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Posts Tagged ‘edible landscaping’

I’ve spent the past month wondering how to write about slaughtering my pigs. I’ve not only been wondering, but I’ve actually been afraid to write. Rabbit meat/slaughter has been getting a lot of press lately and the reaction to it has been, to me, mostly horrifying. (The New York Times article is titled “Don’t Tell The Kids”). Much of the response to the rabbit-slaughter seminar has been one of outrage: “what’s next, eating dogs?” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because most of the people that find my blog via search engine are entering ‘woman slaughter rabbit,’ and the only negative comments I’ve received have been about my rabbits. But, this post today is actually about the slaughter of my pigs, and while pigs aren’t as sentimental an animal for most people, they are smarter and much bigger than rabbits.

There’s a reason why animals raised for meat are kept in inhumane conditions. A pig in a cramped pen with a concrete floor isn’t going to get a chance to develop a personality, or at least express it. And it’s much easier to kill a pig with no personality than the one that chews on the cuff of your jeans and rolls over to be scratched with a rake. It’s also much easier to send an animal to the butcher than to organize a humane slaughter in your backyard, with guns, gambrel hooks, stainless steel tables and a small army of people early in the morning willing to help with some very dirty work.

For the whole week leading up to Easter Sunday, I had nightmares. I woke up several times in the middle of the night, sweating, my ears ringing with the imagined sound of screaming pigs and blood. Had I given my pigs enough of a life? Were they ever afraid, or uncomfortable? As far as I can tell, they enjoyed food more than anything else in the world and I gave them way more than they actually needed. They also had a good time rooting and flopping in the mud, and I made those activities available to them almost every evening. I gave them the ability to just be pigs, which is, I think what every animal wants: the freedom to express the traits of their species and their personalities. And, in the end, these pigs never even would have existed if there wasn’t a demand for their meat. So, you have to eat them to save them. Again.

Everyone I talked to told me that I wouldn’t be able to slaughter a pig without it screaming, or that a .22 wouldn’t be able to do the job, and there would definitely be a lot of blood. But, after weeks of planning and worry and interrupted sleep, I couldn’t put off the inevitable any longer–everything was in order.
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It’s 7:30 in the morning, and everyone’s nerves are on edge. Our next door neighbor, Mr. George, appears at the chain link fence on the street in front of our house and yells, “They still alive?!” So much for discretion.

Luckily, the neighborhood is still ‘up-and-coming’ (still partially vacant since Katrina) so no one is really suspicious about what we’re doing, just why we’re here in the first place. Once the stainless steel tables were cleaned, the knives laid out, and the chainsaw running (to cover up the noise of the gunshot), there were no more distractions to keep us from the task at hand. Albert revved the chainsaw, Andy loaded the gun, and I grabbed some grain.

Butcher knives

As soon as we approached, the first pig raised his head at the sound of the grain shaking in the can and that was the last thing he saw. The bullet from the .22 hit him point blank between the eyes. The pig convulsed for about fifteen seconds, then was still. The chickens (dirty birds) ran straight to the blood that dripped on the ground and started drinking it. Then we dragged the carcass to a cleaner spot and Andy stuck a knife between the collarbone and the neck and cut the aorta, sending a final gush of blood out onto the grass.

Pig about to bleed out

The cloud of worry that had been weighing me down all week had been lifted, but now it was time to get to work, before the day got hot enough to spoil the meat. We laid the carcass on a stainless steel table, and cut through the tendons on the hocks to hang the hog carcass on the gambrel hook. Once the carcass was hooked, three strong men grabbed the other end of the rope and pulled the carcass upward through the pulley system rigged up. They dipped the pig into a large vat of nearly boiling water, let it sit for several minutes, then hoisted it out onto the table. The rest of us got to work scraping the bristly hair. It was hot, smelly work, and the skin never quite got as clean as I hoped, but we had to move on and get this pig gutted, then packed on ice so we could move on to the next pig.

Scraping the hair off the hog carcass

Half a pig, getting broken down for the freezer

The next pig was the bigger pig and he was harder to slaughter. But, by 11 o’clock, we had two pigs scraped, gutted and cut in half, sitting on ice, and I had a leg of meat in the oven for dinner. There was still a lot of work to do, cutting up the meat in manageable-sized pieces for the freezer. In fact, it took weeks to continue to render the fat, make sausage, and break the larger cuts down. But, for now, it was time to celebrate, because the hardest part, psychologically at least, was over. I broke out the mimosas.

Ham and leg ready for the oven - so much fat!

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I changed the name of this blog because I am back in New Orleans and it has made me realize how a garden can inspire people, help you make friends and establish a sense of community with your neighbors.  An edible garden is meant to be shared, not tucked away and hidden from view behind a fence.  In the process of planting Brussels sprouts, onions and Swiss chard in my front yard, I have reestablished a connection with many of my neighbors as they come home from work, or walk their dogs (and one cat who walks itself with a dog).   Urban farming is important not only for catching up on neighborhood gossip, but also for reducing our dependence on oil – seriously.  According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, the average American meal travels 1500 miles by the time it reaches your plate.  I don’t want Australian oranges when we get better-tasting Satsumas here!  I know all the information on how being a vegetarian reduces your carbon footprint by half, but I was a vegetarian for 7 years and it didn’t really suit me.  After working on a ranch and eating a lot of homegrown meat, I came to the conclusion that I don’t have a problem killing or eating animals, but I do have a problem with how they are conventionally raised.  And I think that if you’re willing to eat it, you should also be willing to ensure that it was humanely raised and killed. 

After lots of travel and experimentation, I have concluded that being a moderatarian/locavore suits me best.  I’ll eat anything in moderation (hopefully meat just 2-3 times per week) and try to eat mostly local food.

So I’m trying to ramp up my farming capabilities.  Since fall and winter in Southeast Louisiana are absolutely the best time of year for growing edibles, I’m hoping to have a wide variety of greens, peas, and beans for this year’s Thanksgiving feast.  Last year, I had a relatively good garden and I kept two chickens for eggs.  But this year, I hope to at least provide an entire meal for myself and guests from just local and mostly backyard/front yard food.  That means there will be no turkey on the table for us this year, but there will be duck and it is coming straight from my yard.

One week ago, I bought 10 Muscovy ducklings from a man who sells farm-raised meat at the Crescent Ctiy farmer’s market.  Ten!  He said I had to buy all ten so that his duck would start laying again.  Initially, it was an overwhelming proposition but they are cute little fuzzballs that have settled well into my backyard.  Much more entertaining than chickens, these ducks are constantly preening and bathing and flapping their stubby little wings; it is hard to envision any of them on my table in 6 and a half weeks.  Especially since I will be instigating the killing, gutting, cleaning and cooking.  But the Thanksgiving duck project has commenced and we will see how it goes.

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