Or, hog butchering 101 by a dummy.
This post has pictures that you may find disturbing, upsetting, gross etc. Please don’t look if you are sensitive to dead animals and butchering.
As stated in my previous post the pictures were taken with a cell phone encased in a ziplock bag, often one handed while holding the hog in place with the other, in the poor lighting of my kitchen, and they’re of embarrassingly poor quality. I’ll get over it. As bad as they are I’m posting them anyway because when I was trying to figure this stuff out I had a difficult time finding anything helpful about butchering wild hogs. They all had set ups that I didn’t, equipment I didn’t, or they just showed pictures/video with few explanations, if any. I make no claims to being any sort of an expert at this but I wanted to write about it because the economy has been so unstable the past few years and there are predictions that it may get worse soon. Wild hogs are readily available over much of the southern US and while they’re dangerous they’re not difficult to hunt so they’re a very viable food source. I wasn’t able to get the whole process down and will try to make sure I get how I break down the animal next time, but this will get the animal cleaned and skinned using equipment that you already have or can make easily, and you can probably figure how to get it into cookable sized pieces if you think at it.
The star of our show. Here he is in his muddy, ear tattered glory, all 230+ pounds of him. He was shot through the right shoulder by a man named George using a .280 rifle, he ate a patch of wild garlic and then came in and was starting on the deer corn when George got him. George called my friend, who called me, and we went and picked him up around 10pm. This pig is quite a bit larger than what we normally get, I think he wasn’t kept and mounted because of his torn up ears, although he did take his tail.
My tools. The meat cleaver is used to cut through the spine; the kitchen knife that I’m auditioning to replace my beloved Buck, it was tried and quickly discarded; another knife I’m using in place of the Buck, this one was much better than the other; and one of my skinning knives. I prefer the big belly on this style for skinning and I have another smaller one that I use for tighter areas. You may notice that I papered the table. It’s a good idea to protect the surface and it eases clean up considerably.
Not shown are a gambrel and a spot outside to hang it from, a saw, knife sharpener and gloves. I live in the suburbs and perform most of the game butchering inside. We hang them outside for bleeding and to wash them but the neighbors do not appreciate it if we do the butchering where they have to see, smell, and listen to their dogs bark about it. It’s inconvenient for us to do it this way, it takes longer and certainly makes for more work cleaning up, but at the same time it’s climate controlled, bug free and it’s better than not having the free meat.
Here he is again, freshly bathed and on the table. Handsome devil, isn’t he? I had Cave and SE pause while putting him on the table so I could get this one. They weren’t amused. Apparently he was too large for where we hang the gambrel and they weren’t able to get him as clean as we normally do, nor were they able to bleed him what with him resting on the ground from the shoulders down and all.
The panorama. His head is on the right, legs and gambrel are on the left, although none of that is in frame. Our table is 6 feet 2 inches long, the hog stretched out from his rear hooves to the tip of his snout at 6 feet 11 inches and about 5 feet from tail to snout tip. Sounds big, doesn’t he? Until you realize that he is about 4 years old and weighs 230 and market hogs generally check in around 250 pounds when they’re six months old. I’ve seen commercial boars that weigh in at close to a thousand pounds, and I’ve heard that wild boars can reach that size too. I hope I never run into one.
Well. This is a boar (male) hog, you can see the end of his penis sheath with it’s longer hair tuft at his midline on the right of the picture, but there appears to be something missing. More accurately, two somethings. Rest assured, they’re there. This guy is a cryptochrid, meaning his testicles didn’t descend into his scrotum when he was a youngster. See the two lighter spots on the inside of his thighs? That’s where they are. The lease my friend hunts produces a fairly high percentage of cryptochrids, although this is the oldest boar that I’ve seen so far and the only one I’ve seen like this. Normally their testicles are inside the tubes buried in their abdominal cavity and the body heat makes them sterile, this boar had his testicles descend they just never made it into the scrotum skin. Perhaps removing him will help the population shed the mutation.
I’m showing you his boy bits for more than the interesting anomaly, it’s where we start the whole shebang.
I make a little cut about an inch in front of the opening of the penis sheath and start from there, cutting back along each side all the way down to were the testicles are supposed to be. I haven’t yet cut that far back in this picture. In this you can see the original cut, then some muscle tissue where the penis and sheath were attached, and if you notice the trench in the center that’s where the urethra was. The urethra pulls free for the most part but there are some attachments to it, be careful when you cut them. There are muscles at the bladder end that hold the urine in, but they aren’t always functioning at this point and it would be an unhappy surprise to nick the urethra and find out that they’re not working. I’ve done it and then had to finish butchering surrounded by the stench of boar pee. It was very unpleasant and it was all I could smell for days.
Because of this boars special condition I wasn’t able to handle disassembling him as I normally would so I didn’t take pictures of it. Normally I cut the skin back to the scrotum, which hangs under the anus, and then cut around the anus leaving the penis, scrotum and anus all dangling until I’m ready to pull them through the pelvis and out with the rest of the guts. BTW the urethra runs from the bladder out through the opening in the pelvis where the anus is, then wraps under the hog and along under the belly so while you have to be careful about cutting into it, it does need to be cut loose all the way back. It does about the same thing in men too. Even though I’ve made an extensive study of the anatomy of the human male, both in anatomy class and during extracurricular activities, for some reason until I butchered my first male animal I’d never really caught on to that fact that they’re structured in the same way because in animals it’s attached to the belly. Learn something new…
Anyway, when I’ve got him cut back to the pelvis and have cut carefully around the anus I then take the time to remove any feces that are in the canal and then zip tie things closed. Most people that I’ve seen do it this way don’t bother to remove the feces but I do this to eliminate bulk and make it easier to pull everything through the pelvis. I’ve seen people pull enthusiastically and pop everything open and contaminate the meat. I figure better safe and grossed out than sorry, grossed out and half your hog lost. Sometimes I’ll crack the pelvis open along the pubic symphysis (the joint in the front of the pelvis) and then not have to worry about everything fitting back through the pelvic opening but I wasn’t able to do that with this hog because of his size and anatomical anomaly. I’ll try and get pictures of the whole process with the next hog we get.
On to bigger things. Here’s I’ve slit through the skin and fat of the belly in preparation to opening the abdominal cavities. I do this in two steps because it’s so thick that it’s difficult for me to cut through it cleanly otherwise without risking puncturing the intestines. In a previous post about butchering hogs I mentioned that I don’t recommend trying to pull the skin off like you can on deer and other animals, and I took this picture to try to illustrate why. The belly skin is about the thinnest skin on the hog, and you can see the skin layer and fat layer here, the skin is more grey/white and the fat layer is pinker. See the hair follicles and how deeply rooted they are? Some of them are even into the fat layer? There’s actually a super thin layer of skin surrounding each follicle, but it tears easily and I’ve found that if you pull the skin off the deeper rooted hairs stay in place and then you’re trying to pluck wet, slippery greasy hairs off of a wet slippery greasy carcass. Not Fun.
This is how I open the abdominal cavity. You can see where I slit the skin and fat, then I use the tip of my knife and gently cut at it until the cavity is breached. I make it large enough to get my index and middle fingers in then insert the knife between them and use them to guide the knife so I don’t cut the insides. I’ve already cut across most of the abdominal cavity and was close to the diaphragm here when I stopped to take the picture. I carry the cut up as far as I can past the diaphragm and into the breastbone.
While I was farting around reaching for the camera and putting the knife back into place I managed to nick the liver. In this case it was fine, and I pulled the edges apart so you could see it, but the liver is resting on the stomach (the striped object) and the loops of the small intestine are right there too, to the left of the band of fat. Stomach contents aren’t as bad to rinse out, but intestinal contents are gross and more difficult to get the meat clean if it’s contaminated, particularly the large intestine and it’s load of feces. Thankfully I didn’t contaminate this guy because I wouldn’t have been able to get him to the shower to scrub him out by myself and working with assistants that are half asleep isn’t optimal.
I wasn’t able to photograph the gut removal because I only have two hands and both of them were busy. What I do is breach the diaphragm (you’ll know when you reach it, it’s like a wall on top of the liver and stomach) and then either hold the intestines out of the way and cut along the abdominal wall to cut it free, or I use my hands and tear it free. I usually tear as much of it as I can because if I’m going to cut myself it’s usually at this point when I’m working blind that it happens. After I get through the diaphragm I feel around for the heart, pull that free if possible, then feel around inside for a tube with rings or ridges. That’s the esophagus and you need to cut or tear that out too. Once the esophagus is no longer attached you can then pull the pluck (the collective term for the guts) out in one block. There are some attachments that will need cutting, like the rest of the diaphragm, but you’ll probably see where those are as the guts will be hanging from them. I typically find another one about 1/3 to 1/4 of the way up from the pelvis. So you know what to expect, a good rule of thumb is that the guts will weigh about 1/4 to 1/3 of the live weight so for this hog about 60-80 pounds.
Here I am slicing the skin up the inside of the rear leg. You can see the knife in my hand (awkwardly held for the camera, I do NOT cut like this but I had to brace the leg up with my body to get the picture) and hopefully see that I inserted it under the skin and am slicing from the inside out. This is important. If you cut from the skin side in you will slice the hair and get it all over your meat, you’ll slice into the muscles too and in general make your job more difficult. I had to teach this to my husband and it only took him three deer to see the benefits of cutting from the inside. It does take a little more time when you’re on bony parts like the legs, but when that’s compared to the time spent washing and then picking the hairs off, well, let’s just say he learned.
Here I’m working on one of the front legs. I’ve cut the skin and have skinned it back part way down the leg and am preparing to remove the lower leg and hoof. I’m bending the joint back and it looks like I’ve found a good place to start cutting through the joint, but I really haven’t.
It’s getting close to midnight now so this guy’s been gone for at least two hours, and is getting less cooperative. If I wrench back on the joint you can see that the bend in the picture above is actually the bottom of the joint, and where you want to cut is the top of the joint, or the part of the joint closest to the body. I don’t suppose that it’s a really big deal, but I find the top of the joint is easier to separate and it makes the legs a little shorter which I prefer when I’m breaking it down later on.
See? It popped open. It’s still not finished though, but this step makes the next one easier.
Lay the joint so that it’s on the edge of the surface you’re working on, place your weak hand on the leg to stabilize it and then use your strong hand and body weight to dislocate that sucker. Like humans, most joints on an animal are hinge joints, that means they only work in two directions. Ball joints that have more rotation like the hips are more delicate and easier to cut through, and four legged mammals don’t have shoulder joints like we do, their forelegs usually aren’t attached and can be cut free. Anyway, with hinge joints if you lay them out and apply force in a direction they AREN’T supposed to move in, they come apart without too much work which is why it’s fairly easy to cripple someone with a sideways blow to the knee. If it’s hard to convince the joint to disarticulate you may need to take your knife and probe around in the cut to make sure you opened the joint capsule and sever the supporting ligaments and tendons over it. Once it does come loose you will probably have to cut the tendon inside the joint that connects the two bones, but it’s a sight easier doing it this way than it is probing around and prying it apart. That’s also how I broke the tip on my Buck knife. *sniffle* BTW this is a rear leg, I forgot to take a picture of this until I was on the last one. Oops!
Okay, now skinning the beast. I generally skin the legs back on both sides first, since I have to do it to remove the hooves might as well just skin it back to the belly cut as it only takes a minute or two more. Here you can see why I don’t skin too close to the skin. See the rows of black dots? Those are the hair follicles as seen from the inside of the skin, and see the single black dot above the rows? That’s where I cut through a deeper hair follicle, and that will result in little prickly bits that aren’t good eats. I did this on purpose to show you what it looks like, but if I start seeing the black dots I know I’m cutting too close. You will see them in areas where there isn’t as much fat such as the legs, but in general try to avoid them elsewhere.
After I have the legs skinned I start working on the side from the legs in until I can get a grip on the skin of the belly, then I switch to longer strokes across the length of the side. I find it easier to cut the tissues with a bit of tension on it, particularly with hogs because of their shields. I’ll get to that in a minute.
I’ve skinned out the legs and propped him up with a brick on each side and am now skinning along his sides. I do each side separately, and I leave the head and skin attached and just cut it further down as I need to. I find it stays cleaner this way. I took this picture to show you something interesting that hogs have. See his shield? No?
How about now? To the right of the valley is his shoulder with the entry wound, to the left of the valley is his shield, a layer of super thick skin, fat and tissue. It’s so thick that it’s holding his skin up.
Maybe this is the better shot, please excuse my giant arm, the camera added a few pounds to it. I’ve skinned him down to his spine on this side and the shield is still supporting his skin.
On the other shoulder you can see the exit wound, although in this case the bullet didn’t actually exit, it was trapped between the meat of his shoulder and his shield. You can see it, it’s the circle below the blood clots and bruising, in a ridge of fat where my knife ran into it and I had to pull the knife out and cut it out of the shield.
Here it is. Sorry for the fold of plastic in the picture, but I don’t think the camera would have survived the process without the plastic baggie.
Here he is, all skinned out. I skin one side, then roll it back on to the side I just skinned and skin out the other side, cutting the skin free from the neck and along any points I missed on the spine. Usually at this point if I have help I transfer the animal from the counter I normally work on to the table, if not I tuck the skin under it’s back, raw side touching the meat, then clean the work surface as best I can and flop it over and yank the skin out, then clean the other side of the work surface. This hog was too big for me to do that on my own, so I continued to break it down on the raw side of the skin. If you don’t have a helper and you didn’t wash the animal or you’re working on a surface outside it’s probably a good idea to keep on this way anyway, the meat will stay cleaner.
If you look at the skin you can see some thin sheets of meat on it, buried under the fat. Those are twitch muscles that the pig uses to move the skin. They do a lot of work so they’re tough and have thick muscle fibers. You can skin those off and grind them or use them for things like jerky, but I don’t bother with them because they’re so thin and the fat covering them is full of hair follicles and shield tissue.
And now I had to plug the cell phone in. What I wasn’t able to capture was breaking the hog down into primals (two rear legs, two front legs, the rib cage and the spine/pelvis section) removing the head, pulling out the loins for chops, rinsing the parts in the sink or packing it into the coolers with ice and milk. I’ll have to try and get that for you with the next hog.
I like to soak my hogs in milk to help remove any rankness and blood. I don’t do anything fancy, I have two large coolers, I put the loins and legs in one, the ribs, spine and pelvis in another, put ice on top and then pour in a gallon of whole milk. I soak sows and young pigs for 24 hours, boars I typically go for 36 or 48, depending on how ripe they still are when I open the cooler to add ice. We were particularly poor this time so I split a gallon between the coolers and let him go for 48 hours. If the meat still has a rank odor when I take it out of the soak I’ll make sure to mark it on the package and I’ll marinate it for 24 hours before I use it too. Since this hog was too big to hang properly I’ll probably wind up doing that even though the smell was mostly gone after he was in the milk.
I did get a picture of the edge of the shield as it tapers off into the belly skin. This is why I don’t save hog skins to turn into leather, you have to scrape all of this off down to the skin and then scrape all of the fat out of the skin or the leather will turn rancid. The one time I did try was with a small young sow that had a very thin shield and even then it was still producing fat and grease even I scraped at it for days then soaked it in lye water, plus when the skin is cold the shield wants to return to it’s original hog shape and will fight you about laying flat. Nothing like getting lye water flung across your face because the skin popped up on you while you were trying to rinse it for more scraping. Professionals use power equipment to carve the fat off of the hides, which I don’t have, or in the case of third world countries they put it in vats with things like urine, manure and lime and let the fat rot off, which I won’t do. It’s rare that I give up on learning how to do something but that was one time I was happy to bury it and walk away.
I embiggened it to life sized on my monitor. On the left hand side from the edge of the skin to the dark pink fat layer is about an inch and a half, and this is just the edge of the shield. Where it was along the back of the neck was close to three inches thick. You can see the grey line of the skin, the dark spots of deep hair follicles, the white layer of fat and whatever else the shield tissue is made of and the knife mark where I had to cut twice to get through it, and then the light pink “hard” fat layer. Hard fat is what you’re used to seeing on cuts of meat that you buy at the store. The dark pink layer is what I call jello fat, it’s looser and jiggles. There’s also a bunch of clearish slimy mucous-like stuff that you’ll find, the same thing deer have. I have no idea what exactly it is but I’m pretty sure it acts to lubricate the tissues. Along the right, just under the dark pink fat you can see a layer of twitch muscle, that would be on the belly of the animal and is the start of what we call bacon.
Here I am processing one of the rear legs. The jello fat has been removed and I’m cutting away the hard fat. You can see on the lower end of the meat where I had to cut it away while removing the testicles. At this point I had just taken my cell phone off the charger and had my daughter all set up to take pictures when the camera died again. I fussed about it and my husband rather timidly said “oh, um, my charger died so I’ve been swapping the batteries. Gotta go to work now Bye!” Yeah, thanks honey! I’m sure it was nice to have a perpetually charged phone.
I’ve looked around online and found some reliable sources that suggest an average meat yield for a hog is 48% of the live weight. They’re talking about commercial hogs and I think wild hogs tend to yield a tad less, in the 40% range. They have a higher bone to meat ratio, plus their bones are denser. We got about 90 pounds of usable meat out of his estimated 230 pounds so 40-48% sounds about right. He should last us a good long time, I plan on canning pulled pork from this one, but we won’t be eating him for a while yet. I need to wait a bit before I can stomach eating an animal I’ve butchered. I’m sure if push comes to shove I’ll be able to get over that but since we still have food and refrigeration and grocery stores he’ll just have to wait.
Okay, I’ve edited and fleshed it out or trimmed as needed, and now I’m off to go fix supper. Venison steaks, chocolate pudding pie, bread and whatever else I see fit to serve. Hope you had a good weekend.