsing.  Roll the pig on his back, and get your helper to hold his legs.  Using your knife, quickly stab straight down, right in front of the breast bone, in the center of the neck.  When your knife enters all the way, move the handle back and forth until a lot of blood gush out.  Once the blood gushes, roll the pig on his side, with the head pointed downhill.  Let the blood fully drain (5-10 minutes).


Step 3: Scraping

Once the hog is completely bled out, it is time to get him to the table and start the hair scrape. Scraping makes the edible skin available for consumption, but it takes a while.

  1. Make sure your water is good and hot, but not boiling.
  2. Lay your pig on its side on the table. You can also use a truckbed or just a tarp on the ground. Just keep him off the dirt or he’ll get muddy.
  3. Using a small saucepan, pour a bit of water onto the pig, starting at the ham.  Pour water down the legs, across the belly, and go towards the head.  Once water is poured on the mid section, place a burlap feed sack over the head and midsection to help hold the heat.  Check the hair on the ham every once in a while, and when it pulls out easily, start scraping.
  4. Scraping is basically done with a blunt knife.  Place the knife with blade down and pull towards your body.  The hair and the top layer of skin should slide off easily.  Scrape and scrape, and if the skin doesn’t come off, pour on some more water.
  5. Work around the easy parts first – the hams, the belly, the back, the shoulder, and the neck.  Once they are done, you can work on the legs and the head.
  6. Scraping will take a good hour to get it all clean.  Then you’ll need to soap down the pig with a mild dish soap.  Rub the soap in really good.
  7. Use a sharp knife and some water to scrape the dirt and loose hairs from the skin.  This shouldn’t take very long.  Once you’ve done this, you should rinse the body really well.  You are now ready to hang the hog.


Step 4: Skinning

If time is an issue, skinning may be the thing for you. It’s the option we tend to go with, as it’s just the two of us processing the whole pig. We then give the skin strips to the dogs, so they don’t go to waste.

  1. If you want to skin the pig, start by hanging him up from the bottom jaw bone. You should re-hang him as described below once you’re done skinning.  Cut a hole in the crook of the jaw, up through the skin and out the mouth.  Use a hook or wire to attach to the center of the singletree and lift the carcass.
  2. Once the carcass is lifted off the ground, wash the carcass really well, get off any mud, dirt, manure and blood off of the skin.
  3. Use the box cutter with the blade out 1/4″ and cut a ring around the neck, up against the head.  You want the blade of the box cutter to go through the skin, but not into fat or meat.
  4. Cut rings around the legs at the knee joints in the same way.
  5. Starting from the neck cut, make a cut the length of the body, from the neck to the cut around the back knees.
  6. Move over 2-3″, and make another cut, all the way down.  Try and make the cuts as parallel as possible.
  7. Once you have made cuts all around the body, use a knife at the top of one slice and get the edge of the skin separated from the body.  You need about an inch of the skin separated.  Now, take a pair of vice grips and grab the skin.  Pull down with a firm and steady force, and the strip of skin should come straight off with little attached to it.
  8. Sometimes it is better to readjust the position of the vice grips once you have pulled a bit off. Grab the skin close to the body to get a good grip.
  9. Pull off all the strips in this way, and then using a knife, take off the remaining bits around the head and legs.


Step 5: Hanging
  1. Before hanging the pig, go ahead and split the breastbone.  Roll the pig onto its back, and insert your knife at the back edge of the breastbone, but be careful not to cut anything inside.  Using the knife, make a cut towards the neck, in the middle of the chest.  You are just cutting the skin, fat and meat so that you can see the bone.
  2. When you can see the ridge on the middle of the breastbone, insert your knife right at the base of the breastbone and cut towards the neck.  Use a hammer to gently force the knife through the bone.
  3. Now, make a vertical slit on the outside of each rear leg, right above the dew claw.  The slit should be about 4 inches long, but be careful not to cut the tendons inside.  Pull the tendons out a bit, this is what you’ll use to hang your pig.
  4. Using your singletree, hook the tendons.  You want the rear legs to be spread apart as much as possible. Slowly start raising the pig with the winch.
  5. Before the pig gets too high, go ahead and cut around the anus, carefully avoiding cutting into the rectum.  If you cut all the way around and into the body about 4 inches or so, the anus/rectum should be relatively free.  Pull it out a bit, and tie a string around it real tight to avoid anything coming out.
  6. Raise the carcass up all the way, so that the hams are at eye level.
  7. It’s now time to cut off the head.  Start by cutting the skin about 1” behind the ears.  Cut all the way around the neck and down to the bone.  Once all the meat is cut to the bone, twist the head all the way around until it pops off.  Rinse well and set aside.  You can either discard this piece or make tamales, head cheese, or whatever traditional dish from the head/jowl meat.


Step 6: Gutting
  1. The trick with gutting is to cut the skin and intestinal cavity open without actually cutting any of the intestines.  The easiest way to do this is the start up near the anus, and slowly cut towards the belly. Once you get to the belly cavity, slowly insert the tip of the blade, with the sharp edge of the knife facing you.  Only insert the knife about 1/2”.  Pull the knife and skin towards you a bit to make 3” incision.  Now, insert 2 fingers (left hand) in the hole, and pull the skin away from the body.  Insert your knife again, but this time, keep it between your fingers, and about 1/2” away from their tips.  Slowly start moving down, with the fingers leading the way, keeping the offal away from the knife.  When you reach the split breastbone, you are done.
  2. Now, gently pull the tied anus/rectum down into the cavity, and then out away from the body.  The innards will literally try and fall out.  Go ahead and let them. We place an old feed sack or bucket below the carcass to catch things for the dogs.
  3. At this point, it is good to take the things you might want, like the liver, lungs, heart, and small intestines.
  4. For the liver, you need to remove the gall bladder, and the best way to do that is to just cut all the way around it, leaving plenty of space between it and your knife.  If you happen to bust the gall bladder, just throw the liver out, and wait for the next one.


Step 7: Half
  1. Take a sharp knife, and on the back side of the carcass, cut down to the bone, and down the middle of the back.  This is just a guide line.
  2. Stand on the belly side of the carcass, and with your saw, cut the carcass in half, right down the middle of the backbone.
  3. Wash the two halves really well, both inside and out.
  4. You can now remove the leaf lard, it is the fat inside the carcass.  Put it in a bucket or bag, separate from the other lard.  It is much finer and great for desserts and pies.
  5. You’ve finally made it to the cutting up part of the process.

I am going to refer to another site for this part, just so you get a better idea of the various cuts and processes.

Here’s a great link describing the different cuts available from a half: