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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

11/9

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.

Processing

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.

Packaging

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

Costs

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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We’ve raised pigs in our pig tractor this year.  Once they’re full grown, what have we done with them?  The very first pig we butchered made his way to a pig roast.  For that pig, we (meaning my dad and husband) scalded and scraped it to be roasted whole.  The second pig we processed ourselves in the fall, and the third pig we just processed earlier this month (January).  Here’s a bit more on how we as relative beginners have been processing our pork at home.

We’re fortunate to have helpful and fairly knowledgable family, some past experience with deer (my husband) and general farm animal processing (my family), and the internet to fill in the gaps!

I’m breaking this up into several posts so the information isn’t as overwhelming, especially if you’re just looking for one part.  Here’s the “index” for what I’m adding right now, and I’ll throw in links for the pig tractor/pastured pigs, too.

A few thoughts on Sodium Nitrate

Homemade Pork Sausage/ Ground Pork

Homemade Bacon– sans sodium nitrate

Homemade Ham– sans sodium nitrate

Our current slicer– A cheap-o from Harbor freight- a review and a few tips

Packaging for the freezer- what we’re doing for now here

Pig tractor post 1– basic construction and little pigs in it- spring use

Pig tractor post 2– how it faired being used over the course of about 7  months- late spring, summer, and fall.

A few end notes on how the tractor faired into the winter is in my post here.

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We felt much more successful after completing our bacon from this pig.  This bacon was good flavored and didn’t end up too salty.

A few factors:

Our first try at bacon I used this recipe.  I rubbed 3 times, and believe we let it sit for 3 days after the last rub- 6 days total.  Then we soaked it to remove excess salt for 2 days?  It was okay, but not very good.  I still have to decide what to do with it all.

The belly itself seemed to be better flavor.  The first belly had a distinct “pig” odor to me, and mostly noticeable only to me.  Maybe it was the pig, maybe it was warmer vs. colder weather, maybe it was the male (although castrated) vs. female pig and the pee just contributes a “flavor” to the meat?  I don’t know.  I’m just glad it tasted a lot better to me this time!

The “cure” time was shorter on the dry rubbed version, and we tried a few more recipes to get better flavor(s).

The slicing process was easier; the cooking and chilling made a HUGE difference in how easily these sliced compared to my first try at bacon.  The details are below.

Note:  in both our first and second pig we processed at home, we did NOT have skin on our pork belly, since we skin rather than scalding and scraping our pigs.  I don’t think the process is  really affected by not having the skin on.

My first recipe was based on a post here at Craftzine, and another here at iamafoodblog.  The final directions I followed the first time (I would NOT repeat this!  see below for better options!):  1-5lb pork belly, 3/4 c salt, 3/8 c brown sugar, and 1 t pepper.  Dry rub once and put on racks over a sheet to drain of moisture as it’s drawn out. Flip and repeat the rub 1-2 times and make up more rub in the listed proportion as needed, cure 3-5 days more.  This was WAY too salty.  We soaked, re-dried, and sliced for the freezer.  We tried the same recipe as from our first bacon again, but with some changes, and it was better.  I only rubbed once and it didn’t sit as long, only 3-4 days total?  We still soaked off extra salt, but only for a few hours and it was tolerable before the soaking.

We tried some ziploc recipes this time as well.  I really liked the ziploc cured bacon better- less mess, easier to store in the fridge in less space, fewer pans to clean up or deal with the salt and metal corrosion, etc.  The only thing you need to be careful of is getting sugar and salt in the channels of the zippers.  It’s about impossible to get it out and have the zippers work again!  The dry rub also had a much higher proportion of salt that was impacting flavor.  I had no problems with anything spoiling with less salt.  These cured for 4 days and we checked them, they seemed to be “cured” at this point, but they sat for a few more days since they weren’t too salty, would gain additional flavor as they continued to “marinate” and I had other things to take care of first.

Recipe links and modifications:  I used canning and pickling salt for all recipes below, and each recipe I used on a 3-5 pound chunk of pork belly.  None of these had sodium nitrate, see my notes about that here.

Brown sugar and pepper–  I used 1/4 c brown instead of turbindo sugar, 1/4 c salt, and I only added 1/2 T, not 1/4 CUP(?!) of black pepper.

Molasses, white sugar, and pepper– I used 1/2 c sugar, 1 T molasses, 2 T salt, 1/2 t pepper.

Maple/faux maple , and a Honey version-  1/4 c salt, generous 1/2 c maple syrup or honey.  I tried one of each.  I didn’t have “real” maple syrup, so I used the fake stuff and added a teaspoon of maple flavoring as well.

The honey and maple mixes didn’t “rub”- I just couldn’t get it to stick to the meat, maybe it was too wet? I did combine them before applying to the meat- maybe if I had rubbed with salt first and then put on the liquid it would have worked better.  I ended up just putting it into the bag and I squished it around to help get all surfaces somewhat “covered”.  I put all the bags in a tub in the fridge.  They got flipped over once a day and “cured” for 4 days to a week.  I was pleased with all 4 versions.  I think I’ll definitely stick with this route next time rather than the dry rub.  It was easier all around.

This time I put these in the oven to “smoke”- see notes on smoking in the oven at the end of my ham posting.  The smoke didn’t happen, but I think this step helps to “set” the meat and the fat to make it easier to slice.  You just put it in the oven at about 200 until the internal temp of the bacon reaches 150.  Then cool and slice.  Another thing that helped a lot for slicing this time was to put the belly pieces in the freezer for about an hour to firm up.  They were easier to handle when manipulating them in my slicer and more of it was fully cut, so less was dragged back onto the working side.  Also, rather than crumpling and blocking up the food exit, more came out in perfect slices.  Some is still smaller or falls apart, but there was a higher quantity of the typical bacon slices you’d get at the store.  Then just package, label, and put in the freezer to enjoy later.

   

Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.

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We’re still not fully satisfied with our ham, but we’re closer.

Here’s what we’ve done:  Our first attempt at ham was mostly a flop, with the side benefit that it turned out to be a really good brined roast, which we repeated for part of the second pig since we knew we liked it.  Definitely not ham, though.  For 21 pounds of meat, I combined  1  1/2 gallons of water , 1  3/4 c canning/pickling salt, and 1  1/2 c brown sugar.  So for about 10 lbs of meat, I used 3 quarts of water, 7/8 c of salt, and 3/4 c of brown sugar.  These stayed in the fridge and brined for 4-5 days before being packaged for the freezer.  The first time, they were in the fridge for well over a week while I waited for them to start to taste like ham.  I was loosely basing my first trials on info I found here.  It’s difficult to find information on brining smaller pieces of ham in the fridge without sodium nitrate.

Our second attempt at ham I had searched for some more input.  Someone else on the “Keeping a Family Cow” board had kindly shared a recipe with me.  It’s American-Style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham from Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn.  The ingredients for a 12-15 lb at least partially de-boned ham are 1 gallon of water, 1.5 c salt (pref. kosher), and 2 c brown sugar (pref. dark).  They also call for pink salt, but I didn’t use it, and neither did the individual I got the recipe from.  See more on pink salt here.

6-8 days brined in the fridge (submerge the meat with a weighted plate if necessary- I didn’t.  I also only left mine in the brine for 3-4 days; mine were in smaller chunks of about 5 pounds).  The general rule from this recipe- and I’ve run across most places- is 1/2 day per pound.  They rinse, let dry uncovered on a rack for 12-24 hours, and hot smoke at 200 for 2 hours.  I poured off the brine, brushed on liquid smoke, and baked at 200 ish in the oven until the internal temp was about 150 (based on the info in bacon recipes, see the bacon post for more).  It still will have to be cooked to an internal temp of 160, as for regular pork products, when I heat it later.

The first one we tried was just baked, no smoke.  The flavor was closer to ham, but we’re convinced now that smoking will truly make the flavor difference.  We tried a bit of this first ham (second pig) with some hickory smoke salt I had and tasted the difference that dash of smoke made.  We “smoked” the ham in our oven with some fresh applewood chips. (More on “smoking” in the oven below.)

When I “smoked” the remaining hams in the oven, I brushed on some liquid smoke.  The flavor is mostly appropriate to ham now.  There’s still a small taste difference, a bit of a texture difference, and a distinct difference in color, but we’re getting closer!

Here’s a close-up of a small slice of our ham fried in the pan:

Smoking in the oven:  this process didn’t really smoke anything for us, but we may play with it a bit more.  Maybe my wood was too wet, but I think the temp isn’t high enough at the wood to make it actually smoke and flavor the meat.  It seems to be more of a little steam, if anything.  I found a few posts on smoking in the oven- a typical one is here.  Basic idea is a pan with wood chips in the bottom and a rack over it to raise the meat above the chips and be “smoked” in the oven.

  

I was worried in trying this that it would smoke up the house and create carbon monoxide, so I went the cautious route and put a cover on to enclose the expected smoke and was ready and waiting with the exhaust fan.  Not much happened- I really don’t think it was close to hot enough to do any smoking.  Maybe if I started the wood chips on the grill and then put them in the bottom of the pan in the oven once they started smoking?  Another idea for another day.

 Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.

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We don’t have a vacuum sealer.  We’ve (so far) used ziplocks and dipped them (with meat inside) in a pan of cold water to smoosh out most of the air, zipping the last bit of the bag once the air is forced out.  It’s working okay for now.  I’ll have to see how they hold up over time in the freezer.

I’ve used a straw to suck the air out of the ziplock for twice baked potatoes (basic recipe here).  But I’m not doing that with raw meat.

We did purchase some 1 lb. ground meat bags that we’ve sealed with twist ties.  Unless they show excellent performance or I can find them more cheaply and/or locally, I’m not sure the expense is justified.  Not to mention my package was sent to MN originally (instead of NY- not sure how that’s possible) and I had track stuff down and have them re-sent to me…

I’ve put my ziplocks into shopping bags- actually 2 of them- to help protect a bit more in the freezer.

Labeling often is easier before you put stuff in the bags, but the trick is to know how many bags you need!

Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.

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Sodium Nitrate is also comes under the names of Saltpeter, Cure 1, and Pink Salt.  There’s a lot of controversy out there about this product.  I’m including a bit about it since I’m sharing some of my beginning home processing notes.  There’s posts around with definite opinions one way or another.  I haven’t checked any facts or accuracy of any of these, I’m just putting links so you can get a basic picture of the different positions.

One that gives some cautions as well as a recipe for ham without sodium nitrate is here at Sugar Mountain Farm.

One that gives some insight into the commercial hams cured without “added” nitrates is here at Health Castle.

Information that defends the use of sodium nitrate is here at the American Meat Institute. and here at Meatsafety.org.

I don’t have any particular opinion at this time on using sodium nitrate.  I didn’t use it because:

1) I didn’t have it on hand

2) I wasn’t sure where I could quickly get it locally

3) I didn’t want the extra expense (although minimal) to making the bacon and ham

4) I didn’t want to use it if it wasn’t necessary.  I cured all of these in refrigeration, so temp was not an issue.   All of my meat would be stored in the freezer- no country style hams hanging in our garage.  All would be fully cooked before consumption.  Why use it if it’s not needed?   My (beginners) understanding is that the botulism risk is related to improper temperatures, not being cooked thoroughly, and significant time passing with no ingredients to help counteract possible botulism action (like salt- not that salt will take care of it all, but it combats the formation, in my understanding of the process).   I ran across some information that the “curing” doesn’t happen below a certain temperature, so refrigerated curing wouldn’t work.  I have found (so far) that the meat is flavoring fine in the fridge.

5) My little girls can get in to A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  Sodium Nitrate is poisonous in quantity.  It’s one less “dangerous” thing in my house if I don’t have to use it.

I might possibly try it in ham in the future- that brown-grey colored ham doesn’t have a lot of appeal, but then again, maybe it won’t bother me that much.  I don’t think it will make any significant contribution to bacon- it cooks up brown anyhow.

Do your research and make an informed decision.

Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.

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This is just a cheap-o slicer from Harbor Freight we’ve been using for our processing needs this year.  It’s a “compact electric food slicer” with a 6 1/2 inch stainless steel blade and a plastic body.  Item number is 42787.  110 v, 60 Hz, 95 RPM, slices (supposedly) 1/16″ to 1/2.”

It’s quicker than slicing all that bacon by hand, but it’s got it’s drawbacks.  Someday maybe I’ll get a nicer one, but for now it works.

Some details if you’re thinking of getting one:

It suction cups nicely to the counter and does dis-assemble reasonably for cleaning.

There’s a safety button to press while using it, so it’s a two hand job always- one to hold the safety button and one to move the food on the tray to slice.

The platform is pretty small, so to slice anything deeper than 4 1/2 inches is pretty much impossible with the guard and sliding tray in place.  More than about 6 inches tall wont be cut with the wheel, and the platform is about 8 inches wide, but only about 6 inches is usable with the food pushing guard in place.  So you can only effectively use the safety pieces for the last few inches of most anything you slice.  (But definitely use them then!)

It works pretty good for pepperoni since it’s small, but the food pusher is useless until it’s only a few inches long since pepperoni is so skinny.  The guard and food pusher are pretty useless until the last few inches of food is left.   For bacon, I could fold the last inch or 2 in half and then put on the slicing guard to finish to get the last few slices done without having as many choppy little bits.

The thickness gauge doesn’t have much accuracy.  Trust how it comes out of the slicer, not what the gauge says.

The wheel turns very slow, especially if you’ve ever seen or used a commercial slicer.  You do have to go a bit slower in your slicing process.  The last portion of meat (or whatever food) that goes into the cutting wheel doesn’t always cut off completely and so you sometimes drag what you just sliced back.

The food builds up at the exit quickly, calling for frequent stops to clear it.  A contour in the plastic juts in where the food exits the slicer.  That means a cutting board to “catch” food from the slicer won’t meet where the food actually drops.  Even a thin mat can’t slide in under the food, since the suction cups on the bottom prevent the mat from sliding far enough under the plastic contour.  It just adds more mess to clean up.

The clean up drawbacks:  Although it comes apart fairly well, there’s some portions that don’t come out without a screwdriver to dis-assemble and are hard to clean.  Even if you take out the screws, one screw is a strange head that cant be removed with a standard screwdriver.  The drive gears for the blade (plastic, by the way) are hard to clean, and the coordinating gear on the blade is riveted, not bolted.  A job like bacon can really leave things gross.

A few things that have improved the slicing ability for me:  The bacon sliced much better after being low cooked- se my bacon post for more on that.  It also worked good to firm it up for an hour or so in the freezer.  This kept the shape of the slab so it was easier to handle on the working side, kept it from crumpling when cut and exiting the slicer, and cut down on the amount that was dragged back to the cutting side because it wasn’t cut all the way through in the front bottom corner.

Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.

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