On July 30th we harvested our pigs.
We brought them home in the back of our rusty old pickup truck 22 weeks before that. Thankfully the pig farmer herself wrangled them for us. 100 bones apiece was her price.
They were 10-week-old sisters, just weened, timid and skiddish, and reeked of manure. We named them Lucille and Ramona. Ramona because they came from a farm in Ramona, California. Lucille because Chris had been on an Arrested Development kick. I sprayed them down; I was determined our pigs would not smell like “pigs.” My mother would have been proud.
That first cold February night we checked on them in the barn with flashlights to find them laying side by side, completely buried beneath the hay.
“They are going to be okay,” Chris whispered to me.
The following morning I googled how to make pig slop.
Each day we’d move them to a new location in our field to spend the afternoon in the sunshine, tilling the soil for planting, munching on grass and roots, fertilizing as they went. At night after a day spent on pasture they smelled sweet, of grass and soil.
As they grew they became more and more difficult to lift into the back of our pick-up. Chris built a pig shoot, thrown together cheaply and sloppily like everything we do at the farm, but it was functional.
One afternoon after a long day of field work, we took our trusty pick-up over the hill to the field only to discover that the pigs were grazing alongside of their moveable pen. This would be the first of many professionally executed escapes; these two were smart.
When all of our pastured fencing ideas failed, it was about time to finish the pigs. We changed their feed to a sweeter ration, and then let them out of the barn to wander in the evenings for exercise.
Each morning when we’d arrive with their water and slop they’d greet us with happy grunts. Lucille would shove Ramona aside and greedily take all of the best for herself (ironically, in the end Ramona weighed in 30-40 pounds heavier).
They became bigger and stronger. It became a little more intimidating to enter their barn stall for the morning feeding and watering. Our fearless farm dog, Shep, eventually even cowered away from them. But these two were never dangerous. We knew them, had named them, and they knew us.
We had no idea when the time was right. It was a guess, really. A lucky one as it turns out.
(Pigs are ready for slaughter anywhere from 6-8 months, 230-300 pounds or so. Too small and you miss out on the rapid weight and fat gain in the final weeks, too late and your meat will be old and tough.)
The day before harvest day we spoiled them with the leftovers from our church lunch; it was watermelon rinds and chicken bones, their favorite.
The folks from Bob’s Specialty Meat arrived at 8 AM on July 30th, harvest day. There were two men, one in his seventies wearing blood splattered white socks and tennis shoes (Bob). He said he’s been doing this since he was a teenager and that they had already done four pigs that morning. He spoke of his good health in his old age, how he only eats farm raised meat and vegetables from their family garden. The skinny middle-aged man with the mustache was his assistant.
The old man was the sharpshooter. They had no idea what was coming; they were not the least bit traumatized. We know because we watched. It was as humane and quick of a death as one could have. A death I’d even wish upon myself.
Our pigs awoke that fateful day like it was any other. They did not have to make the stressful trip to a slaughterhouse (stress hormones such as adrenaline negatively impact the flavor and quality of the meat). They died together, calm and happy in their home. Prior to that they lived a happy life, had plenty of fresh air and exercise, and ate a diet free from steroids, growth hormones, and antibiotics.
We know the true costs of meat production. It is very expensive and labor intensive. And so we will use our meat wisely. From liver, to lungs, to fat, to heart, to skin, to feet. Nothing is eaten (or wasted) without an understanding of the sacred life and spirit that created the nourishment.
As we eat we (morbidly maybe) share stories of their lives. It is by far the best meat we’ve ever had. We sold a quarter to a cattle farmer from my work and she gave the flavor an A+++++. There are no words that can do this meat justice. You must come visit to see for yourself.