My First Hand Experiences In Slaughtering Pigs

You know, we never knew how to slaughter pigs until we moved up to a rural area. We are from the city. I live on a very small farm in rural California, and my family and I have raised rabbits, chickens and pigs for meat.  In my more recent years I’ve been a part of, and helped in the process of slaughtering animals.  Animals that we have slaughtered ourselves.  Even though my father has hunted most of his life, he had never slaughtered pigs.  He volunteered to help his neighbor do it who had been doing it for years, I.E. he was 70 years old, a native American Indian, no less.   The point being, he knew what he was doing, and how we slaughtered pigs was how he had done it his whole life. Every time we or our neighbors shot a pig, the pig dropped instantaneously. 

While I can state the process of slaughtering all of these animals, I can say with confidence that I know how the process of slaughtering pigs goes.  I have been an actual part of slaughtering all 8 of our pigs, and I’ve helped and watched in the slaughtering of two others that our neighbors raised.

In this last week I wrote a post on researching things correctly for books.  I was chastised by Matt Bondurant, for criticizing him stating that what he wrote at the beginning of his book, The Wettest County in the World, was incorrect.  I’m here to tell you all about the process of slaughtering pigs.  Oh, and I have also been part of the butchering process too.  Cutting up the meat and packaging it.  I’ve done it all.

The start of raising and slaughtering pigs starts in October.  When you purchase feeder pigs that are weaned.  They are cute at this stage.  Though, they squeal a lot.  Many people get their pigs in the spring so that they can go to fair in the late summer.  We liked doing it in winter because when you go to slaughter, there are no flies to bother you. 

It takes about five months to get these piglets to about 300 or more pounds.  Let me tell you, when they get to be that big, they can really shove you around.  Having played around one year with our three sister pigs,  Heidi-Ho, Hanna-Banana, and Harriet-Sweet- Harriet (we did just shorten it to Heidi, Hanna, and Harriet.) I know full well that three gals that size are scary.  Fun, but scary.

The night before slaughtering it the hardest, or one of the hardest parts about the whole process.  You have to stop feeding them that night.  They can’t have food in their system so they are very, very unhappy when it comes to not getting dinner.  And it is extremely hard when you’ve kind of made pets of them.

Morning of slaughter day,  there is a lot to get ready.  This is usually at the end of February, early March, so it’s still cold.  My father would get up around seven in the morning to start a fire underneath this very large tub filled with water.  It’s one of those 100 gal. water trough’s that you see farmers use for watering cattle.  Well, it is propped up on cinder blocks, next to a very large table.  Attached to the table are old car chains that we will use to pull the pig back up out of the water.

The water has to be heated to 150-160F and I will explain this reason later.  It takes about three hours to get the water from freezing cold to this temperature.  When the water has reached the right temperature, that is when it’s time to start.

My father has used both a .22 pistol/ revolver and a .22 rifle.  He has found that the pistol works better because the rifle will put the bullet in too far.  The two times he has shot a pig with the rifle, we found the slug down in the jowels of the pig.  The velocity of a .22 fired out of a rifle is so much greater than that of a revolver. It will go right into the hardest part of a a pig’s skull.  So, as far as we are concerned, the revolver works best.  Our neighbors, who have slaughtered pigs for years, used a revolver as well.

The spot to shoot the pig is about an inch above the eyes, dead center.  This is where you will hit the brain the best to disable the pig, but not kill it directly.   The heart will still be beating at this point. This is also the hardest part of the skull, yet a .22 goes right in.

Personally, this and the next part I hate.  I’m not much of a blood and guts person, and little things like this can make me start to hyperventilate.  I’ll keep it mild, mostly so I don’t make myself get ill.

Okay, so one shot usually takes care of immobilizing the pig.  Now comes the tricky part.  Someone has to stick the pig in the neck at the proper angle and rotate the knife slightly to sever the arteries where they join so pig will bleed properly.  You don’t want to be standing on the side of the pig where the legs are when you stick the pig.  The best spot to be is on its backside.  The minute the knife sticks the arteries and the blood starts to pump out, the pig will begin to thrash and kick.  If you are caught on side of the legs, like our neighbor was one time, you can end up with a very nasty kick in your legs or other areas.  He ended up with nasty kick in the thigh near the crotch  because the pig fell the wrong way.   Our neighbor was in so much pain, someone else had to finish the job.

So, as the pig is thrashing, pumping out the blood, to keep it thrashing, some of the hot water from the tub is splashed on it.  The hot water keeps the pig thrashing.    Not too much.  You don’t want the pig to thrash so much it bruises the meat.  Once the pig has stopped thrashing it’s time to get it into the water. First the tendons in the back feet of the pigs has to be hooked up so that the pig can be hoisted up onto the table.  Once on the table, the pig is rolled into the water, the chains holding the pig to lower it into the water.

Now the reason for lowering the pig into the water is that the heat of the water makes the very first thin layer of skin and hair come off.    This process is called scalding the pig.  There are people who skin their pigs, and that’s fine if you don’t have a tub of water and the setup.  I’ve heard that skinning is messy and the way with water keeps the skin on so that the meat won’t be contaminated.  By scalding and scraping the pig, you end up with a very clean, snow-white rind

So, the pig is dunked in the water until you start to be able to peel off, or scrape off the skin and hair.   The pig is pulled out of the water with the help of the chains, and usually two very strong guys.  The year it was just Mom, Pop, and I, well let’s just say, 300 pound pigs are heavy.

A Bell Scraper

Once on the table, the pig is scraped.  There are these special scrapers called bell scrapers that allow the hair, oil, dirt, and thin layer of skin to be scraped off without damaging the rind.  You must work quickly so that the skin doesn’t set and let the hair stay in.  If the skin starts to cool too much, you can pour more hot water from the tub onto the area and continue scraping.

This is what it looks like to scrape the pigs with a bell scraper. We never wore gloves.

Usually this method gets most of the hair off.  Sometimes there are fine hairs left so a sharp knife will shave off the rest.  Kind of like shaving your skin in the shower. 

So, now we have a clean pig.

The pig is now hooked back up to hooks in the back leg tendons on a spreader bar then hoisted up.  Any left over hair is scraped off, and next comes  the gutting.  First the pig needs to be cut around the bung hole. Trust me, you do not want to contaminate the meat.  That is one of the most crucial parts about slaughtering ; you keep everything clean.  Clean knives, clean water available, and washing off blood and anything else. 

That's me, with the pig spread, hung, and being finished scraped.

A slice needs to be cut down the groin/stomach area without cutting through the urethra .  Where you have cut around the bung hole, someone, usually holds that out of the way while the person with the knife continues to cut down.  You don’t want to cut down to far so that the bowels come out right away because there is the pelvic bone between the legs that needs to be separated.  Usually a hacksaw or cleaver is used.  You have to be careful to not cut through so far that you nick the bowels.

So, now you go down and slice all the way to the breast bone where you have to cut through the breast bone to the clavicle so that the chest is completely split, with the hacksaw again or cleaver, without puncturing the bowels.  The reason you want to go all the way through to the neck is so that when you drop the bowels out it goes completely to the ground without contaminating the meat.  Usually there is a large bucket or tub that we have below to catch the bowels.   If done properly, without damaging anything, you will also be able to cut out the heart, liver, and kidneys from this.  

The organs are rinsed in cold water and left to sit in a bowl of cold water.  The organs in separate bowls so as to not contaminate each other.

Once the bowels are removed from the  pig, the cavity is rinsed completely with cold water.  Usually a hose works well for this.  In the process of doing this, the front legs are pumped and rinsed to get the remaining blood out of the shoulder area where it tends to pool.  When the leg is pumped, blood cleans out.

Finally, when the cavity is washed out it is time to split the pig in half.  Starting from where the tail is, the pig is sawed in half with a bone or hacksaw.  Though for us, we found that a limb saw with oriental shark teeth did a much faster job, although it did tend to leave more small bone fragments than the hacksaw.

Whew!  You all wanted to know that, right?  I figure that I don’t need to tell you all about cutting up the meat.  A process that usually took three days in freezing cold conditions.  Suffice to say, I feel very confident in relaying this information. 

Now, the only reason for my long bit of information is I wanted all my readers to know my knowledge on this subject.  I want to thank everyone that supported my post on researching.  You guys are great.

Writing on


5 thoughts on “My First Hand Experiences In Slaughtering Pigs

    • Well, the meat from the grocery store does come off a production line that works much faster than three people slaughtering three pigs. The whole process took my family three days. But it is a good lesson. As per a hassle, maybe. Personally, and many people would think this is strange, but I would rather slaughter pigs than rabbits or chickens. I actually enjoy the process to some degree. It’s cold, it’s hard, and it takes time, but the results are this amazing amount of meat you have raised yourself. There is a sense of accomplishment in the whole thing.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  1. Pingback: Now where do we get our pigs slaughtered? | Musings from a Stonehead

  2. yes store bought is a lot more simple, but was it clean,was it full of Drugs that they use to make it grow quicker,how does it taste compared to home grown,is it healthy to eat ? i grew up in the country,and beleave me,i know whats good and whats not, thats whats wrong with people now,too lazy to work for what they get, always looking for EZ way out, and our government likes it that way, i’ll stay in the country, what are you going to do in the city if you cant buy food ?

  3. Pingback: Pigs Suffer On Small Farms, Too |

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