So you want to keep pigs? Part 4

Time For Pork © Mandy Garbutt

By time you get to this point in your pigs’ lives, they are hopefully thriving, growing steadily and you’re enjoying your pig keeping experience. Unfortunately it’s time to consider how you’re going to turn them into delicious pork and/or bacon. Knowing your pigs have had a very good quality of life whilst you have nurtured them it is important that your pigs are treated humanely and as respectfully as possible at the end of their lives and this should be foremost in your thoughts when making the decisions on how and where they will be slaughtered.

We’ll go through how we deal with this at Fowgill, having to admit that a tear is still shed when some pigs go off whereas when some of the more boisterous characters go we actually breathe a sigh of relief!

pigspart4-1 At 20 weeks old we start measuring our pigs around the chest behind the front legs, our not very scientific method is to send our porkers to the abattoir when their chest measures 40 inches. At 20 weeks they’re usually about 35 – 37 inches knowing this enables us to make a date with our butcher 2 or 3 weeks in advance as porkers at this age are gaining about an inch a week. We telephone or fax the butcher and he books them into the abattoir for us, our abattoir takes pigs in on a Monday and the butcher collects the carcasses and has them ready for us to collect the following Thursday or Friday.

Deciding if your pigs are ready the first time is always difficult, the first ones we ever sent were definitely not big enough by our 40 inch rule but as you get more experienced in sending your porkers off you’ll soon be able to do it by eye. There are, of course, other ways of deciding, by using scales, a weight band or the trusty measuring between the ears to the root of the tail multiplied by the girth around the shoulders behind the front legs and dividing by 11, this is done in inches and gives you a rough weight in pounds (calculators at the ready for those of you young enough to do metric only!). One tip is to measure them while they’re eating as they won’t stand still and try to eat your tape measure! Porkers are generally 55kg upwards and cutters 80kg upwards. We also take age into account and at 24wks old they’re big enough to be porkers and we let gilts go onto 30 – 32 wks for bacon.

Now once you’ve decided they’ll soon be ready to go, you need to choose your abattoir and butcher. You can get a list of licensed slaughterhouses from the Food Standards Agency which will show where they are and which animals they slaughter. However, the best way is to talk to other local pig keepers, find out who and where they rate which is what we did. Originally our butcher did his own slaughtering on his premises but as more red tape took a stranglehold he decided it was no longer viable to do so. Luckily there was a small family run abattoir not far from him so his slaughtering was transferred there and that’s where we now take our pigs which he collects as carcasses as he still does the butchering even though the abattoir provides a butchering service as well. You will find that most abattoirs do provide a cutting service so it’s worth asking if you don’t know a butcher locally.

The most important thing about taking your pigs to slaughter is to keep stress to a minimum. It has been proven that stress has a detrimental affect on the quality of the pork you’ll get back so some things to bear in mind are the distance your pigs will have to travel, the size of the outfit they are going to and timing. Obviously the shorter the distance your pigs has to travel the less stress it will have but it’s worth going that bit further to find an abattoir that suits you and your pigs. Our nearest abattoir is actually about 20 minutes away from us but it is part of a large commercial meat processing and packing venture so we travel about 40 minutes in the opposite direction to the abattoir we mentioned above which brings us nicely to the size of outfit they’re going to. A smaller family run abattoir or slaughtering butcher will get to know you and your pigs, you’ll be able to discuss how you want your animals to be handled and be able to see where they will be kept until it is time for them to meet their maker. This is called ‘lairage’ and should be clean, have water and be of sufficient size for your pigs to be comfortable while they wait. Do not let your pigs be mixed with other pigs already there. Your pigs will be inspected by a qualified veterinary inspector to ensure that they are healthy and clean enough to be slaughtered. Coming to timing you will also find a smaller abattoir will let you bring your pigs at a certain time so they’re not hanging about waiting getting stressed by strange noises and smells. We deliver our pigs on a Monday morning at 7am and by 8am the deed is done.

Some one asked me if it was possible to watch their pigs being slaughtered and I replied that it was up to the abattoir but I will say here and now that other than on television I have never seen any pigs slaughtered I have no wish to and leave it to the professionals who know their trade and that unless you have an exceptionally strong constitution you should do the same.

You will also need to consider the cost of slaughtering and processing your meat. Most people get a butcher or the abattoir to do this for them though some brave souls process their own if it’s for their own consumption. Make it clear to your meat processor what you require and get him to wrap it and label it for you. Costs vary up and down the country but at the time of writing (July 2009) we are paying £102 for two pigs with a total weight of 131kg, this includes slaughter charge, cutting & vac-packing, weighing & labelling and making sausages. It is by no means the cheapest in our area but we are happy to pay this for professionalism of the abattoir and the quality of the butchery. Cheapest isn’t always best for you, your pigs or your customers, so look at what’s on offer for the money before you make your decision.

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You’ve chosen your abattoir and or butchers. Before your pigs make their trip to the abattoir they will need to be identified, the plastic ear tags they carry are not permitted for animals going to slaughter. tool
They must have either a ‘slap mark’ which is a kind of tattoo slapped on the pig’s shoulders or a metal ear tag. We use metal ear tags and do not tag our porkers until the day before they go as invariably they get lost ‘in action’. We use Ketchum pliers and tags but there are other makes and most agricultural merchants will be happy to talk you through the various types (see right). He will need your herd reference for ordering them and the first batch will usually be numbered 01 – 050. When tagging check the ear for veins and make sure you don’t hit one! There is usually very little blood but after tagging we usually give the pig’s ears a squirt of veterinary wound powder to soak up any that appears. We tag while they’re eating and a few days prior make a habit of fondling the pigs ears so they get used to them being touched while they’re eating. We make a note of the ear numbers we have used and log them on a spreadsheet for our own reference and also onto the aml2 movement licence which you will need to fill out either on-line and print, or by telephoning the details through well in advance and waiting for a movement form to arrive.

The most stressful time for your pigs can be when you are loading them for the abattoir, the first time we tried to load pigs was a nightmare it took two hours and in the end we tempted them in with a bucket of apples. We now have a completely different regime. During summer in the afternoon before they’re due to go we back the trailer up to their paddock filled with straw some of which we spread on the tailgate, we close off their house and then give them their last feed on or near the tailgate. Because they can’t get in their house that night they seek shelter in the trailer, we then creep up at an ungodly hour and quietly if you can do such a thing close the tailgate, as we set of for the abattoir at 6am they’re usually sound asleep. No stress whatsoever. In winter we transfer the pigs the day before to a stable and do the same thing, shut up the stable to make them sleep in the trailer. You will find that if your pigs are muddy the straw in the trailer will clean them up for you as well. If they are excessively muddy you may need to clean them off with a bucket of warm water and a sponge.

On arrival at the abattoir the trailer is reversed up to the unloading point and as the tailgate comes down they’re usually just waking up and stretching. Our abattoir is very good; there is never any hurry and the pigs are allowed to come off the trailer at their own pace, once safely into the lairage the abattoir deals with our paperwork. Some abattoirs will make you clean out your trailer there and then but most small ones get you to sign an ‘Undertaking to cleanse & disinfect’ form which means you must do it within 24 hours of getting back home. This is what we do by backing the trailer straight down to the end of the yard, chucking the straw out and burning it and then its power-washed out with a Defra approved disinfectant e.g Vikron, (which can be bought in sachets or tubs from your agricultural supply merchant), left to dry and put away until we need it again. The next job is to muck out, wash and disinfect where your pigs were kept ready for your next batch.

Then all you have to do is wait for your butcher to call and say your pork is ready to collect

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