Friday, January 9, 2009
The economic argument is rather compelling. At least half the cost of the final product is in the killing and what comes after. The "kill fee," or the cost of getting the butcher to come to the farm and kill it, is $70. Then they charge 55 cents cut and wrap fee per pound hanging weight, which is different than the weight of the meat you actually get back. The last pig, a little on the small side, was 138 pounds hanging weight and 90 pounds of meat. Assuming this pig is a little bigger - say, 180 hanging weight -it will cost us $169 to have him processed. As a little piglet, he cost $75, and we've probably spent $50-75 in feed for him. That adds up: at least $300, or something like $3/pound.
I guess it's the same price as supermarket pork, more or less, for a much better product, and the peace of mind of knowing that our animal was humanely raised and healthy. But home butchering would bring that price down to a little over $1.25 a pound. That's some cheap, quality protein.
Now for the downside. Oh, where to begin? Okay, let's begin with MY knowledge deficit. I don't have the foggiest idea how to cure bacon and ham, and I'm not really psyched to learn. So we'd either have to have all uncured pork (no way) or pay somebody to cure it. Then there's my husband's knowledge deficit. Homero has, in fact, helped butcher a pig before. He was twelve years old and he assisted his father in Mexico. How material was his assistance, I don't know. I haven't asked. Homero has many wonderful qualities, and one of them is his - how do I put this? - unflagging self-assurance. He hasn't any doubt whatsoever that his prior experience and enthusiasm is equal to the task. It's left to me to play Cassandra.
So I bought a book, which is what I do when I have any sort of doubts about anything, or indeed, any money in my pocket at all. Storey's big book of butchery. I simply told Homero he was welcome to kill the pig as soon as he had carefully read the section on pigs and assembled all of the tools it says are necessary. Since the first such tool is a 22 rifle, the next is a sturdy, 4 1/2 x 6 foot wooden platform, and the third is a 95 gallon stock tank settled over a cement fire pit, I think the pig is safe for a while.
Seriously. Home butchery is part of self-sufficiency, and it should be a goal of mine to become capable at it or more realistically to encourage my husband to become capable. It's a fact that the animals have to die in order for us to eat, I'm aware of that, and I've been pushing myself by little baby steps toward becoming more, um, tolerant of the process. No matter how quick, humane and painless the animal's death might be, butchery is messy, bloody, smelly, and wearisome. I should be grateful that Homero is willing to take it on.
But I still want good meat, ham, and bacon. I don't want to lost all this meat to his first try. Therefore I put an ad on Craigslist for a mobile butcher, professional or very experienced amateur, willing to help, teach, and get paid partly in meat or mechanic work. We'll see how that pans out.