Archive for February, 2013


About our pigs

One (castrated) male and one female from the same litter of yorkshire/old spot pigs (mostly to be able to compare the bacon on a male vs. a female).  I noticed a small bit of that “pig” odor in the bacon, but nowhere near the amount I had on our first pig.  Male vs. female made no difference in smell to me- both had a faint smell- on the fat in the inner cavity only.  Because my husband and dad found it easier to gut the female vs. the male, I’ll probably stick to raising just females in the future.

Feeding and Care

Regarding raising pigs this year, I tried a little something different.  Feed consisted of scraps and a fresh spot of pasture in the am and hog feed in the pm.  We used 1300 lbs of feed on 2 pigs for about 6 months in the pig tractor.  The last 2 months relied more heavily on grain both am and pm since vegetation was limited and the pigs were much larger.

The drawback:  The pigs acted like they were starving (although they were not really) at all meals- very loud, and no way was I going to step in that pen unless the feed was in the pan!

The pig tractor still worked well, but is in need of some repairs before next year.  2 corners have pulled apart at the bottom of the framing (probably from the lift and shift method of moving, since the wheels are still not installed).  The wire is a little more bent, but still useable.  The tarp I have to replace every year, and usually needs a fix part way through the summer and reinforcement in the fall.  I’ve still had no one escape under the tractor, but one pig jumped out 3 times this year- always only as I was bringing feed.  I put barbed wire on 3 sides of the pen to keep them from jumping up, and that worked until there was  a hole in the tarp and it jumped through there once.

Regarding growth:  I taped a few times, with these figures:

6/16 (8 weeks old, 4 weeks here)

female 21″ Girth 23″ length = 25 lbs

male 22″ girth 23″ length = 27 lbs

9/24 (22 weeks?)

female:  34.5 girth x36 length= 107 lbs

male 37.5girth x36 length= 126 lbs


female:  45 girth x42.5 length=215 lbs

male:  40 girth x 40 length=160 lbs

The male was larger until the last 1 1/2 months or so, then the female grew significantly larger.

I didn’t tape just before butchering.  We also didn’t check hanging weight (we don’t have a proper scale for that).  Thanksgiving day was the start of our processing.

I DO have weights for what we ended up with in the fridge/freezer.  No skin, fairly well trimmed of fat, and the only bones included in this weight were ribs and some bone in chops- “hams” were de-boned, I didn’t use any organs, head, or feet, and no lard weight is counted.  The female pig yielded 125 lbs in the freezer, The male 100 lbs.


We processed both pigs at the same time this year.  This was our timeline:

Day 1:  Butchering (gutting and skinning)  took about half of the day- then the pigs were wrapped in a sheet and hung in the garage.

Day 2:  Both pigs were cut up (My husband uses his sawz-all to cut it into big chunks, the remaining cutting is done inside).  We packaged chops, loins, and ribs immediately and chunked everything up to be ground for sausage.  the “hams” and other suitable larger chunks for brined roasts were set aside.

Day 3:  All the sausage was ground.  We’ve got a small grinder my husband had for deer and we’ve got access to a larger grinder from family (that works 3x as fast).  It took a solid evening to double grind our 100 lbs of ground pork.  We packaged most of it (using mainly ground meat bags) in 1 1/2 lb. portions.  We also made up 45 lbs of breakfast sausage, about 15 lbs of Italian sausage, and have about 15 lbs left in the fridge to be finished into something or packaged.

Day 4:  I spent several hours in the morning brining roasts/hams and rubbing bacon with cure.  The brine is the same as previously used.  The bacon is based on last years recipes- some is just a simple brown sugar and salt mixture.  Some has the addition of maple flavoring.  I’m solely using the ziplock method- no dry rubs this year.

Day 5:  (after brining and bacon curing is done)- packaging and some slicing of brined roasts and bacon.

If we had pushed hard to do it all, it would have been done (except for packaging the bacon and brined roasts) in 2 solid days.


For packaging this year, we wanted to try something more substantial than ziplocks for longer than 6 months of storage.  I purchased shrink bags (we used some in our first chicken processing venture this fall) in 6×11,7×14, and 11×16 sizes.  I had picked up a heat bar sealer (Dazey seal-a-meal) at a yard sale.  That worked fairly well to seal the tops of bags- if it was wiped clean inside.  There’s also a bit of a learning curve.  THe longer it’s on, the hotter it gets, so  you have to be quick on the seal or it melts a hole in the bag.  But if it’s too cool, it won’t seal. As long as there’s head room, a twist tie or zip tie will suffice on the shrink bags.   For bone edges, I cut up a white t-shirt to use for bone pads.

pork cuts shrink wrapped in the freezer

pork cuts shrink wrapped in the freezer

Ground pork and sausage in commercial ground meat bags.  The 1 lb packages can hold 1 1/2 lbs 😉

italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and ground pork

italian sausage, breakfast sausage, and ground pork

Bacon was shrink wrapped in 1-2lb chunks and we’ll slice it as we open it to use- so it keeps better.

Once packaged, a small slit is made in the bag, then it’s dipped in a pot of hot water (170-190 ish) for a couple seconds.  I used my jar lifter for canning, but you can also use a dip basket.  There is some bubbling/splattering as the air escapes the bag as it shrinks.  Then dry, put a piece of tape or a freezer safe label over the hole, and label it for the freezer.  Even if it gets a hole, it doesn’t open back up to allow air exposure to as much surface area of the meat.  It’s user friendly, requires little for extra materials, and is reasonably priced in comparison to freezer paper, vacuum packaging or even ziplocks (depending on where you buy and in what quantity).

We packaged some of our meat in ziplocks to be used sooner.  If the bags end up failing miserably in the long run, I’ll have to update, but here’s some comparison pictures after 2 1/2 m0nths.

pork ribs- shrink wrapped vs. ziplocks at 2 1/2 moths

pork ribs (above) and boneless pork chops (below)- shrink wrapped vs. ziplocks at 2 1/2 monthsIMG_7108


Our feed averaged about $23 for a 100 lb bag (including tax) this year, so $300 of feed.

Piglet prices were about $70 each for piglets (although we traded for these), so $140

$440 for 225 lbs in the freezer = $1.95/lb.

Plus packaging (although when I buy at the store I still have some packaging costs), scraps, electric, water, time for their care and processing, seasonings and spices for the sausage, bacon, and brined roasts, wear on the pig pen, wormer (didn’t use this year), etc.

Wegman’s (where we would probably buy otherwise) club pack price is currently priced at $2.98/lb for boneless pork chops, $1.49 for bone-in shoulder blade roast, $2.79 tender loin, $1.99 whole loin,  $3.49 for country style ribs, $4.49 for bone in chops, $3.99 for ground pork or jimmy dean sausage, $4.99 for bacon.  I usually stock my meats when I find them on sale, so I wouldn’t often pay most of these prices, but it’s a comparison none the less.

See my previous posts from last year to learn more about our pig tractor, specifics of what we did for sausage, bacon, and brined roasts/ham.


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These treats aren’t from scratch, but they’re pretty neat (and easy!)

an assortment of finished giant jolly rancher lolipops

an assortment of finished giant jolly rancher lollipops

I found them on pinterest last fall, you can see them over here at The Decorated Cookie.    There’s tons of tutorials out there now on how to make these.  There’s one here from recently that shows you how to make them into shapes (like hearts.  I think they put the crushed candies in a cookie cutter to make the shape, then remove the cutter before baking- but I didn’t see that detail in the directions).

Hard candies of your choice, placed on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.  I put my candies inclose together, but not necessarily touching since they meld together some as they melt down in the oven.  Oddly placed candies should still be okay, as long as there’s something within, say 1/2 and inch.  Melt in a 275 degree oven for 5-10 minutes (melt them, but don’t let them get too thin and runny, and/or bubbly around the edges).  Add a stick immediately when you pull them out of the oven, then let sit to cool.  (Roll the stick to cover it with the molten candy when you put it into the lollipop.)

candies in the parchment paper 'form'

candies in the parchment paper ‘form’

lolipops baked/melted with sticks inserted

lolipops baked/melted with sticks inserted

I used jolly ranchers.  I also made one from warheads.  Most any hard candy *should* work.

So here’s my spin:  I used round wooden dowels (3/16, about 12″long).  These are inserted after baking just like the original post.  They can also be put in the oven without a problem if you prefer to have that part done ahead of time.

I also used a lot more candies and molded my parchment paper to a lid to form about a 6″ circle- not precise, but enough to give it the basic shape.  (Remove the lid from the paper before continuing!)  Then I proceeded with the melting.  These took closer to 10 minutes with all that candy.  I didn’t chop/smash/grind up the candies in any way, just put them in whole and they melted together.  If you use crushed candy, don’t leave spaces or get the layer too thin.

forming the parchment paper into a large circle

forming the parchment paper into a large circle

I wrapped in plastic wrap once they cooled.

The result was jumbo lollipops (Christmas gifts- well received!  Need to see if my mom has a picture of some with theirs.)

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I had my first scary experience as a canner the other day.

Background:  I’ve canned independently (aka-not with my mom) for 8 years and used tattler lids for 2- several hundred cans in most of those years, using mostly Tattler lids in the past 2 years.

I went to tighten the band on my jar of chili- just pulled out of the pressure canner (NOTE:  normal metal lids don’t get tightened in this process, Tattlers do- just a reference for anyone unfamiliar with them).

And it happened.  The lid and screw band burst off the top of the can- and scalding chili flew on my window, wall, counter, floor ceiling, stove, the 12 quarts of applesauce cooling on the counter, 15 feet down the wall at the dining nook, EVERYWHERE.  Some ended up on me- a bit at my elbow and some on my face.  About 1/4 of the jar was left in the jar.

canning jar explosion- what's left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- what’s left in the offending jar.

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over everything, including 15 feet down the wall to the dining nook

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- all over the window and walls

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling

canning jar explosion- on the ceiling


I immediately went to the bathroom (with my eyes closed to keep the chili out of them) and rinsed repeatedly with cold water.  I tried to process what had happened and thanked God most importantly that my little girls were not in the kitchen when it happened.  And then that it wasn’t any worse for me.   I used a cool wet cloth and some ice to keep my face comfortable for a while.  It had some “burning” sensation even after an hour- heat and/or chili spices related.  I had red spots, but somehow no blistering.

Here’s what was GOOD that I did:

#1 I had an oven mitt on one hand that protected me from some splatters, and

#2 I had a dry washcloth over the top to hold and tighten the lid.  That saved a lot of spewing scalding liquid from coming my way and potentially causing more damage.

Here’s what I think I may have done WRONG:

#1 I  didn’t let the jars cool once I took of the pressure canner lid.  While I haven’t had a problem before, I read (now) that it’s best to let the jars sit 5-10 minutes after removing the pressure canner lid before moving the cans.

#2 I MAY have left the band too tight when I put the can in the canner.  This is one of those subjective things- how tight is finger tight?  With Tattlers (again, different from metal lids), you tighten finger tight and back it off 1/4 inch.  Metals you just tighten to finger tight (still subjective).

This can (as others have in the past- pressure and HWB canning) had a bubbled up lid when I took it out of the canner.  So it may not have been able to vent as much as it needed and there may have been excessive pressure inside the can for that reason.  I’ll be careful in the future to observe this more carefully and err on the side of a bit looser.  And I’d suggest handling any can with a lid that bubbles up very carefully as well- maybe let it sit for longer before handling so it can vent more.

#3 the jar possibly may have been over-full.  Although I believe I left appropriate headspace, it did contain rehydrated beans that may have expanded more in canning). Or it may have had an air bubble in the can somewhere.  I don’t think so, but I don’t know for sure.

I’ll also use a larger towel (hand towel size) from now on instead of just washcloth size.  Less convenient, but more protection, I think.  I definitely did when I finally worked up the courage to take the rest of the cans from the canner so I wouldn’t “lose” them to not sealing.  But I did so with much trepidation and closed my eyes and turned my head as I tightened the remaining 6 cans!

Here’s a link I found helpful in analyzing what may have happened.  It’s on the Homesteading Today Forum.

I’m going to agree with the original poster at the forum- In my case as it was in hers, this was user error and had nothing to do with the Tattler lids as a dangerous product.  I like them, I feel they do what they should do and love that they’re reusable- you just need to be aware of the differences in how to use them, and follow general safe practices in canning regardless of the lid type.

Another poster commented that they’ve had a metal lid explode out of the canner as well.  I’ve had metal lids seep boiling liquids (peach juice, tomato juice, etc), but never explode them.

Lessons learned.  Hopefully it will never happen again, and hopefully it will never happen to you.  I know I’ll be relaying this info to any of my canning interested friends.

Leave the cans to cool 5-10 minutes after opening the pressure canner.  

Always use a hand towel over the top of the can in the tightening process (tightening for tattlers only).  I may be inclined to don a long sleeve shirt when removing cans- metal or tattler lids.

(Continue to) Keep the kids out of the kitchen when removing cans from the canner.

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Here’s a quick look at the latest progress in building our house- hand scraped flooring.  John ordered the scraper online and tried it out- the scraper is from Hardwood Industry Products if you’re looking for one (no sponsorship, just a link). The floor is made of salvaged pine boards that used to be a wall in an old house. John scraped and sealed it over the past week.

Although he’d removed some paint from the boards with the planer and some with a hand paint scraper, the blades wear down a lot quicker with boards that have paint on them.  If you’re curious about details, ask below and I’ll answer.  He scraped the entire board, leaving some high spots/patina.

Next time (on boards without the paint) he thinks he will try just at the edges to smooth the transitions between boards but leave more of that old patina on the boards.  (Also would be a quicker floor.) He spent 2 days scraping this one- approximately  12’x14′ room.


Close up hand scraping a foor


Hand scraping a floor


hand scraped floor- upper portion has been scraped, lower portion has not

Hand scraped floor sealed

Hand scraped floor sealed

hand scraped floor detail

hand scraped floor detail

hand scraped floor

hand scraped floor

hand scraped floor close/profile

hand scraped floor close/profile

hand scraped floor detail

hand scraped floor detail

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