November 16, 2013

The humble Farmer: Inside the pen or out, pigs present prodigious predicament

Moving a hog calls for wine and a stout rope; butchering one demands common sense and a sharp knife.

By Robert Skoglund

This morning, I was once again challenged to write something that a sophisticated readership would find informative without being morosely didactic.

Still too uncomfortable from a lame hip to begin writing, I had been writhing in my chair, wondering if I could render my neighbor’s recent pig butchering operation into printable copy without garnering thunderbolts of retribution.

Realizing that putting a 300-pound pig friend in the freezer for the first time is something one should not attempt alone, my neighbor called in several of his deer-hunting buddies to stand by on a consultation basis.

One self-proclaimed authority on pig processing said that the pig had four legs and hooves like a deer, so you obviously had to skin the pig. So they skinned the pig, taking off most of the pork in the process. It took quite a while because there were many high authorities there who each had a different opinion on how to do it.

As of today, the word on the street is that it was a terrible operation. But it did go to show that most any dubber who is loud enough and persistent enough can pass himself off as an authority on anything.

My brother Jim probably knows more about the practically lost art of back-room pig processing than anyone because he learned by watching Herman, who was, among other things, a knowledgeable butcher.

But back in the days before he became proficient, Jim had two pigs hanging up in the barn and he didn’t know what to do with them. I think they’d got through the scalding stage or whatever it is they do to remove the bristles, and the pig friends needed nothing more than professional surgery and small paper wrappers.

But alas, at the appointed hour Herman had a wife who was in a family way, or about to find herself in that condition, and it demanded Herman’s full attention.

Luckily, my brother had never dressed out a deer, and, thinking that he could cut up a pig as well as the next, took knife in one hand and printed instructions in the other and proceeded to “insert blade under the third clavicle and gently pull.” In so doing, he almost cut off his thumb.

Quickly re-evaluating the process, he said to himself, “Why do I need this foolish instruction book to tell me how to cut up this pig? This is my pig and I can cut it up any way I want.”

Years later, this information came in handy at town meetings when someone who had recently moved in from away would stand and very correctly point out, “According to Robert’s Rules of Order, we have to vote on the original amendment to the proposal before voting on the proposal.”

At which time, our moderator would puzzle the newcomer by replying, “That is all very well and good, but we all seem to agree that common sense takes precedence here: This is our pig and we can cut it up any way we want.”

I seem to recall that brother Jim once had pigs named Pork-K and Pork-Qua. It was my understanding that they had been named after two of Napoleon’s generals. Pork-K and Pork-Qua spent a happy summer rooting about in their pen down the hill not far from the big, red cow barn.

But late one brisk November afternoon I made the mistake of dropping in only to learn that heavy snow was on the way. Brother Jim and I were both dressed to the nines, as we each had appointments within the hour, and yet Pork-K and Pork-Qua now had to be moved up to a stall in the roomy cow barn where they could live in comfort. After the snow, there would be no way to get down the hill to their pen.

(Continued on page 2)

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