Hog-Harvesting Day: A Photo Tour

Warning: if the title wasn’t clear enough, the following post contains photos of our family handling very large quantities of unprocessed meat. If you’re squeamish about these things, you may want to skip this one.


For as long as I can remember, my extended family on my dad’s side has gotten together to butcher a couple of hogs every year. It’s a Mennonite tradition carried over from their childhoods in Mexico. It always happens in someone’s garage, and there’s always chili for lunch. Always.

No one in my family has ever raised pigs before this year (at least, not in Canada).  My parents and aunts and uncles always pitched in to buy them — already killed, cleaned, and cut in half — from the local butcher.

This year was a special year: my parents raised their own pigs for the first time. They kept six pigs out in pasture, to roam freely and wallow in mud, the way pigs were meant to roam and wallow. After the pigs finished destroying the area of pasture they were given, they were fed organic oats that my uncle got from the local Heinz plant where he works.

In recent years it has become increasingly important for me to only eat healthy animals that have lived happy lives and been killed humanely. (The same goes for the animals whose milk and eggs I consume.) If I’m going to eat meat, I don’t want to participate in torturing animals. If tortured animals are the only ones available to me, I generally refrain from eating meat. (That’s why I order off the vegetarian menu at restaurants.)

I also like to be as involved as possible in the processing of my food, to ensure its quality and to maintain a connection to the food that sustains my body.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents have always raised their own cattle and chickens — always free-range, in the great outdoors. I was absolutely thrilled when they decided to add pigs to the menagerie. Now I can also eat pork with a (mostly) clear conscience. (I’m never completely comfortable with my omnivorous ways.)

I thought I’d share some photos from butchering day, in case that kind of thing interests you.

Note: my parents had the pigs killed and cleaned (i.e. degutted) by the local abattoir; they came to us in halves (lengthwise). We took it from there.

We did three pigs in one day, with nine pairs of hands helping.

We began by cutting the hog halves into manageable pieces, and then removing the skin and fat.

 starting edited


cutting meat

The fat was ground up in a meat grinder and put into our huge cauldron (I don’t know the English word — in German, it sounds roughly like mew-groopin, and it exists for this sole purpose), to render into lard. The process takes several hours, with constant stirring and supervision. The bits of remaining meat turn into cracklings (which we call griven), which are strained out of the lard.

griven edited


griven 2Mmm. Griven absolutely must be eaten on homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam.

Meanwhile, the meat was divided and turned into different cuts — ribs, roasts, and chops. A good amount was ground up and seasoned for sausage.

grinding meat

ground porkHere, I’m separated 20 lbs to turn into Italian sausage, which we’ve never done before.

italian sausage seasoning

italian sausageHere, we’re making Mennonite-style sausage (“reukvarsch”) to be smoked. The only seasoning is salt and pepper, which my parents do by sight (no measuring).

making sausageIf you’re wondering: the sausage casings are sheep intestines.

On to the smokehouse:


Preparing the fire for the smokehouse:


Preparing the sausages for smoking:

smoking sausage


After smoking for about two hours, they’re ready to package.

smoked sausage

And what would an old-fashioned Mennonite hog butchering day be without liverwurst?

Pork liver:

pork liver

The liver gets ground up with other bits of leftover pork (cooked and raw), seasoned, and made into thick sausages using the large sheep intestine (rather than the small intestine):

making liverwurstThe sausages are cut into short lengths, tied up, and boiled in pork broth.

Sounds gross, but I tell you it is absolutely delicious on homemade bread with jam.

Last, we packaged the lard. Not everyone wanted theirs, so I got more than my share. I took home about 5 gallons of the stuff. Can you believe my luck?! (I use it for frying and making flour tortillas, mostly. It is literally impossibly to buy pure lard around here without preservatives, especially organic. This is a real treat.)

pouring lard(In the bottom right of this photo, you can see some of the cooked liverwurst in a bowl.)

lard 2Lovely lard. It will turn creamy white as it cools and hardens.

lardThat’s ALL LARD. Yes.

There you have it! Any questions? Have you ever done anything like this??

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  1. OMG! So, so jealous!! My maiden name is Broat, so I <3 me some good German food and you are making me Hungry! That said, I've never eaten cracklings with bread and jam; I'll have to try that.

    We get a 1/2 hog each year from some local farmers, but most processors in Michigan don't render the lard. I have about a quart left from a hog we got 3 years ago that I'm hoarding for pie crust and I'll likely use the last of it to fry donuts this fall. With this years hog, I asked for the fat and they gave me a bit so I can render it myself… gotta do that while it's still cool enough outside to get it done easily!

    I'm with you on sustainable food… I made it my pledge 3 years ago to get all our beef, pork and chicken from local folks who treat their animals with care. Most of our bread, milk, eggs, fish and shrimp are locally raised or harvested, too. Plus, we're really Blessed with a good garden (and now shelves full of canned good) and farmers markets for most of what we can't grow ourselves. I just need to get on making my own bread (cheaper) and cheese, just to try it.
    PepperReed recently posted..Back in the Land of the Living!My Profile

  2. Never have, but would love to! It all looks so amazing. I don’t have the option of raising my own animals in the city, but I purchase all of my meat from a local butcher who only deals with small Ontario farms (a lot of the meat is Mennonite-raised, actually.) It’s not certified organic, but seeing as that rarely means anything anyway I feel like this is the best (most ethical, most sustainable) I’m going to get.

  3. Christiana says:

    ooOOoo, send me some of your sausage and lard please! I totally love that stuff. I get unrendered fat from a local farmer and render it my self in my crock pot (on a much smaller scale than you, obviously.) It makes the most amazing pie crusts and I pop my corn in it too! I have a dream of raising our own pigs one day, when we’re out of our apartment and have our own house with a bit of land.

    Thanks for the cool post!

  4. this was so cool! but no, i’ve never done anything like that! i just roasted my second chicken over here so i am REALLY low on the “cooking with meat” learning curve, but i’m trying to get better or my husband’s sake! i usually cook with just veggies because its cheaper and i don’t have to worry about thawing/spoilage as much, but its probably equally because i really don’t know what i’m doing when i buy meat! and i swear we’re probably loosing generations of information about how to process meat, so i love that you included this! i would love to know the final poundage count so i could nerdily calculate how long 3 pigs would feed how many people :)
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  5. Jealous jealous JEALOUS. My goal is to save up over the next year to be able to buy some portion of an animal from one of the local farms next year, but how I wish I had local family with the knowledge to do some of this–much less who is actually raising the animals! I was thinking of doing a quarter cow, but seeing all that lard makes me think perhaps I should do half a hog…though I guess you can get tallow from beef fat, which is almost as good. ;-)

    I’m with the other commenters re: preserving this sort of food processing knowledge, and I’m with you on wanting to know where my animal products come from! I’ve been only buying meat, eggs, and milk locally from good sources, but cheese seems so expensive, and I’m not as good as I ought to be about only getting vegetarian meals when we eat out…which we ought to do less than we do, anyway. We’re working on it, though!

    Thank you so much for sharing these pictures and the information!

  6. Amazing! I so wish I could witness something like this in person. How cool is that? Thanks for sharing. I really enjoyed reading about your hogs!
    Michele recently posted..Motherhood with a Toddler – Diapering/Elimination Communication Part 2My Profile

  7. Wow this is just fascinating! I’d love to be able to do this one day. The closest we’ve come is when my BIL goes shooting and gives part of the deer or whatever he caught to Rasmus’ mum. Oh and I love me some crackling! Here in Lux it’s even hard to buy a cut of pork with the fat still on. So sad…
    fiona lynne recently posted..Little momentsMy Profile

  8. We bought a whole pig a few months ago. I was present for the slaughter at the farm (and took home about 30 lbs of back fat which I rendered down for lard). It went to a local butcher for processing. I’d like to do that myself, but I’ve never observed or assisted in processing an animal that large before and didn’t feel comfortable doing it myself this time. However, the butcher cut to order and we are finally getting around to making bacon with the belly this week – I’m so excited! (And so thankful for family friends who have a really big smoker that can accommodate all that meat and are willing to help us smoke it.)
    Lessons learned from this time, so far:
    – A whole pig is way too much for us. Firstly from a variety standpoint – I like pork, but I don’t want to eat it *that* often. Also, I was vegan and then vegetarian for over 2 years. I’ve been back to omnivore for at least 3 years now, but we still eat heavily vegetarian and I just forget to cook meat pretty frequently. Plus, I tend to use it in ways that stretch or use it more as a component rather than the center of the meal.
    – I’ll ask for the bits that got turned into ground pork so next time I can grind it myself.
    – I completely blanked on pork loin and had everything turned into chops – whoops.
    Lily recently posted..Minimalism, Simplicity, and St*ffMy Profile

    • Awesome, Lily! I feel like a half pig was kind of too little for us, but a whole might be kind of much. :) I forgot a few things, too: we’re curing bacon to smoke, but I forgot I wanted to try curing and smoking a ham, too. Next time! Live and learn!

  9. Love that you took the time to share this.
    Leigh Kramer recently posted..What I’m Into (October 2013 Edition)My Profile

  10. Love it! We just butchered a pig for the first time ourselves (killed it and everything)! We used videos from farmstead meatsmith to help us with the processing part. We are going to try a cow next! I love supporting local farmers and still be able to buy grass Fed meat affordably. Question, though. What do you use your lard and or tallow for? I know lard for pie crusts, but I am sure there are other uses!

    • Hi Karen! Wow, good for you guys — killed it and everything? I still don’t think I could quite stomach that. That last time I watched my parents kill chickens, I cried. (That was just a couple of years ago.)

      I mostly use lard and tallow for frying foods. Animals fats are very stable, and therefore good for high-temp cooking. Because lard and tallow both have distinct flavours, I like them for different things. Since lard is generally more subtle, I use it much more extensively — especially for frying eggs and pork. I’ll sub in some in my baking (usually along with some other fat — coconut oil, olive oil, or butter), and use it for greasing pans (it stays in place, unlike liquid oils!). I use tallow with fewer things, but I find the flavour goes well with sweet potatoes, squash, and anything beef (including stir-fry). I’m still experimenting to find more uses.

      Otherwise, they’re great for making soap! My mom makes a great laundry bar soap with tallow.

  11. Do you know where I could find a miagrope? (Cast iron Mennonite rendering pot)my husband and I butcher and make the Mennonite sausage as well… And a few other things such as cracklings and hope to make liver wurst this fall too .
    Thanks for any help.

  12. Robert Epp says:

    Griven and jam on toast. Dat hab ich niemals probiert…..but will have to try it. My family we always mixed cracklings into fried potatoes. Not a light meal by any meals but delicious. Have you ever had ribs or sausage that was cooked in the rendered lard on butchering day. I think the ribs were called rapshmear….is the closest approximation of the spelling that I could up with. Delicious, but once again not a light meal.

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