Thursday, 3 March 2011

Take that you dirty swine... Are pigs the least useful animal on the farm?

The pig pen... Tailing off to the infamous
'alligator river'
I recently accused pigs of being the least useful animals on the farm to my wife. This statement was based around the idea that all the other animals on a farm had multiple purposes. For example, with cows you can eat them and milk them, chickens you can eat their eggs and eat them, sheep you can use their wool and eat them, but with pigs all you can do is eat them. Don't get me wrong, I love a good slice of pork now and then, but in terms of what you have to put into it (lots and lots of rubbish and fat food which it eats incessantly) you don't seem to get a lot out of it. However, I may now have to reassess my judgement based on new information gained from helping to slaughter one...

This sow was fairly old (five years) and Carlinho had decided she was plump enough (at just over 200kgs) to make a fine dinner (and many more after it). So four of us headed down to its' pen (not the most luxurious of quarters, but I guess that's why it's called a pigsty). Now if you were under the impression (as I was) that killing a pig is less dangerous than killing a cow, I think you are sorely mistaken. Pigs have a horrendous bite on them. You don't want to be near it when it decides to go for you. This is one obvious downside of them being in a pen - there is not much option to run away. Carlinho likely sensing that sending either me, or Andre (the new farmhand who had never worked on a farm) in the pen would be the modern day equivalent of sending a peasant in with the lions at the colisseum, opted to send his only son, Ed Carlos, in - just goes to show how much faith he has in Andre and I. Ed Carlos having grown up on a farm is more aware of swine dangers than most (in fact the top of his cousin Chico's middle finger is missing from a pig bite. This is actually quite a minor injury considering the scars other farmers here have).

He stepped in with the beast and after five minutes of to-ing and fro-ing in which the pig tried to bite Ed many times, Carlinho (who was standing out next to the fence) managed to wrap his lasso around the neck and one of its' forelegs. At this point he suggested that maybe Andre and I should step into the fray and help with the restraining. Even though the pig was lassoed it was actually no easier to get it to do what we wanted. it still kept running around, trying to bite us over and over. We managed to kind of get it cornered and whilst Andre nervously kept the pig's attention Ed grabbed its' front leg and tried to turn it over onto its' back. I tried to grab the back leg to help.

It didn't work the first, the second, or the third time we tried this maneuver.

Eventually we did manage to heave it onto its' back. Ed grabbing the front legs, me grabbing the back, and Andre somehow occupying the head. We now had to pin it down. Andre decided that as he had the mouth it was best just to place a foot firmly down on the head pressing it into the floor. Ed was pushing down on the front and middle, and I just decided it was best to sit on its' behind. Now that we'd done the dangerous bit, Carlinho entered the fray to kill it. Stepping in he pushed the long knife up through the armpit of the pig towards its' heart. Pulling it out resulted in a squirt of blood that kept on pumping out - there was far more of it than when we killed the cow. We waited for it to die and it finally drew its' last breath after what seemed like a good five minutes or so. From my position sitting on its' arse end it was very much like being on the back of a motor boat hitting waves - I was moving up and down, up and down, Fortunately I'm not sea sick. It became obvious that I'd got the raw end (so to speak) of the deal when the pig started defecating everywhere, including my boot. It was a particularly foul stench.

It turned out that killing it was the easy part. We now needed to figure out the best way to carry the 200kg dead pig the kilometre back to the farmhouse. We decided the best option was to put it on the back of the tractor. Something easily said than done as we needed to find a way to hulk it up onto the trailer. Using the lasso we created a pully system over a nearby tree's low hanging branch. It didn't look particularly safe, but it did the job and we heaved the swine up and rhen lowered it into place, all with the branch distinctly looking shaky. All four of us were thoroughly exhausted doing this, so much so that Andre decided he'd call it a day and go back to the farmhand's house (a much shorter journey than to the main house). Ed Carlos and I accompanied the pig in the back of the trailer as we drove up to the top of the hill. It was the perfect coffee table height between us.

Now I won't go too much into the actual cutting and slaughtering of the beast as it is very similar to that of the cow. The main difference was that much like when you kill a chicken and have removed most of its' feathers you need to burn off the rest. Therefore Carlinho got a gas cylinder and attached what can only be described as a flamethrower to the end. He lit it and a two foot flame shot out. For a good half an hour he continued to burn the skin of the pig, the flamer moving up and down until the pig was browny black, and all its' bristles had been burnt off. Now Ed and I stepped in with two knives and scraped the edge of the blade up and down the skin (making sure not to actually cut). The top layer of skin came off easily and revealed a soft, pink, fleshy underside - perfect!

The pork scratchings in their lard...
As I say, the rest of the slaughtering was pretty much the same except on the pig you keep a lot more of the insides. For example the intestines were cleaned and kept to make sausages, and various things such as kidneys and lungs were also kept (presumably to cook some delight whilst I wasn't on the farm... Or maybe to trick me into eating something foul...). As well as keeping more of the insides, more of the outside was kept too - the ears, tail, nose, and trotters were all kept to make the Brazilian national dish - feijoada. In addition, all of the thick skin was kept. This was cut up into thin slices and put in a big (and I mean BIG) frying pan and placed over a fire. As the temperature reached ridiculous heights, all the fat from the skin seeped out. After it had been cooked for a long while we were left with lard and pork scratchings. With the skin removed from the body, we could see a treasure trove of fat that was going to be used for two things - to make sausages, and to make soap.

You won't be surprised to learn we were also left with a lot of meat. Some of this was ground down and mixed with the fat to make sausage meat, and the rest we stored to eat at a later date. Hopefully like the cow this would last for about three months between seven people. Making the sausages was actually quite fun - we used a machine which squirted out the mixture into the intestines. All in all we ended up with around about nine sausages each three foot in length. When you think of these think of them more like your average boerewors (without the beef) rather than your typical chipolata - i.e. very meaty!

All in all, the process of capturing, skinning, and preparing took a full day.

Thinking back, I tried to pinpoint when in my mind the pig stopped being a pig and started being food, but to be honest I don't think there was that differentiation - the pig was always going to be food so I didn't think of it as anything but nice tasty pork. Did I find the whole situation particularly morbid or stomach churning? If I'm honest no, but it's not the most enjoyable of experiences either. You can't help but think about what people look like on the inside too...

So in conclusion, are pigs useless? I think not, given the amount of different foods and soap you can make from them I think they've moved up a couple of ranks in the heirarchy of farm animals. Add to that that if given the right conditions they can dig for truffles, you know you're onto a winner!

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