April 8th, 2012 by cowgirljules
Last time I had a pig was also the first time I had a pig. I hadn’t dealt with them since college, but this one just hadn’t quite made weight at the fair, so feeding her out a little bit wasn’t a big deal. It was so easy, in fact, and cool to have a handy garbage disposal, that next time I thought I go whole hog, so to speak, and raise them from piglets. I watched craigslist for a long time before I realized that the initial pig investment wasn’t quite as cheap as I thought it would be. Eventually I decided to go to a local Junior College’s pig auction.
Now, this auction was mostly set up for show pigs. Local 4-Hers with plenty of money could go buy themselves a nice starter pig. The genetics on these things made them look like the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the pig world, all bulked out. I got there just in time to hear one go for a grand. Ugh, way too rich for my blood. That one was an exception; most of them went for under five hundred dollars. Still way too much for my budget.
But I’d talked to one of the students who clued me in on the barn sale after the main auction. There they could set me up with a couple of feeder pigs that wouldn’t be winning any shows, but would still put meat on. That was more my speed, so after a long day there, I came home with two pigs in my dog crates in the back of the truck. I ended up with a Duroc barrow and a Yorkshire cross gilt. I was hoping to get two dark pigs, as I don’t have a ton of shade for them, but you gets what you gets at the barn sale.
When Seamus and I unloaded these pigs in the pen, they didn’t want to come out of their crates. I doubt that they’d ever been off concrete in their lives. It didn’t take them long to learn to run and play though, maybe fifteen minutes. They found the food and the water, but were still not thrilled about people. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks feeding them treats and now they love me, which will make it less stressful for them at butcher time. Pigs are smart though, and the female pig still has her doubts about me. The male pig just wants to eat my shoes.
Pork isn’t the only meat I’m raising right now. I’ve got four different bird species destined for the freezer. The quail project is coming along nicely. They’ve matured to a point where I could eat them now, but frozen meat isn’t quite as good as fresh, so I’m going to slaughter most of them right before a party we have planned. I’m keeping some of them back as breeders.
I’m also a big fan of domestic duck meat. I’m not real fond of wild duck, but if I can control their diet, domestic duck is fantastic. So I bought ten Giant Pekins to be shipped as day-olds. I thought raising them would be similar to raising other poultry. Boy, was I wrong. Ducks are hugely messy, and they stink! Oh, the stink. Ducks are also different in that they grow and then feather out, as opposed to birds like chickens and turkeys that feather out and then put the majority of their weight on. Fortunately, they also like it colder than chickens do, so after a couple of weeks of gagging over the brooder in the garage, they were turfed to a pen outside. Right now they’re very happy with their little swimming dish. Ducks are a very suspicious lot, and such drama queens! I do plan to keep a breeding trio of these, because I’m sure not going to brood more in my garage again, that was gross.
Quartered with the ducks right now are four turkeys. Two are Midget Whites, and if they’re a pair, I intend to use them to maintain a smaller line of turkeys. I think they’re both jakes though, as I caught them both strutting in the brooder at a week old. And the other two turkeys in the duck pen are the regular Broad-Breasted Bronzes. Heritage turkeys, like my other ones, are delicious but just don’t produce a stereotypical carcass. Since I host Thanksgiving and Christmas for a lot of people, I needed a big turkey, and these two will certainly be that. I’ll probably have to butcher them in the summer while they’re small enough to fit in my oven.
And the last main meat project going on now is chickens. We eat a lot of the extra cockerels that my hatching hobby produces, but like the heritage turkeys, that’s a different sort of carcass than you find at the grocery store. Very flavorful but a little chewy, and they don’t do their best roasted whole for a Sunday dinner. Cornish cross birds, on the other hand, are exactly what the big poultry processors grow. They hit butchering size within eight weeks, they grow so fast, and younger than that for those little birds you get already rotisserie cooked. I bought one just tonight. They’re very tender because they’re young, but that’s also why they don’t have a ton of flavor. Last year I tried a red broiler that grows just a touch slower, but Seamus needs a pair of these to show at the Fair, and my red birds just aren’t standard around here. So we got ten of the regular ugly white birds.
Just looking at these things is enough to put one off meat for a while. They’re bred to maximize feed conversion into meat, and don’t waste a lot of energy with silly things like growing feathers or moving. They’re half naked and can barely get around the pen. Eat, sleep, and poop is all these things do. It’s a little pathetic, but it is an extremely efficient way to put meat in the freezer, which is what they were designed for. At least mine get to be outside, and pick at bugs and grass if they can find the energy. I’ll grow them a little longer than the chicken houses do too, so I should have some eight to nine pound roasters in the freezer by the time I’m done. And they’ll taste a little better than the storebought birds, and be a little cheaper, but not enough to knock your socks off or anything.
So it’s a good thing that I’m married to a mechanic. When my dryer died, his construction light bulb went off over his head, and he and another chickeny/mechanic friend have plans to convert the motor and drum of my old washer into a chicken plucker. It’s really a lot of work to do this many birds by hand, and using salvaged parts like that makes the project affordable. Well, more affordable. It’s still cheaper in the long run to go to the store and get your meat from people who have the economy of size going for them, but I enjoy this hobby and I enjoy producing our own food.