Saturday, February 1, 2014

For the Love of Bacon

Ok, A bit of explanation is in order. A few weeks ago I made the decision to chronicle my cabin build. But I also knew I was out of practice writing for anything but work. About that time, I came across a call for submissions to a new magazine being published specifically toward "Rural Punks"
Now, I've been around Boot Stompers since I was about 8-years-old. So I contacted the editor, and wrote this piece for submission.

In return I got my first rejection letter, that wasn't from a romantic interest, in about 15 years!
She said my writing style was "Too Belligerent..."

How Awesome is that?!

I'm too Belligerent for a Punk Magazine!

So, With that in mind, here is everything I can tell you about Butchering your first hog.

I was at the big commercial farm store in town the other day and the cashier was trying to be sociable. She made some comment about this week's cold snap. I politely told her that though I detest any weather that prevents swimming, this batch of Tennessee weather was well timed, as I had a hog to butcher this weekend.
  “You're going to kill and butcher it yourself?” she said with an obvious tone of both surprise and disdain.
  “I could never do that!” she said. “I cry if I run over a squirrel.”
  “I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess, then, that you’ve never raised a fucking pig,” I said matter-of-factly.
  With shock in her voice, she said, “No, no I haven’t.”
  “No, of course not, because if you had, you’d understand why putting a bullet in that bastard’s head is going to be the highlight of my month.”
  I’m pretty sure once I left she reported me to the ASPCA...

Not a pet. Not a Friend. 

  But seriously, pigs are not cute. Though this one does look like a guy I use to know. Pigs are contemptible, obnoxious, invasive, destructive eating machines. They are not your friend. Don’t believe me? Get around one with the smell of blood on you (any smell of blood, ladies) or try feeding one by hand.
  What pigs are, though, is living bacon. And that’s why we’re here today.
  So, as my granddaddy use to say, “Let's get on with this hog killin’, I got shit to do...”

  Now, to start with, I’m no expert. I don’t have a degree in swine anatomy with a culinary minor. And to be honest, this is my first time dropping and parting out one of these big bastards. I have processed probably 100 deer in my life though, and God knows what else that walks, crawls, swims or flies.
  I’ve read a lot, talked to some old guys (and one Yankee chick with a bunch of big dogs) and I’m confident I’ve got this. And if I don’t, at least you have a front-row seat when I screw up!

  Maybe you’re thinking, “Why the Hell would I want to go through all this for bacon?” To which I say, “It’s friggin’ bacon!” And you could, even if you raise your own hog, send it out to be butchered, but a big part of homesteading is being frugal and self-sufficient; having someone else do your dirty work is neither.

  Co-staring in today’s show is my assistant and ex-wife E. She’s never done anything like this before, but she’s probably the one person on the planet more ready and eager to pack Francis (give yourself a point if you get that reference) off to freezer camp than I am! By a draw of straws we decided I’ll be doing the shooting and she’ll be doing the stabbing.

Maybe unconventional, but effective, the Stiletto was an Easter present from my grandfather the year I turned 13. Twenty-nine years later I found a practical use for a 5.5” “pig sticker.”

  Why both? Do we really hate the pig that bad? We do. But there are practical reasons too.
  Unlike a deer, a pig has to be bled thoroughly and quickly. And since it’s hard to get the pig in a position where it’s still enough to simply cut and bleed it out, he needs to be stunned. This can be done with a sledgehammer if you have the pig in a tight enough space to ensure a good clean hit on the first try. But if you don’t, then a quick headshot is preferable.
  Mentally draw an X between the top of the ears and the eyes, and be sure you shoot toward the back feet instead of straight down. If you shoot down, you may put the bullet in his sinuses and really piss him off rather than kill him.

  If done right, the pig will effectively be dead, but his heart won’t know it for about three minutes, giving you time to open him up and bleed him out.
  Most old-timers do this with a .22, but I wanted to make sure I had some margin of error and decided to go with a bigger caliber. That, and I’m a fan of using the biggest tool possible for any job! So, the .357 Mag it is.

  This all went well. Francis went down. E jumped on him, plunged and pulled, and jumped back just in time for Francis’s last dance. And it was a beauty! He jerked, he flopped, he stood up and bucked like a bronco, threw himself ass over teakettle down the hill for about a minute. I couldn’t help but hum a few bars of “Devil's Dance Floor.
  Before you start tearing up, it was all nerves. He was dead as he was ever gonna be a millisecond after his little pig brain was going, “What’s that in his ha...”

  Once he was down and still, we opened him up like any other critter, from stem to stern, being extra careful not to cut any of the guts open.
  Note: make sure you look up how to and be sure you free and tie off the large intestine where it exits the pig.
  That’s not usually a necessity with deer. They poop raisinets. But it’s a pretty important step when working on a pig. Ask me how I know.

My little band of Akita/Border Collie pups are trying to figure out what to do with their first fresh pig ear. It worked well to keep them from getting under foot while we were working.

I think we have a future Pig Hunter in the pack!
This is Sausage (You'll have to ask Z), and she ain't scared of nuthin'!

  With the guts free you can pick out the bits you want. You want the fat! Both kinds, the leaf fat and the caul. Leaf fat is more solid and flaky; caul is more gelatinous, kinda spider-webby. I personally refuse to eat filtering organs, but I decided to keep the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart to make dog treats, and just maybe to see if I can get any of the stoners I know to eat liver brownies.

  Now you have to decide if you want to dip or skin. We chose to skin. So we hung Francis on a gambrel attached to a block and tackle in the shade of the carport. You can also skin a pig on the ground or a worktable, but I'm sticking with what I know.

Would you look at the cut E made?! 

  Once he was hung, we split the sternum and the hip and halfway down the length of the spine with a reciprocating saw to promote drainage and cooling. Then I cut off the jowls (many argue that jowls make the best bacon) and finally removed the head. Then we stuffed him with two bags of ice and went in to render the leaf fat and caul.

E finishing up the skinning after Francis had a little time to cool off.

  To render the lard from the fat, separate the two kinds of fat and wash them in cold water. Leaf fat makes a higher grade lard that is better for baking. Caul is more for pan frying (once you’re out of everything else), wrapping pate and soap making.
  To render lard, put several ounces of water in a heavy pot, Dutch oven or frying pan. Once it is just above simmering, cut or pull the fat into about one-inch pieces or smaller, and add to the water. As you stir occasionally, the fat will render, the water will evaporate and the bits will turn into golden brown cracklins. Once you have cracklins, strain the lard through cheesecloth into a heat-safe bowl.

A pot full of rendering lard looks surprisingly like a pot of chicken and dumplings. Be sure to keep the temperature just warm enough to melt the fat and evaporate the water. If it’s too hot you can scald the lard.

  Cracklins go great in cornbread!
  Mmm, cornbread...

  Once the lard is cool enough, put it in freezer-safe lidded cups and toss it in the cooler. It’ll keep a few weeks in the fridge or ’til you need it if frozen.

  Now grab a beer, order a pizza, put in a flick and come back tomorrow when we part this puppy out, start our curing and make a big plate of fresh chops!

Man, Time Gets away don't it?

I'm Baaaack!

I knew it had been a while, but I really didn't realize how long I'd left this place unattended until just now!
It's a wonder Squatters haven't over-run the place.
Just a quick catch up session:

I changed jobs so I'm home every day now! I got me a fancy state-job with regular hours. Probably the first one I ever had honestly.

I got rid of six of the gang of 8 (Keep reading and you'll know why it went from 9 to 8). So we just have Brownie and Sugar left. Not sure if I told you about Sugar. She was bottle raised by a buddy who passed away not long after she was weened and she doesn't know she's a goat. So don't mention it around her.


Ash is gone. I got a new pup, Aoife (E-Fa) and he thought it would be cool to show her how to run goats... He was wrong.
But Aoife sure got the lesson when she watched me re-home him! That was almost a year ago and she still won't go in the goat pen.

R.I.P Ash. 
Welcome Aoife.

I have Turkeys! I bought four poults at the chicken sale last fall and three of them made it. But it looks like I have two toms, so somebody's going to freezer camp soon!

And I'm about to start a cabin. Hopefully next week I'll be ordering a 12x20 shell from a local Mennonite builder and spending the Spring and Summer finishing it out. I plan to chronicle that here, hopefully with some short videos too, so check back!

But the big Winter project was the pig.
I bought Francis about mid-August and about 50lbs.

He spent the fall eating acorns, corn, and anything else he could find, including one of the neighbors shrubs. Until he pretty much looked like this every evening at feeding time.

So, last weekend we moved him to a lovely new 5.5 cu.ft. air conditioned apartment in the garage.

I've had a few other projects along the way I'll get around to posting too. But for now the biggie is the story Francis' undoing. Which I'll post next.

Monday, October 22, 2012

They're ugly and they know it!

Almost time to go back to work for me.
I didn't get as much done as I wanted to this weekend, I was kinda under the weather.
I did worm the goats, butcher the rabbits, and prep for the fall garden before putting out turnips and kale a bit ago.
I actually put out a good bit of both hoping that it'll take in a semi-wild setting to be used as extra goat forage once it turns cold. Still gotta get the cabbage and fall beans put out.
My six bunnies yielded about 14lbs of meat including 2 full carcasses, three parted ones, almost 2lbs to be used as sausage and the rest cut and boiled with the sweets for stock. Those bits and about half the stock were then deboned to use for dumplin's later. the rest is frozen for using to cook rice or whatever.
I made a very good quiche and think I finally figured out the secret to yorkshire pudding, by mistake.
Lastly, I tried really hard to get a decent pic of the new peeps. But I think I've told them how ugly they are so much they have a complex.

Every time I go by the coop I make sure I say hi and tell them how ugly they are, so when I took the camera out they all hit behind their two moms.

Out of five of the ugly little buggers, only one will grow up to be considered "normal" the rest are gonna be dustmops, like their daddy, poor bastards. Look at the fuzzy little feet this poor soul.

But I do have to admit I can't wait to see which   momma they wind up being colored like.

It took an hour, but I did it!
First, let me say I got busy this summer and lost track of time, which explains why I haven't posted in months.
But then, because it had been so long, I forgot all of my login information, my gmail account etc.
So its been a nightmare trying to get back into this account.
But I did it!
But I also have to go get ready for work so I don't have time to actually post what I wanted to post.
But I'm off Wednesday, and now that I know I can get back in, I should be able to post then!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The new "Mother Earth" is here! The new "Mother Earth" is here!

That's right boys and girls, yesterday when I got home from work was that special time that rolls around every other month when I check the mail that's piled on the kitchen table, run through the house like The Jerk, and promptly lock myself in the "reading room" for long enough to scan each page and decide what I want to read first.

Granted, I don't usually get around to reading anything longer than a few paragraphs til the next day, but since it only happens every other month, and there's only about an hour's worth of material in each issue, I have to spread the enjoyment out over a few days.

Ive learned that if I gorge myself by reading cover to cover the first day, within a week or so I'm frantically flipping pages hoping I missed something, and by the end of the month I'm in a down-mouthed funk and kicking at the dog on my way to the mailbox.

So anyway, like I said before. I've always liked this magazine, though since the new owners took over it has gotten a little bullish with its political agenda. And it doesnt seem to have as many "backwoods-type" articles as it once did.
The home made crossbow and black powder squirrell hunting were among my favorites back in the day.

I still glean some handy information from each issue.

I also get several "D'oh! What the Hell is that?" moments.
Now, I realize that more and more people who live in urban and suburban areas are trying to be more self sufficient. And I truly do applaud that.
I also realize that when neighbors can wave to one another through the window as the rinse their supper dishes, or loan each other certain paper products without having to get off the throne, that aesthetics come into play more than they do here in North Reagan.

But I still have to ask who, from what planet, would figure paying $400-$800 for a 3 to 10-chicken coop, made of plastic, is at all in line with the ideals that founded "Mother Earth News" or homesteading in general?!

I'm not going to show you this thing, because if I link to it, one of you Rockafeller chicken adficiados may buy one and I couldn't have that on my conscience. And besides, if you want to pay $400 for a chicken coop, just let me know and I'll tell you where to send your check, for a one-of-a-kind, earth-friendly, delivered to your door in 4-6 weeks, coop that I guarantee with be nothing like anything your neighbor has!

I bet the folks who buy that thing are the same ones who told me "it's not any cheaper to raise chickens than it is to buy eggs..."
I guess it wouldn't be if you paid $75 sq.ft. For your coop!
I've got 10 chickens, 3 more hatched while I was gone, in a coop that cost me about $75 total.
And the chickens were free.
So for about a buck-seventy-five in scratch a week I average 14-20 eggs a week.
Nope. Not a bit cheaper than $2.25 a dozen from the store.

But back to my original rant...
I will say I rather admire the design and engineering that went into this thing, almost as much as I admire the company for actually convincing anyone trying to lead a more self-sufficient and frugal lifestyle to buy one. But come on! For that amount of money it should automatically feed, water, delouse, and collect the eggs of 10 chickens. And for another $50 it should move itself to a new spot in the yard every other day.

Y'all tell me, if you had $400-$500 hating around, would it even cross your mind to spend it on a coop for 10 chickens or less?
I know it wouldn't mine, even if I had it, which I don't.
And even if I did, and it did. I'm pretty sure the brain damaged dog would bite me over it, seein' as his ass sleeps in a an old Round Up barrel...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Well, its back to work tomorrow. And I'm still not adept at posting from my phone. So before I go here's a few more of the gang of nine on walk about.

Lillie on the left, Ginger on the right.

She's called Lillie cause she looks like a jersey cow. Which made me think of The Jersey Lillie.
Which seemed better than saying she was named after a cow...

That's momma goat in the back and Boy in the front.
He's not going to be here long, so we didn't name him.

Momma again. 
Add caption

Him and 7 girls. He'll thinking he's in goat heaven for a little bit... then he will be. 
Sugar is getting bigger! Cause she eats constantly!

Momma wants me to come on, its time to get the bucket of sweet feed for desert.

Queen. She's still not sure she likes me.

Brownie off by herself being camera shy.

Finally Pigpen and the girls
Hawk, Buffy and Stripe
Stripe went Broody a few weeks back. And I think Hawk either caught it or just got jealous because they have been taking turns on the eggs. And we have four little chicks hopping around the coop. One is gonna be a dust mop just like it's daddy! Pics soon.

I Do Not Hate Cats

Ok, some people may have gotten the idea that I don't like cats, from my post the other day.

The truth is, with a few exceptions, they are probably my favorite animals out of the bunch. 
There's just never enough meat on them to share.

Really though, I am probably the most pro-... feline (that's the word I was gonna use) person you will ever find. The bigger the better! I wish I had the money and facilities to run a big cat rescue (for BIG cats not lots of little ones).

I don't remember ever not having a cat at least nearby. They have all had very interesting and unique personalities. And I thought I'd tell you about a few of them.

First, there was Tom. He was my grandmother's mouser when I was a baby. Tom weighed about 15 pounds and to say he was ill tempered is like saying Charles Mansion has a few socialization issues.
Tom also had a hole in his throat where something had attacked him as a kitten (a opossum we think) the hole never healed and because of it he couldn't meow properly. Instead he made a funny chirping noise. We also had to keep newspaper down around his bowl because whenever he ate or drank, it would drip from the hole. I saw Tom leave everyone who ever tried to pet him bloody. Except me. For some reason he liked me. I could even pet him while he ate. He'd growl... or at least try to, but he'd put up with it. I guess because even back then I was adorable. Tom was one of those cats of legend, he never really died. He just wasn't there any more after a while. I think he's still stalking those woods somewhere.

Later on, we got a cat from a friend named Ezra. We called her Easy B, maybe that's a Southern thing. 
But she wasn't quite right. Maybe it was because the previous owner thought it was funny to blow shotguns in her ear (it was the 70's.) Now if you don't know what that is, please don't go looking it up! I get blamed for corrupting too many people as it is. But whatever the reason, Easy was a little "off," but still a good cat. She just laid around a lot. and one day, after her first batch of kittens were grown, she climbed up the big oak tree by the front porch and never came down. I think she much have come down at night for water. Mom always left a bowl at the base of the tree for her. But I never saw her on the ground for, I know, two years.

Now, those kittens she had... I made a mistake with them, but I learned a valuable lesson.
If you ever want a real, honest to God, rodent eradication machine I can tell you how to do it. I mean the kind of barn cat that will take down anything smaller than a mule, and can back a St. Bernard on a corner and make it wet itself and walk away grinning!
You see, it was a matter of timing. Those cats were just getting weened about deer season. So the first solid food they ate was scraps from processing a deer. And that was all they ate for the first month or so. And some say it ruined them. Personally I thought it perfected them! You couldn't touch them and they wouldn't eat "store bought food" but they stayed close by. Of course after a while I'd look up in the sky and see song birds fly in a wide arc to avoid even flying over our property. But I'm telling you those cats were better than Ninja Guard Dogs.

After that came Garfield I and Garfield II

Garfield I wasn't particularly remarkable. But I think he was gay. and he use to try to catch the little ship that ran across the top of the screen when we played Space Invaders.

Garfield II was a bit more remarkable.
He grew up with my wolf pup, Harley(more on him later, I'm sure). and they acted like typical brothers, which was entertaining enough. But then it got better. For a while we had a problem with dead Opossums in the yard. like every week. This confused me, because I knew harley couldn't climb trees and Garfield wasn't big enough to kill one and drag if the 200 yards or so from the edge of the woods to the yard.
Finally one night I was up watching TV and heard Harley tearing ass down the hill. So I got up to see what was going on.
I saw Harley circling a tree like a coon dog, and G2 jogging down the hill toward him.
When he got there G2 went straight up the tree and after a good bit of commotion and limb rattling I saw a opossum hit the ground running. Well, lumbering, maybe even limping... doesn't matter, he wasn't going to outrun a dog that weighed 85 pounds and was mostly leg. He was done for. In fact, he was done before G2 was even back on the ground. Then they high-fived one another and Harley brought the nasty critter back to the yard and they batted it around like a soccer ball for about 30 minutes before deciding to go find a new game.

But probably my all-time favorite cat wasn't even one of mine. 
LeShot was not only the baddest cat, but the baddest animal I have ever known. We called him Shots for short and he belonged to the Thayer family who lived next door to my grandparents. Shots was all boy cat. Hell he was the He-Man of cats. A proverbial feline Chuck Norris! By the time he was an adult his ears had been bitten and clawed down to about 3/8" from the top of his head, and at point he came home with an eye pulled out of socket and dangling on his cheek. I think that was the day he kicked the Honey Badger's ass.

Shots also killed one of these!

At the end of the road, one of the other neighbors had a Grand Torino, it looked just like the Starsky and Hutch Car and he drove it like he was auditioning to be a driver for the show. Shots didn't like that, cause there were kids around. So he would regularly head up the hill about 5 minutes before Mr. Kozart would come power-sliding the turn onto our road and wait in the middle of the road. And with 3,500 pounds of growling, angry, dust throwing red and white furry barreling down on him, he'd sit calmly licking one paw, claws out and gleaning in the afternoon sun, and his one eye glaring at the grill of that car... about the third time this happened, the Torino wound up in the ditch and Mr. Kozart bought a big old Ford Bronco that he drove a lot slower.
But by far the most amazing thing I ever saw Shots do, and thank God there was a witness, was one day when and friend and I were squirrel hunting. Now, I've had a few cats who would follow me hunting or walking through the woods, and Shots was one of them. But this day I shot a squirrel on the run and winged it. It jumped into a gully full of kudzu and vanished.
Now it was mid September and the kudzu was still going full-tilt-boogey. Dave and I looked at each other and decided that neither of us was wading off in that snake and spider infested weed pile to get that squirrel and started walking a bit further down the trail. Several yards later we stopped again looking for movement in the trees and I felt something hit my foot. I looked down to see Shots holding that squirrel, still barely alive, by the neck at my feet.
Man I miss that cat.

And while we're on the subject I came home the other night to four new kittens courtesy of Jo-Jo and Momma cat. Who wants one? 

Who wants one? They make great doggie snax, targets, fish bait.
Hell, they're even good in stews and casseroles.