On Buying A Pig

by formerchef on October 4, 2010

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Last week we bought a pig. Yes, really, a whole pig.

No, I didn’t have to put up a pen and give it a place in which to wallow in the backyard, but we are now the proud owners of a pasture raised, organically fed, heritage breed pig, albeit one in nice, neat, paper-wrapped packages.

Perhaps I should back up a little. Last year I made a conscious decision to be conscious about the food I eat. Meaning, to be aware of what was in my food, where it came from and how it was raised. I’d been thinking about it for a while and it seems like many factors conspired to push me in that direction including, but not limited to, seeing the movie Food, Inc., sourcing out a local and organically raised turkey last Thanksgiving, and doing a 21 day cleanse diet which was vegan, gluten free, and sugar free (an an eye-opening experience). I’m currently reading a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about one family’s experience growing their own food and eating only local products for a full year which is helping to keep the issue of food sustainability at the forefront of my mind.

At some point this year, we talked about buying “half a cow” (grass fed) or “half a pig” (raised naturally) and started searching for a farm nearby. This proved more difficult than we thought in Los Angeles. My mother, while visiting family up in Grants Pass Oregon, discovered that there are plenty of small farms in the area raising less than a dozen animals per season, for their own consumption and for sale.

O Brian Farm. One of these pigs was probably ours.

After a little research, my mom found O’ Brian’s Family Farm in Grant’s Pass OR, where they raise heritage breed pigs (a mix of Tamworths, Durocs and Berkshires) every season. These pigs have plenty of room on the farm to run, play, and wallow. They are fed a diet of vegetables off the farm, all the acorns they can forage, and excess goat’s milk and cheese from a neighboring farm. They aren’t given any hormones or antibiotics in their feed.

The farm is not certified organic, but that “organic” certification says nothing about how animals are raised. Some pigs which are certified organic are raised in concrete pens with no consideration to their environment. The O’Brien Family Farm pigs are happy and healthy pigs. If you live in the area, you should check out the farm; they have pork from this season’s pigs available for purchase in as small as 25 lb packages. Our experience with the folks at the farm was great. They were very helpful and generous with their time in answering the questions we asked about the pigs and how they were raised and we recommend them highly.

Our plan was to be there right after the slaughter to butcher (with my uncle’s help) the pig ourselves. I will be the first to admit, while I’m all for knowing where the pig comes from, I was not yet ready to participate in the process of the slaughter, no matter how humane I’m sure it was. I was, however, excited at the prospect of learning to butcher a whole animal where my previous experience has been limited to fish and fowl.

Over 100 lbs of pork in my freezer.

Unfortunately, schedule conflicts conspired against us being up in Oregon at the exact time to be able to do the butchering. Instead, our pig went to a local artisan butcher at The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point Oregon (the best in the county so we are told) who cut and wrapped the pig to our specifications for .55 cents a pound. They would have also made sausage, cured bacon, and smoked some of the pork for us, but we wanted to do it ourselves. My mom, who dealt with the butcher, also gives them high marks for helpful information and good customer service.

Our pig, the largest of the bunch, had a “hanging weight” of 175 lbs. Hanging weight refers to the pig without the head, and already gutted. Cut down, we received about 150 lbs of pork. The breakdown is listed below. We’d asked to have the trotters and ears included, but local food laws prohibited them from letting us have them.


What are you going to do with all that pork
, you ask?
Porkapalooza?

The Year in Pork?
Something like that, though this will not become the “all pork all the time” blog, I promise. I’m sure we will be making bacon, plenty of sausage, and all sorts of other delicious goodies in the coming months and I hope to share some of that here.
I’m aware that not everyone has the means to buy and store a whole, or even half, an animal. In fact, we recently bought a 5 foot tall standing freezer with this in mind, allowing us to preserve some of the summer garden’s produce and so we could have the space to buy in bulk.
The process can be daunting and expensive, but in the long term view, it actually cost us significantly less than buying the by the individual cut (especially if buying organically raised pork at some place like Whole Foods) and gave us the peace of mind about the quality of the food we’re eating. This is a great option for a family or a group of friends or neighbors to go in on together.

My mother cooked the first piece, a 4.5 lb loin which was actually only ½ of a full pork loin from just one side. We kept it as simple as possible because we wanted to taste the flavor of pork. The loin went into a simple brine solution of water, salt and brown sugar for 12 hours, and then on to the BBQ for about 40 minutes until it reached an internal temperature of 135 degrees. We then let it rest for 15 minutes. By the time we cut it, it was perfectly cooked inside, and yet still juicy. We noted that the pork was leaner and slightly darker than commercially raised pork we’ve bought in the past. And yes, it was more flavorful. What little fat that was still on the outside was really tasty too. Eight people at dinner polished off almost the whole loin.

Below is a breakdown of everything we got in packages. All weights are approximate.
Pork Chops- 11 packages-16 lbs with 2 chops each
Spare Ribs- 3 packages- 11 lbs
Heart-1
Liver-1
Jowl- 2 each totaling 3.5 lbs
Tenderloin-13 oz
Loin Ribs-1.25 lbs
Fresh Hams-6 each, 30.5 lbs
Fat-14 lbs
Roasts- 4 each-20.75 lbs
Ground pork- 17 lbs
Loin- 2 each, 10 lbs
Belly/side- 6 packages, 19 lbs
Total weight was 153 lbs

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 KevinQ October 4, 2010 at 7:00 am

That looks awesome. My wife hates it when I buy a pork shoulder roast (enough pork for a week) – I hate to think what she would do if I bought a whole pig.

I hate to be gauche, but do you mind sharing how much you paid for your 153 pounds of pork?

I’m looking forward to your pork recipes.

K

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2 formerchef October 5, 2010 at 5:52 am

Kevin-The farm gives an idea of price on their site, but I think it depends on the situation and how much you’re buying. Every farm is going to offer different things at different prices. My mom struck a deal for our pig because we originally only wanted a half, but they really wanted to get rid of a whole one so they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. ;-)

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3 Ayngelina October 4, 2010 at 7:29 am

Have you read the Omnivore’s Dilemma? It’s a beast to read but also so interesting.

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4 formerchef October 5, 2010 at 5:53 am

Ayngelina- No, I haven’t read that yet, but it’s certainly on my list!

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5 Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen October 4, 2010 at 12:36 pm

This is so cool! We are purchasing a lamb in about a month, and I get to go to a butchering workshop! I am very excited! I love that so many more people are doing this these days! It is awesome! Enjoy!

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6 formerchef October 5, 2010 at 5:54 am

Oooh, lamb! I hope you plan on writing about the butchering workshop.

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7 Traca | Seattle Tall Poppy October 4, 2010 at 3:25 pm

First of all, I’m digging that platter! And second, since this pork was on an all vegetable diet (no grain) that makes sense that it is leaner meat.

I just did a dinner based on secondary cuts of meat and I’ll be curious, when you get to those…to see what you end up doing.

Also, have you seen Deborah Krasner’s book, “Good Meat”? It’s got an excellent photo series of a side being broken down, step by step and then also, instead of the graphic of a pig, it’s got the actual meat, reassembled like a puzzle. Diagrams show you which cuts are which. Very informative.

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8 formerchef October 5, 2010 at 5:56 am

Traca- I love that platter too. It was one of my Grandmother’s.
I have not seen “Good Meat” (at least I don’t think I have) but I will look for it, especially when we decide to do the butchering ourselves.

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9 Charles G Thompson October 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I am VERY impressed (and majorly envious!) Congrats on taking this step. It sounds from your description above like it has already been a huge success from finding the farmer with the pig, to finding the artisan butcher, to cooking the first cut. I enjoyed reading every word of this. Thanks for the tips too. When and if I’m ready I’ll have an idea where to go to find a pig. (I’m with you re the slaughtering part. I might consider the butchering but not so much on that first step.)

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10 formerchef October 5, 2010 at 5:58 am

Thanks Charles! If you should ever choose to do this, I’d be really interested if you could find something within “100 Miles” to fit in with your blog concept. That would mean it would be near us too!

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11 Traca October 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Charles, did I see you in the new Foodista cookbook?

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12 Anise Strong-Morse October 5, 2010 at 10:43 am

Should you have any extra bacon or sausage around Christmas this year, we would certainly be delighted to help make some room in your freezer. :) Just out of a sense of family obligation, of course. :)

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13 Tiffany October 5, 2010 at 5:36 pm

My friend recently took up ranching on her family’s 4acres. She is having so much fun at it and should have “free” meat by next year, meaning the animals she sells will pay for the animals her family eats.
Nothing goes to waste either. Instead of the industry standard of putting “excess” roosters through wood chippers, she’s made rooster stew. Let’s just say I can’t wait until it’s time for me to visit.
She says when it comes to not getting attached to the animals that she just thinks about getting 50lbs of bacon from the pigs.

I am curious… How did you get the pork back to LA without it going bad?

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14 formerchef October 6, 2010 at 12:56 am

Tiffany- The pork was frozen but the butcher immediately after it was cut and packaged. My mother drive it back from OR in one day and it took 3 coolers and a box with dried ice to get it all back still frozen!

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15 Jim Child October 6, 2010 at 6:30 am

My wife and I have been “playing” the role of the farmers raising pigs for about the past decade. Besides being able to put some better-than-usual meat in our freezer, it’s always a special treat to “get to know” the summer’s batch of pigs.

Over time we’ve learned to deal with the complex feelings involved with living with and caring for animals that we KNOW are going to wind up in our freezer. Our pigs have very happy lives. They run loose in about a 1/4 acre of woods and delight in playing hide and seek and tag with us and being scratched on the butt and behind the ears.

I’ll bet you could find a more local source for natural, happy pork by asking around at one of the farmer’s markets in LA — http://states.farmersmarket.com/ . Most farmers who sell “retail cuts” at a farmers market will also be selling whole, half and quarter animals from the farm. Also, these days there is a growing number of meat CSA’s.

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16 formerchef October 6, 2010 at 8:01 am

Jim- You’re probably right that we should be able to find something more local. And next time we probably will. But I didn’t feel so bad about this because my mom would have been up there anyway so the transportation wasn’t really a factor for us.

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17 bean October 8, 2010 at 6:57 am

love this post and am envious of all the pork! what are you intending to do with the jowls?

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18 formerchef October 10, 2010 at 3:43 am

We’re going to try to make guanciale with the jowls. It’s what is traditionally use in pasta a la amatricciana. Not sure if I spelled either of those right btw. :-)

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19 Jennifer S October 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

You’re going to LOVE how fabulously good the homemade sausages are going to be from this new pig.
This is my first year of buying a whole pig (a Red Wattle pig, raised in similar happy conditions here in Minnesota), also, and I think there is no looking back. From the first pork chops we ate (simple brine with maple sugar), we knew we’d done the right thing. Did you get the fat from the pig for rendering your own lard?

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20 formerchef October 10, 2010 at 3:42 am

Yes, we are going to try making lard, but will also use much of the fat to make sausage.

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21 Annie March 14, 2013 at 9:47 am

High marks for getting a pastured pig from a small farm. I have bookmarked the farm site as it looks like a good one.

We have a small farm in Northern California and have raised lambs for a few years. I raised my own pigs last year for the first and had them butchered here on the farm. It is not that difficult to watch the animal being killed. The butcher we have uses a rifle and just carefully shoots the animal in the head. It never knows what hit it. Then he immediately cuts the throat to bleed it. It’s true the animal does thrash after death, but that’s just reflexes.

As a former city gal, I thought it would be a lot worse the first time I had an animal (a lamb) butchered. But it really seemed pretty natural and okay to be part of the food chain. I’d certainly raise my own pigs again – but my husband, a vegetarian, says “no”. Not because of the butchering, which he does not watch, but because a 300 pound pig, even a nice friendly one, can be a little scary. ;)

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