Tale of the Hog

Donald Pennington By Donald Pennington, 8th Oct 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Daily Life

This post contains some semi-graphic content displaying a portion of the slaughter of a hog. Reader discretion is advised. The Tale of the Hog is not for the squeamish or sensitive. If this type of discussion/content disturbs you, you might want to move along to something else instead, this time. I'm sorry. This story needs to be told. And folks need to see it.

Meet Bacon

I went to a hog slaughter today with a friend from a nearby town. He's asked me to not use his name to avoid hassle from any activists types and in return he's letting me share these images and content on the events of the day. In this first picture, you see the hog who's “headed to market.” After seeing this procedure, I wish I had grabbed a few more pictures of her while she was alive.

This post isn't intended to offend in any way. I just want to know my fellow meat eater is aware of what all happens in the process. Perhaps some of you are straddling the fence on going vegetarian or not. Maybe you just never experienced anything like a hog butchering before.

Taking her down

This odd-looking little chicken was one of many who flocked around us as the pig was being put down. The others were gathering around too, in anticipation of catching a bit of the pig fat and leftover corn she would no longer be needing. Despite what anyone might ever want to say about humans being brutal for eating meat, we're certainly not the only cold ones. These birds are out for blood. They're not even shy around a stranger like me. My friend and his associate tell me these chickens have seen enough slaughters to know what to expect.

Getting in their way didn't seem like a good idea either. I've never seen a chicken seem like they mean business before.

I grabbed these shots while my friend and another guy were putting her down as quickly as they could. Before anyone calls anyone else any insults for killing this pig, eating meat is as much a part of human history as drinking water. And when my friend (I'm just going to call him Joe) failed at putting her down with the first rifle shot, he knew he was causing her unnecessary pain and his conscience was affected by it.

His other farmer friend was also disturbed by her pain. So when Joe lost his nerve, he quickly took the rifle and placed a well-aimed shot to end it. The first bullet (we learned later) had somehow bounced off her jaw-bone and into her fat, angering her. The second shot put her on her knees. I remember when the first shot failed to kill her, seeing a moment of pain on both men's faces. Brief, scowling looks quickly gave way to taking action to make this as painless as possible for the animal. Neither man allowed me to photograph the moment of the shooting. Cruelty is not their intention, in any way.

Phase 1 nearly complete

Shortly after the successful shot, she began thrashing and trying to resist. Blood flew everywhere. I had heard from others how much flows but nothing really prepares you for it like actually seeing it.

To speed the dying process, Joe stepped into her pen and gave a solid slice to the throat. As we waited, he spoke of how he actually hated this part. I told both men I'm a carnivore too and am not here to judge – only to document. This being the other side of all those bacon jokes we see.

Life does not relent easily and she continues to resist. The squeal I heard and watching her try to fight is something which I may carry from now on.

Her struggles finally begin to ease up some and movement slows. Joe and his other friend explain how using a gun first is the quicker method of the ways to kill a pig. We talk of other points of life as the chickens gather closer hoping for some tidbit.

The hog finally stops moving even as she continues bleeding. I can't help but imagine some sort of moment for the animal where her brain begins giving her one last show in order to be able to accept her fate. Moments like this one have allowed we human animals the chance to survive for centuries and I can't help but feel some sense of respect for this pig's loss.

Finishing the slaughter

The guys set about working to drain as much of the hog's blood as possible. I ask why it's important and Joe says it insures better meat.

Pulling her just a bit farther away from her former home. The chickens are already having a field day, modern-day dinosaurs that they are.

Raising the hog up on the boom allows for more free flow of blood and as much drainage as we can get. Readers can see the cut in the throat was deep enough to make this as quick as possible.

While the blood finishes draining from the hog's carcass, the pen needs to be cleaned. This shot gives readers some idea of just how much blood was involved.

Plenty more blood still drains from the pig.

There's something evil among us

Needing something to look at for a moment besides blood and perhaps a distraction from the smell and the fly I think I might've eaten just now, I start to watch the chickens - which, really, seems like a good idea anyway.

Because this rooster is eyeballing me, I swear - and has been doing so for about five minutes now. I can feel his stare, in fact and can imagine this bird being the basis of some wonderful, future, "Kentucky Fried Horror Story."

(And now I'm wondering how long it is before someone else takes my title idea)

Maybe he just doesn't recognize me. Maybe he's wondering how delicious I would be. Only the rooster knows.

All that bristly hair

Now we go about beginning the cleaning process to remove most of the blood and mud from the hog's exterior It's explained to me, there are two ways to handle the hog's skin – either by skinning it off or by cleaning the hair off with hot water. I'm told the preferred method is to use the hot-water method if I want better bacon. Bacon – I believe that's what they told me her name was.

Loading the pig onto the trailer, we're heading off to take on the surprisingly-heavy job of butchering this hog. We're only a half-hour into this project and I'm still lacking any clue what kind of hard work this is. I wish the whole world would've been there with me today – and I hope these posts will suffice.

Opening her up

The first step to butchering a pig is removal of the skin. While this isn't exactly a proper “how-to” guide (plenty of those are available online) I want people to see the images involved with processing the pork itself.

During the removal of the skin, some of the meat might be cut into while removing skin. Slicing perfectly is difficult, to say the least. So the butcher had to slice some of the meat back from the fat to recover some of the meat. "This means more bacon for you," said Joe.

Starting with the ankles of the hog, cut into the skin around them, about an inch or two above the hooves. Joe explained to me a person would want to make sure they slice forward - as opposed to pulling back with their knife, in order to preserve the sharpness of the knife blade. As you slice into the skin around the ankles the key is to clear the skin near the knuckle of the ankle, for convenient removal at the ankle later.

Then, after all four ankles are circled with the blade, the butcher cuts the across the skin of the abdomen from ankle-to-ankle of each leg. Then, front near the pig's anus up to the chin along the underside of the animal. As you cut along the skin, be careful to not cut too far into the meat to avoid wasted meat.

In order to avoid getting dirt on the meat during skinning, the butcher worked the skin away on one side of the carcass entirely, folded the skin back over it, and then flipped the animal over and finished on the other half.

This is a longer process than most folks might realize. If you live in the warmer climates, it's better to start this early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and get the meat on ice. Commercial meat-processing facilities use temperature-controlled rooms but in the case of a family farm it's more of a necessity to out-think your conditions.

Harder than it looks

To make the load easier - considering this one-and-a-half-man job was really being done by one man and I was just occasionally helpful – Joe opted to remove the front two shoulders and the head, before hoisting the carcass up for gutting it.

Here we have the front feet being cut off. The butcher pointed out to make this do-able, cut into the joint itself to separate the bones easier. Once they come off, they can either be discarded or even given to other animals. Just be aware that a family dog will probably bring their new chew toy into the family home.

I asked Joe what he usually did with the non-edible scraps and pieces. He said he takes them out to his field and feeds them to the coyotes living in the woods, rather than having them go into a land-fill somewhere. He saw it as his way of giving something back to nature.

We discussed many aspects of the circle-of life as he removed the front shoulder and head. We talked about how much potential was wasted since – in this case – the skin was being thrown away. I noticed, while the butcher cut away at parts and pieces, he made the job look much easier than it actually is. Just the amount of blood still involved – in spite of the bleeding out done earlier – would make most city dwellers squeamish. The level and intensity of work/energy involved would turn the others off. We were in a race for time to beat the hottest part of the day and the meat was difficult to cut, since it had not been chilled.

Critics might call butchering a hog “cruel,” but I want to speak up for those who live the farm life. Other meat-eaters just have someone do their killing for them. They rely on the hard work of others. Were this how I fed my family, I'd hope to do such a precise, efficient job as Joe did. Actions as I was witness to this day is how humanity-in-general has survived all along.

So, let's not kid ourselves here about being something other than animals ourselves. For us to live, something else must die. It's the way of the world.


It was getting near lunch-time, so Joe had his wife come out and pick up a few pieces of the freshest-ever pork I've ever had. Joe tells me, when it comes to cooking up fresh pork like this, the best way to cook it is to pan-fry it – and that it might just be his preference.

Me, I'd still prefer to cook it up in beer or some red wine. But Mrs. Joe did a great job and it would've been a bit crazy to buy meat from the store, seeing as how we're slaughtering a hog right now.

I'm mentioning our lunch as a reminder that this pig is food. This slaughter isn't being done for fun and games. livestock doesn't die just for the sake of some "evil human virus" wanting to have fun. I don't care what Snooki says. Lobsters aren't the only animals alive when you kill them.

Quartering and sectioning the meat now; Whew!

In order to gut the hog, we need to first hoist the carcass up so gravity can help with the job. Joe used a piece of rope to hold the animal up by its rear feet and we both grunted as we lifted it up onto the hook.

He first invited me to lift it up onto the hook by myself and I thought he was serious, so I tried. Wouldn't you know it, I'm just the Man of Aluminum and not the Man of Steel because this hog was heavy! Something tells me he knew I wouldn't be able to and just wanted to enjoy a laugh at the sight.

While we were raising the carcass up, we had to be mindful to not just let it swing around. Each step of a hog slaughter is meticulous work. So, as Joe raises it up with his tractor, I guide it a bit to keep it from swinging around and possibly coming untied and falling.

Meanwhile, this is also when we dispose of the skin into the gut bucket. I think most people would be genuinely surprised how heavy the skin is, by itself. And we also have to be careful with it, since neither of us want to sling blood everywhere. This has been messy enough as it is.

The last part before splitting carcass open is to slice around the hog's vaginal and anal openings in one movement and without severing the organs. Then, with a piece of string, these are tied off, to prevent spilling of any feces onto the meat inside.

The next step is a bit more disgusting and I will completely understand if anyone wants to just quit reading me right now.

The guts

Now we're getting closer to the finish line as we begin the process of removing the hog's guts. This is the part of the process which I find both most fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Actually seeing the organs as they're removed satisfies a sense of curiosity about the pig's biology, yet, it's also disgusting. The smell can only be described as “pig-sh*t.” No simile exists.

Joe saws down the center of the hog's abdomen with his knife, carefully, to ensure he doesn't rupture an intestine and spill feces all over the meat. His work must be precise and meticulous. He works with much experience.

Once he makes enough progress to expose the organs such as the bladder and the intestines, he reaches in and tugs on them to remove the tied off perio-anal area of the pig. Normally, the hind quarters would be spread. In this situation though, the legs are held close together and this proves problematic. While tugging, his hand tears one of the intestines open and pig feces squirts all over his arm. It took me multiple attempts to finish writing this paragraph, just so you readers know.

Rather than grab my camera for this shot, I opt for the waterhose to clean his arm off. The look of disgust on his face and the smell almost sent me hurling. This part requires focus.

Fortunately, he still managed to keep the feces off of the meat. This guy knows what he's doing. Experience is a sometimes cruel, sometimes funny - but effective – teacher.

After some progress, Joe moves on to the liver. Before removing it, the gall-bladder must be carefully removed. It's the green organ in the last image. The size of the liver – even in a relatively-small pig – is astounding. The organs worth eating are saved in ice and plastic bags and those we don't want are disposed of in the gut bucket. The intestines are often saved as “casing” or “chitterlings” after the fecal matter is cleaned out – but not this time. I don't think enough people in the world are aware of the source of “pork casings” but now you know too.

As Joe works his way down the carcass, he's thinking two steps ahead and removes the bacon from the sides and saws the ribs off as he goes. More trivia: Did you know the lungs are called the “lights” by old-timers? I didn't but now I do and I just felt like passing the knowledge along for some reason.

Eventually all of the organs are removed and the second-worst part of the experience is over. (The worst part – to me anyway – was the actual killing. For the time being anyway, I'm still an omnivore but that experience still affected me quite a bit.) Now, there's a relatively small amount of work to go until we're done. Joe's getting tired and it shows. This is harder work than I realized until this.

The Circle of Life

Finally getting to the end of this hours-long process, Joe and I end up both being a little more involved, so I ended up missing a picture or two I wanted to get. But knowing how hard he was working, I'm not about to ask him to hold up at any point in this.

Here we have the last few images of the hog slaughter. He finishes cutting off the bacon, ribs, tenderloins and finally, saws the hams in two. He has another friend who will do the final processing of the pork chops and individual servings of meats. Someday, I would like to document that person's work.

Now we're left with making sure everything is iced and then dispose of the gut bucket. Since – by now – readers have probably seen all of the images of organs they might want to see, I didn't catch any scenes of that part. Just believe me when I say that thing was heavy and will provide a variety of wild animals with dinner for a day or two. This being Louisiana, I'm sure it was entirely gone that evening. There is no shortage of critters around here.

Joe gave me the liver, heart and the entire rack of ribs as a gesture of friendship. He still insists on me inviting him and the Mrs. over for dinner when we cook them, which I find to be all-too-reasonable of a deal. The ribs alone are between $200 and $300 worth of meat. And it will be good to have them over for dinner anyway. They're good folks to have around.

I feel it's also somehow relevant to mention how, as I got in my truck to drive back home, what song should be playing on the radio but, "The Circle of Life."

Grub! It's what's for dinner!

This part of the Tale of the Hog is all most people will ever know, the end product. Those ribs came home with me where they were cleaned (again – man we washed that hog at least a dozen times through the day), processed and bagged for the freezer. They await now, along with a whole bunch of mustard greens and other foods, until an evening when our friends come over.

I wanted folks to see this side of the story. While life is wonderful and worth living, there's also a brutality to it. Some ancient people called it the yin and the yang. These days we simply call it accepting the good with the bad. But to repeat myself, my father and hundreds of friends throughout my life, yet again: In order for us to live, something else must die.

I'd like to thank everyone who's accompanied me on this series. That took courage of you, even if you're a fellow meat eater and especially if you're a vegetarian or a vegan. I appreciate your company and you have my gratitude and respect. I have a new-found respect for the people who work in the food-processing industries. But most of all, I have a new-found respect for the life of those animals we rely upon for food.


Activists, Animals, Country Living, Farm Life, Farming, Hogs, Livestock, Meat, Pigs, Pork, Vegetarians

Meet the author

author avatar Donald Pennington
Donald contributes to a variety of sites, networks, blogs, and other publications. He sometimes writes in the dark, but longs for the light.

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author avatar Donald Pennington
8th Oct 2014 (#)

Thank you, Mr. Kinsman. :)

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author avatar Steve Kinsman
8th Oct 2014 (#)

Eat vegetables.

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author avatar Donald Pennington
8th Oct 2014 (#)

I eat those to, sir. I'm an omnivore.

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author avatar Donald Pennington
8th Oct 2014 (#)

Y'all should see what we did with the ribs from this slaughter! Yum!!


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author avatar abdobachr
8th Oct 2014 (#)

vegetables eating thank you

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author avatar Donald Pennington
8th Oct 2014 (#)

@abdobachr Thank you for stopping by to read! :) Very glad to see you.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
10th Oct 2014 (#)

Interesting post and very inspired at the moment it was created, a true masterpiece of writing!

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author avatar Donald Pennington
10th Oct 2014 (#)

That's very kind of you, Fern. I wish this were a masterpiece.

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