Killing Pigs Nicely, Farmstead Meatsmith Style

pork harvest

Warning. This posts contains graphic images of pigs being killed and butchered. If you’d rather not see such things, now is the time to read a different post. May I suggest an adorable baby calf being born?

On New Year’s day we slaughtered our two pigs we’d gotten the previous February. (Yes yes, you did the math right. It turns out we let them get way too gigantic. But not much to be done about that now. Other than lard rendering, of course.)

We read and watched all of the resources put out by Brandon Sheard, the Farmstead Meatsmith. Brandon advocates patience, gratitude, and utilizing the whole animal. We purchased his books and his DVD “To Kill a Pig Nicely.” Worth every penny.

In the most general and poetic way, you are set on making the death of your pig match the dignity of her life. Waste would not only be an insult to the pig, but a kind of blasphemy. -Brandon Sheard, Farmstead Meatsmith

To Kill a Pig Nicely

And then we spent all of our Christmas money on animal processing equipment. We bought [more] high-carbon steel knives (from ebay; pictured below), Japanese water stones (for knife sharpening), a [three-hour] knife sharpening DVD, hog scrapers (ebay; pictured below), gambrels, a propane double jet burner, a bone saw, bacon hangers, meat totes

hog scrapers



The other big piece to the puzzle was the weather. Ideally temperatures are below refrigerator temps and above freezing, because you want to be able to let the meat hang overnight to chill and stiffen, but you don’t want the meat to freeze. After checking the weather forecast, we had one day- New Year’s Day- and so it was.

The butchering station was setup, the water was heated for scalding, and it began.

Step 1. Farmer Dickie quickly and humanely killed the pig(s).

I was actually shocked at how it was just… done. Over very quickly, no fear shown from the pig who was killed or the remaining pig. I was really relieved and pleased.

I also like that Farmer Dickie did it. I mean, of course he’s our hunter and would be the one to kill the pigs, but he also raised them. He helped catch them when we purchased them as piglets. Got their pen ready in the barn. Prepped the garden for them. Worked for weeks fencing their woods. Fermented their feed. Brought them food and water daily. And so it was only fitting that he was the one to respectfully do the deed.

But back to the kill. When killing a pig, you first shoot her in the head. You then immediately “stick” the pig- use a knife to slit the artery in the neck. The shot kills the pig immediately and the subsequent sticking allows the heart to pump the blood out of her body before it stops beating. The Farmstead Meatsmith recommends capturing the blood for blood sausage. (We didn’t. I am officially not ready for this level of “using the whole animal.”)


Step 2: Move (drag) and wash the pig.


Step 3: Winch her up.

We used a chain hoist. By “we” I mean Farmer Dickie and his brother, who thankfully was in town to help with the task.


winching 2

Step 4: Scald and scrape off the hair.

First one half of the body, then the other. We used a 55-gallon drum heated by the propane jet burner.


Step 5: Remove the head.

You’re supposed to make head cheese, but we fell prey to several things Brandon warned against in his book…

“In the middle of a harvest, it is easy to overlook the importance of a complete head cleaning.”

Sadly we didn’t get either head cleaned thoroughly enough, and I was unable to make head cheese. We were really looking forward to wasting none of the pigs, so this really disappointed us. But we have learned for next year.


Step 6: Evisceration.

This is where you get the offal. This is also where you find the caul fat (from the spleen) and the leaf fat (from the kidneys). Which of course we saved- hello, lard!



Step 7: Repeat the process on the other pig.

Step 8: Call it a day and drink a giant beer.

As mentioned earlier, the weather was ideal so the pigs were left hanging overnight. As the Farmstead Meatsmith says, butchery and curing will commence in the morning.


Step 9: Split the pigs.

Enter, the bone saw. (The Farmstead Meatsmith actually has you split the hogs on day one, but we ran out of daylight.)


halves 2

Step 10: Butcher.

This. This is a whole new post. I had no idea the amount of work this part of the process would entail, and I’ll cover it in a subsequent post.

Some thoughts.

I spent most of the day documenting the process. I had big plans to hire a sitter and actually get to participate, but that didn’t come to fruition this time (in part because the only decent weather was on New Year’s Day; in part because I had a five month old nursling who also needed three to four naps per day; in part because I was recovering from sickness and didn’t even have the energy to seek a sitter). I am disappointed, but recognize things rarely go according to plans during this phase of life.

So instead I hauled my recently flu-ridden body, still exhausted, around the whole time with at least one, sometimes two, complete other human beings strapped or otherwise attached to said body. And I instagrammed a few pictures. And my sister-in-law (whose baby was three months old at the time) and I spent a lot of time inside getting the babies to nap. Such is life in the baby years.

Even so, it was a really cool day for us at Whistle Pig Hollow. The most important thing was for the pigs to experience no suffering or fear, and they did not. The second most important thing was that we utilize as much of the pig as possible, and when all was said and done, we felt we did the best we could (with room for improvement next year).

And so I’m calling this a successful first pork harvest.

pig Collage

Tell me about your pork harvests! What do you do differently?


pork harvest

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  1. Debi Deason says:

    Thank you for sharing that. We want to raise a pig for meat, but after going through this I know that we will need to take it to our local slaughter house. I wouldn’t have a problem with butchering, but neither my husband nor I are physically able to do it. That, and it is so seldom the right temperature here to safely hang the meat outside overnight.

  2. Hi Ashley,

    What a great record of events. I especially appreciated your honesty about the nurslings and attached human bodies while the men were at work. Such is life for me these days as well. Well done. We shared on our FB page too. Thanks for capturing the essence of what we (and now you!) do.

    Best of luck and keep in touch,

  3. Wonderful! I am looking forward to my first hog butchering. My brother just got to participate in one, and I’m waiting for the next opportunity. Every piece of information is invaluable!

  4. Thank you for posting this, with pictures. Great information. We raise a couple of pigs in the summer. We have never processed our own (mostly because of the equipment needs that we don’t have). We would like to do it ourselves someday.

    Will you be making bacon & sausage yourselves? Would love to see that!

    Enjoy that sweet nursing baby! I had 4, and none are nursing now. I miss having a baby.

  5. Thank you for posting this. We are just beginning our homestead journey, we move to our 16 acres in Missouri as soon as we sell our home here in Southern California. Don’t know if we will get the pigs this year but we are excited to get started.

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