Choosing a Butcher for Your Pasture Pigs
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Raising pigs on pasture not only means you have healthier pigs and have paid less to raise them, but also that you have better-quality pork. So, you’ve taken the extra steps to raise your pork differently, now what? Do you know how to butcher pigs yourself, take them to a trusted butcher, have a mobile butcher come to your farm, or just take them to any local butcher?
This answer is going to be determined by a few factors. Are you butchering the pigs just for your family? Are you going to sell packages (eighths, quarters, halves, whole)? Or are you planning on selling individual cuts of the pork?
Raising a pig for meat specifically for yourself and your family means you know everything that has happened to your pasture pigs from beginning to end. Knowing you have raised quality pork and are eating it is extremely gratifying and rewarding.
When you are planning to sell to other people, it is always best to determine what your individual state requirements are before you decide on what butcher to use. When selling in packages or individual cuts, most states require the butchering and processing to be done by a licensed butcher. Knowing your butcher personally, knowing how the facility is run, and knowing how clean the facility is kept is important information you should have before deciding on a butcher also.
The most important fact to know, as far as we are concerned, is knowing that you will be getting your own pork back from the pigs you brought in. If you are like our family, then you didn’t go through all of the time and energy to raise your pigs outside on pasture only to get the pork from “Charlie’s traditionally raised pig” down the street.
When our family first moved to Wisconsin, we had to find another butcher for our pasture pigs. After having a spectacular butcher for the past many years, we had to start over and find a quality and ethical butcher who met all of our needs. Come to find out, this isn’t an easy task. We started by word of mouth. Everyone we talked to told us three different options for local butchers. We decided to pick one and try them. Now, we raise our pigs outside year-round and they have never been confined, nor in a pen area where they are walking through piles of their own feces.
Imagine my horror when I got to the butcher and opened the door to let the two pigs out, only to have the feces of other animals falling back into my trailer. I was both appalled and horrified. I should have turned around and left at that point, but I didn’t. I felt like I was letting my pigs down in the last 30 minutes of their lives.
Our pigs had never seen anything like that before and none of our pigs have seen it since. But that wasn’t the worst part of that butcher shop. When I handed in my cut sheet to the woman at the counter, I asked for confirmation that I would be getting our own pork back. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that no, that isn’t how they do business. They take all of the pork for the day, put it into totes, and give it back to the customers based on weight. That didn’t sit well with me. I asked what I had to do to enable us to get our own pork back. They had to get the owner and the butcher out to meet with me and discuss what needed to be done.
We finally figured what needed to happen so we could get our own pork back. I had only taken two of our pigs because we wanted to try them before we took in more. Thank goodness!
By the time we had it all figured out, there was a line of 11 people behind me. I apologized for taking so long and started to leave. As I was walking away, the gentleman behind me said to the woman at the counter, “I have 10 steers today, what do I need to do to make sure I get all of my own beef back?” I smiled and walked out! We have never been back to that butcher again.
From that point on, we visited the butcher shops before taking animals and we requested to look at their facilities (both the holding pens as well as the cutting area). We only encountered one butcher shop that refused to let us look at their place. Needless to say, we never took animals to that shop.
While talking to the butcher shops, we had one shop adamantly refuse to give us back our own pork regardless of how many animals we brought in or how we had it packaged. We never went to that shop either. We found a few butcher shops that we thought would be good and when we took our pigs to them, they were good. Ultimately, we found a butcher shop that we developed a great rapport with. They cut our meat as we want, package the meat as our customers want, and make sure we get our own meat back each and every single time we take animals in. The shop is always clean and sanitized and they always put our animals into their own clean holding pen so they aren’t stressed by other animals.
We highly recommend doing a check of the butcher shop before you choose one. Talk to the owner, make sure you know how your meat will be cut and packaged. Most importantly, make sure you know that your own meat is coming back to you!
It is also important to know what inspection certifications the shop has. When selling individual cuts of pork across state lines, we are required to have it USDA inspected. Since we live near the border of Michigan, this is a common occurrence. For that reason, we had to make sure our butcher carried the USDA inspection as well as the state inspection. Checking your state requirements will let you get your pork butchered and inspected correctly for you and your farm.
Packaging is something you should also consider. There are a few options when getting your meat processed. Traditionally, freezer paper was used to wrap all of the cuts of meat, but within the past few years, vacuum wrap has become more popular. There are some benefits to both forms of wrapping, so you need to determine what will work the best for you. Vacuum wrapping is the better method for protecting the color, flavor, and overall quality of processed meat from oxygen. The problem with vacuum packing is that if the vacuum seal breaks, the meat is not protected as well. We personally get all of our cuts of meat packaged in vacuum packaging except for our hams. The hams get packaged in freezer wrap paper because the vacuum seal breaks too easily on the bigger hams.
Knowing your butcher for your pasture pigs will help ensure you are eating the same quality pork you raised!
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.