There’s a certain satisfaction of knowing you have a freezer full of sustainably-raised local meat to nourish your family for months or even a year.
You’ll want to prepare yourself for taking the big step of one-stop shopping rather than combing the supermarket every week for bits and pieces. Ultimately you will have saved money and time by buying bulk from a single source, not to mention time spent. Added bonus: you’re simultaneously buying from a trusted source and keeping your food dollars local.
Here are four helpful tips for getting a whole hog squirreled away for your family:
1. You’ll need a biga$$ freezer
Unless you’re buying a whole pig for a big pig roast, you’re probably buying this pig for you and your family to eat over a period of time. That means you’ll need a freezer with enough room for about 200 to 300 pounds of pork. That’s not a regular freezer. We’re talking about a BIG chest freezer. Somewhere around 12 cubic ft model will have plenty of space for stacking and organizing all the cuts. Think of +/- 12 1′ x 1′ square milk crates stacked inside. Additional to baskets that usually accompany a freezer, milk crates are great for organizing the types of cuts and packages. And they’re easy to lug in and out of the freezer. You may want any extra space for shuffling packages around and easier inventory-keeping of your prized hog.
Half hogs can fit tightly into a 5 cubic ft model. No need to buy brand new, although there are some great energy efficient models out there. There are likely a glut of gently used freezers for sale around you.
2. Find a Farmer
Find a local farmer (like me!) who raises and sells whole or a half pigs. In all U.S. states, if a livestock producer wants to sell meat, he or she must have the livestock slaughtered and processed at a USDA-inspected facility. Then that meat must be wrapped and sold at butcher shops or meat counters.
We’re in Vermont, and only sell locally, so we’ll focus only on Vermont’s laws in this document. Contact you own state’s Department of Agriculture for further information. The State of Vermont’s custom-exempt rules can be found here.
If you don’t know of a farmer local to you that raises and sells whole or half pigs, head to the next farmers market and ask any meat purveyor, or the market director if none are participating in the market.
Once you find a farmer who will sell you a live animal and process it for you (or can arrange for that), you’ll want to get as much information as you can:
- How are they raised? What do they eat? By asking questions and getting to know the farmer, you’ll become more educated yourself, and more informed about what you are investing in and putting on the table. You want to feel good about your purchase from every angle: animal health, your health, sustainability, environmental, etc.
- How old are the pigs when they go to slaughter? Older, bigger pigs that have more fat on them that make for copious and tastier bacon, sausages, hams, cured meats, etc. But if you’re having, say, a pig roast for 25 people (as opposed to, say, 100), you might want a younger pig that’s five to six months old and around 150 to 175 pounds.
- How will the pig be slaughtered? On the farm (for custom-exempt purchases), or are they transported to a slaughter facility? Will the farmer help arrange slaughter and butchering? Will you be responsible for collecting the final packaged meat? Or will the farmer deliver?
- What’s the price per pound? If not a flat rate for the farmer, discuss the per pound rate. ‘Hanging weight’ is what you’ll be paying for. That is, after the pig is slaughtered and organs removed. Hanging weight includes not just meat but also the head, bones, cartilage, skin, and other bits, all of which are delicious and can be used—snout to tail.
3. Pick a Pig
Once you’ve chosen a farm you want to buy from, you need to decide whether you want a whole pig for yourself or if you want to share a whole pig with another party. It’s easy to split up a whole hog into two orders for one delivery, and its easier to find or make room in your freezer. Each half pig will have the same cuts since they are split lengthwise down the spine, head to tail.
4. Set a Slaughter Date
Typically the farmer will arrange the slaughter date. If not, he/she can recommend a facility nearest to you to call. Arrange for slaughter when you seal the deal with the farmer. In Vermont, USDA slaughterhouses, and even custom cut houses, can be booked months and months in advance, so get scheduled a.s.a.p. In addition to paying the farmer for the animal, you’ll either need to reimburse the farmer for the slaughter, or you’ll pay the slaughterhouse directly.