A Pig With a Purpose

This second installment of images from Clawhammer Farm will detail the process of slaughtering and butchering a pig. Here’s fair warning: if you don’t wish to see graphic images, please move on to this post about the farm, or this post, or maybe this post.

(This post was originally made on September 10, 2013.)

So, just how does a farmer slaughter a pig? I’m an avid (and conscientious) meat eater, and I. love. pork. Ribs, fried pork chops, Boston butt, barbecue, tenderloin, pork and greens…. you name it, it’s likely that I love it. (With the exception of chitlins. Been there, done that, don’t need to go there again.) I’d often asked myself the question, and this summer I had my first chance to see the process. Slaughtering on site is saved for occasions when farmers and their friends will be eating the pig, since meat that’s sold has to be slaughtered, butchered, and packaged at a USDA-inspected facility. So witnessing a slaughter on the farm was an odd sort of treat.

I just couldn't resist...

I just couldn't resist...

Nick and Becky, the farmers at Clawhammer, put a lot of thought into how they slaughter their animals, and do their best to make sure the animal becomes meat in a humane way. In the case of pigs, first the chosen one is shot in the head with a small-gauge rifle, then the farmer quickly slits its throat. The pig will lie still for just a few seconds before it begins thrashing around, so the aim is to slit the pig’s throat and allow it to begin bleeding out before the convulsions start. 

(I’ll admit now that I was shooting pictures, not taking notes while all this happened. It’s likely that I’ll get a word wrong here or there, but I assure you that I’ll explain to the best of my ability.)

David, the resident farmhand/photographer/woodworker, and I had been waiting patiently all day, making sure we didn’t miss the big event. Finally, word came: “it’s time.”

First, Nick had to choose a pig. He wanted one that was between 50-60 pounds live weight. The “grower” pigs, which are grown to be slaughtered, were all hanging out near their feed bins when killing time came. Below, Nick steps over the fence and takes a moment to survey his surroundings before wading through the mass of swine.


The best way to weigh a pig in the field: pick ‘em up by the back two feet.

After the pig is chosen, Nick shoots it in the back of the head.

Before the gun is fired, the pigs are blissfully unaware that they’re about to lose a companion. A shot rings, the surrounding pigs jump surprisedly, then turn to find out what’s going on.

Nick quickly slits the pig’s throat to sever the jugular artery. The other pigs act like teenagers in the front row at a concert–wide-eyed and intent on the show. They don’t seem particularly afraid, just interested. The pig dies quickly, and soon after, the rest go back to their business like nothing ever happened.


Tools are tossed aside so Nick can concentrate on getting our pig out of the pen and onto the four-wheeler.

When discussing animal slaughter, the farmers often voiced a couple sentiments. Nick would remark how quickly a pig or chicken goes from being seen as a living, breathing animal to occupying the mental status of meat. After witnessing the pig’s death, and slaughtering a couple chickens, I can agree with that sentiment. Although the animals do convulse after being killed, it’s clear from their eyes (Becky’s oft-remarked concept) that their life-giving force has already left.

Nick then straps the pig onto his four-wheeler and hauls it to the barn.

The pig is hung, then bathed in a hot lye bath, which loosens the hair and top layer of skin, making the cleaning process easier.

The pig stays in the refrigerated truck overnight because the meat is easier to work with when it’s cold.

When it comes time for butchering, the pig’s brought back down to the barn. Since he’d be roasting the entire pig, Nick decided to debone it instead of dividing the meat into traditional cuts. Below, he has almost finished removing the backbone and ribs.

Nick shows us the stomach lining, which can be used for casing sausages.

People gathered around the roasting pit for 5-odd hours to watch the progress as the pig roasted. Here, Nick talks to Dart the farm dog.

Pig’s almost ready to be eaten!

We devoured that pig.

I hope this post has been somewhat enlightening. After seeing so many upsetting images from factory slaughterhouses, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a farm slaughter. The process I witnessed was graphic, to be sure, but it wasn’t horrifying. Our pig had a purpose.