Harvest Day

So, COVID has made processing for small producers a real challenge. Between people panic-buying, or panic-butchering, the large meat facilities being shut down due to their employees getting COVID - and those larger producers moving to the smaller butcher facilities, AND in our area, one of the USDA processors lost their facility to a fire. Capacity is limited.

We've been working with the same processor for over 13 years. We love them, I also plan way ahead and get my orders scheduled for very specific time frames. Spring time for easter lamb, summer for market sales, fall for eliminating stock before winter and stocking up customers for holiday lamb. We got it done this year.

But my own freezer was getting empty. Coupled with NOT getting my big piggies all loaded in the trailer, it was time to continue to reduce the load for winter feeding and fill my own freezer.

We decided to do the entire butcher process at home. We had a full-on, ladies' action committee to take care of two ram lambs on the farm. My next butcher date wouldn't be until April 2021. These boys would be big and rowdy by then. They were already trouble makers - squeezing through gates to knock over poultry feeders, and becoming annoying little dudes will full racks of horns. It was time to say goodbye.

We were busy working and didn't get a ton of pictures, but lamb is old hat to me. I've been butchering lamb on the farm for years, and helping friends do the same. My neighbor Lindsay, and chicken farming friend Sara came over to help me with the boys, Eskel and Coen. They were purchased off farm to bring fresh genetics to my lambs this year, and believe me, they were working hard. We did one the old school way - a knife to the neck. It was literally my first lamb kill. It was really hard. But he will feed my family. Sara brought a captive bolt gun, which we decided to use on the second, and I truly appreciated it. I will be getting my own, to use for future on-farm harvests. It was quick, easy, and relieved any undo stress from my ram.

The rest was easy. Hang him, skin him, chill him. Day two, we went to Sara's facility to do the cut up. She has a cold room for storage and plenty of table space for cutting and packaging. Lindsey's roomate, Isaiah, joined us, trained as a chef - he found the french rack and the chops hiding in there like he was a sculptor.

Easy peasy. It was the pig that was a challenge.

To dispatch the pig did require a gun. You can't manhandle an 800 lb hog. For the hog, I also enlisted the help of my new friend, Alan, from @livelovebutcher (find him on instagram!) We left the hog in her run. The plan was to quickly dispatch, Alan had a boom and a winch on his truck. So second step was to cut her to bleed and then lift her up.

We know now, that the weight of my hogs on his boom was too much. Next time, we'll get the hog out of the run with my tractor, get it to the spot where we will work on it, then hang it with his winch. But we learn lessons the hard way sometimes.

Everything was a bit of a blur to me. I've never killed a pig before. I was already a little bit overwhelmed from butchering two lambs. It's never easy to take a life. But I've done lambs before and knew what to expect. I had no idea what to expect with a pig, I've never killed one, skinned one, gutted one or anything. It was a lot. The beginning was very much a blur. I did take a minute to say goodbye, and I felt like I was betraying her in the worst way possible. Just the day before, I was in the pen scritching her butt, and letting her know that I loved her so much.

However, typically, once the light is gone from their eyes, I can shake off the concern and the sadness, and see food, instead of seeing death.

We went to work. We started on the ground, literally with her propped up between tire chocks. We got the skinning started, with lessons from Alan on how to NOT remove all the fat by accident. Once we got her opened up, it was time to hang her up and get the skin off. That winch sure came in handy! Skinning and gutting an animal is not much different from critter to critter. She was just SO very big! Keep in mind, I am used to doing lambs! (It was a nice change to not have to work my way through wool!)

You can see the benefit of having the winch on his truck, we could hang her to continue the skinning process off the ground. You can also see the COVID weight I've put on over the year! HOLY MOLY!

I did get some questions about skinning vs. scalding. I could likely have scalded - with my poultry equipment, we would have had to dunk her head first and tail first to get both sides scalded. Lots of folks apparently like pig skin. I hate eating skin. It's so gross to me, so we skinned her.

To get her cooled down, I had to get her to Sara's cold room. My spare fridge was filled with lamb, she needed to cool down so we could work on cutting on day two. I had to be able to lift her myself, in and out of coolers to get to Sara's cold room. So we had to cut her into 6 pieces. So that we did. and she got stored overnight in a cold room.

That was a lot of work on day one, with an emotional toll. Day two was really the hard work.

We met at Sara's in the morning and between Lindsey, Sara, Isaiah and I, we got the two lambs butchered and packaged and in a cooler pretty darn quick.

This is Sara's egg wash station. We moved a few things around to make for more table space. It's tight for 4 or 5 folks to be moving around. Her cold room is where she stores eggs, it was perfect for cooling down the meat. With some kitty friends to help clean up small pieces of meat or fat that fall in the ground, we were ready to rock.

A little lunch break, and then Alan joined us to teach us about pig butchering. Sara was ready with her meat grinder and spice mixes for making sausage. Alan loves to be in teaching mode, but it was clear we didn't have time for a class, we needed to get to work. He showed me lots of things as we went along, but we all quickly picked up assignments to keep things moving. Alan needed his knowledge and skill to carve out specific cuts for me. Isaiah did a lot of the same. I took chunks and got them ready for stew or grind. Lindsay did the lion's share of packaging (thank goodness she has good handwriting) and Sara ran the grinder and mixed the sausage. SO MUCH SAUSAGE. That pig filled two big coolers and I brought her home to fill one of my freezers.

Let's keep in mind, we did all of this while, in the evenings, we were evacuating hundreds of Sara's birds from near Carter Lake because of the incoming forest fires. It took me all week to recover from 3 nights of evacuation, and 2 solid days of butchering.

Of course, we aren't done there. We had raw pork belly to turn into bacon. This is where Larry joins the scene. I had a few days to fridge the bellies before I needed to start curing. I ordered some curing salts - plain bacon curing salt, black pepper and brown sugar, and MAPLE. Since we are unpacking our new house, I had access to plenty of empty plastic tubs. In went my 4 chunks of belly with their curing salts and they rested in the fridge for a week.

This picture is after the week of curing, and now resting in water to help rinse the salt off.

Larry got to spend that week picking out a smoker! He was excited about that. After a week, and a new smoker that was conditioned and ready to go, in went the bacon.

Hours and hours of getting to temperature and then smoking - we brought it in to rest in the oven, and then slice, package and freeze.

We cooked some up with dinner that night to go with our brussel sprouts.Now I need to find a meat slicer so we can cut this thin next time. MY LORD! Home made bacon! What an experience!

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