Butchering Hogs

By dhowell - Posted on 30 November 2013

Much of the independence and self-sufficiency of small farmers came from work done by each family to provide its own food and comfort. Few activities demonstrate what had to be done better than butchering hogs—usually in the spring before it warmed up outside. With no refrigeration cool weather was essential to keeping fresh meat until it could be processed later by salt curing, smoking, canning or storage in crocks.

Each family might butcher differently. Lenora's family pooled two or three family's hogs and made a family bee out of butchering. Several men worked at slaughtering and dressing the animals. The women and children helped process the carcasses. Their aim was to finish most of the work in one day, though smoking and curing might take additional time.
In our family we usually killed two two hundred pound hogs. Processing might take several days and curing the hams/bacon took six weeks in salt brine before smoking.

It was often said that every part of the hog except the squeal was used and there is a lot of truth in this as one looks at the process.


Butchering day started early when the cast iron kettle (cap. 50 gal.) was set up, filled with water, and a fire started under it to heat the water. After the second stoking of the fire, the water was warming and would be at scalding temperature when needed.

Hogs to be butchered were coaxed to a feeding trough, shot in the forehead with a .22 rifle or slugged with a maul there to render them unconscious. Then their jugular veins were cut with a sharp knife to let them bleed out. (We didn't make blood sausage, so we didn't have to catch a supply of the blood as some folks did.)

It then took a couple good men with meat hooks stuck in the pig's mouth to drag the carcasses to the water kettle area. There a plank work table on saw horses had been set up and an empty 55 gal barrel filled with boiling water leaned against one end of it. From the table the hog was eased down in the water to scald the skin, making it easier to scrape away the hair and dirt after the hog was pulled back up on the table. A hog scraper in each hand was used to scrape off all the hair. (A hog scraper was a hand tool—a metal disc with sharp edges about 4" in diameter with an upright hand grip. One was used in each hand to scrape away most of the hair. Dad then finished up by shaving the few remaining hairs with an old straight razor.)

Scraping hair off scalded hog

Scraping hair off scalded hog

The cleaned carcass was then prepared for hanging by slitting the hind legs to gain access to the tendon in each hind leg. A stout slat of wood was pushed behind each tendon and a rope tied around the wood. We butchered near an apricot tree with low limbs we could use to pull the hog upright as it came off the table. A slit along the belly line from top to bottom released the intestines and gave access to attached organs. Pails of cold water received all of this, the organs (liver, heart, kidneys) in one pail to be eaten) and intestines (large and small in another to be cleaned for use as sausage casings). If there were lacy strips of "leaf" lard, that too was saved for rendering. About the only items of no use were the stomach and lungs. The head was cut off, tongue and jowls removed, to be used made into head cheese later. The tongue went in the liver pail and eventually ended up cooked with them as "pig fry". Jowls were made into bacon.

After the carcass cooled, it was cut into the usual cuts, hams, shoulders, ribs, pig's feet and hocks, pork loins, etc. All extra fat was cut away and kept separate to be rendered into lard, along with the leaf lard mentioned earlier. Leaner trimmings of almost any size, along with varying amounts of fat, were set aside for sausage.


Cool weather allowed us to spread a lot of the work over a few days, sausage grinding and making, lard rendering, and curing the hams, shoulders and bacon. We didn't try to finish all the work in one day as Lenora's family did with their multi-family work bee approach.

Curing our hams and bacon took six weeks. It took a 30 gallon crock to hold four hams, four shoulders, the belly and jowl bacon from the two hogs. Salt brine prepared to a 100 lb. recipe was poured over the meat and weighed down with a large platter and a stone and allowed to stand in the basement for three weeks. Then the meat was removed, salt added to the brine as it was re-heated, the meat re-packed in the crock in reverse order (top on bottom and vice versa) to be covered and allowed to stand for another three weeks. After that, it was ready for smoking. The finished produce needed no refrigeration and usually hung on rafters in the back room covered with recycled 50 lb. flour bags until it was eaten Hams were basted with a mixture of diluted molasses and red pepper to help ward off insects, but I recall no incidents of any spoiled meat.
Lard was an important item for food, preserving and, finally, for soap. As mentioned earlier all extra lard cut from the meat was set aside to be cut into cubes which could be heated in large kettles on the range for rendering. When it was done we called the solid residue cracklings (not unlike today's pork rinds.) The cooled lard was snow white and stored in crocks for use as shortening during the year. Some of it might be used to preserve fried down sausage in storage crocks. Ultimately lard used for frying or produced by frying was collected in a recycle dish kept on the range and known as the soap dish. This discolored fat ultimately was purified somewhat by cooking potato slices in it and then made into laundry or soft soap. Laundry soap was allowed to cool and harden in old cardboard boxes. It was cut into bars just before it became solid. Glycerin was added to some to keep it from hardening—hence soft soap (today's Murphy's Oil Soap).

We did use just about everything from the hog but the squeal, but it was a lot of work for many willing hands in a world without refrigeration or a lot of cash.

Hog Crate

Hogs were difficult to handle in many ways. With their snouts and strength they could push openings in all but the strongest fences and could rip up ground like a plow. They couldn't be led with a leash like cows or horses; they couldn't be driven in groups like sheep. Their bodies were so solid and rotund that there was no easy way to take hold of one and, if you could grab on somehow, to move-control 200-250lbs in rock-like mass was a challenge to even the strongest man. It was easier to build a crate big enough to hold a hog, entice it with food to walk in, shut the gate, and lift it onto a wagon or truck. Larger numbers of hogs went to market by being driven up specially built ramps. At the market another ramp or chute was available for off loading and penning them until they were moved again. It didn't pay for most farmers to build chutes for the few hogs that needed moving, so they used homemade crates to move what they had.

On our farm we used the hog crate when moving a boar from our hog lot to a neighbor's in breeding season. That way every farmer didn't have to feed and put up with a boar just to breed a couple sows once or twice a year.