So you want to fill your freezer with local pork. And you want to do so by buying a whole, or maybe a half, pig directly from a farmer you know. You want someone to raise it, process it, clean it, cut it, smoke it, wrap it, and deliver it to your door. You might even want to smoke it or butcher it yourself.
Or perhaps you aren’t prepared to do the smoking or butchering part quite yet. Baby steps… Let’s start by buying a whole pig directly from a farmer you trust, getting it slaughtered, and then having it cut and wrapped for you.
1. Get a 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 200lbs of wrapped cuts from a whole pig. Depending on how much your pig dresses out at, assume a 7cu ft chest freezer for a whole hog, or a 3.5cu ft for a half hog. This is assuming there is nothing else in your dedicated freezer. 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 local farmer 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.
3. Ask questions
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.
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.
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?
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.
5. Plan the Butchering
Typically the slaughterhouse will also be the butcher/processor of your pig. Including the smoking and sausage making. Otherwise, you will need to have your pig transported to a custom-exempt butcher. Either type of butcher should have a standard “cut sheet” that tells you what cuts you’ll get. If you stray from that cut sheet, you may pay a little more, but it could be worth it to get the exact cuts you want. You can choose whether you want to keep certain parts, such as the skin, bones, head, organs, and trotters. The pig is an extremely versatile animal, where every part of it can be eaten in one form or another. If you are paying for a whole pig (or half,) ask for all the parts, even the offal (weird cuts!) and try something new. ASK FOR EVERYTHING. It’s your pig!