I was prepared for squealing. I was prepared for blood. There was no squealing. There was not that much blood. What I was not prepared for were the seizures--the intense and prolonged convulsions the pig went through. These were not minor limb twitches. These were full body convulsions that lifted the pig off the ground and smashed it down again. Its teeth clattered as its jaw hit the ground. And then it was up again, landing several yards from where it began. Pete assured me that the pig was in fact dead and it was residual neurological activity that caused the spasms. Either way it was horrific, made worse by Pete trying to stick the pig in the chest so it would bleed out. At long last it lay still on the ground bleeding silently from a large gash in the chest.
There were still two to go.
Surprisingly, the two remaining pigs did not seem at all phased by the death of their sister. They were still happily lapping up soy milk from the trough when Pete walked up and shot the second pig in the head. Unfortunately the second pig required two shots, the first having missed its walnut-sized target. It was either the second or third who actually did somersaults. It was probably no more than five minutes before all three pigs were bleeding peacefully on the ground, but it seemed to take much, much longer. We were all three very relieved that part of the day was over.
We were relieved and in some state of shock, I think. All three of us, individually and without consultation, patted the pigs and thanked them. Neil brought a bunch of sage from the house and smudged each of the pigs and each of us. It seemed the good thing to do. I'm glad he thought of it.
We could cross shoot and stick off the list. Now to get rid of the hair. When I met the pigs a few weeks earlier their coats were just starting to grow in. Now they had thick layers of bristle, plenty for several brushes, I'm sure. The book said to submerge the pigs in a tank of hot water in order to loosen the hair so it could be scraped off. We had neither a tank nor any intention of heating enough water to fill a tank so Pete and Neil devised another plan. They had set up two propane burners outside and had pots of water heating on both of them. The plan was to place a towel over once section of the pig, pour the scalding water over the towel, let it sit there for a minute--sort of like what they do at the barber's before a shave--and then remove the hair using a scraping tool. We started at the rump of the first pig. We put a towel over her rear section, poured hot water over it, let it steam for a minute, removed the towel and set about scraping, following the direction of the hair as per the instructions. Nothing happened. Not a single hair came off. The water, it seemed, was not hot enough. We tried using hotter water and it worked much better, but it was still not easy going. It was taking multiple applications of water and more than a little elbow grease to make any headway at all. We had de-haired almost half of one pig when it became obvious that we were going to have to adopt plan B. It began to look like we might spend all day heating water--possibly more, even, than would have filled a tank--so we decided to skin them instead. I thought it a shame to skin the pigs. The half of the one that we had scraped looked so good--clean and pink and smooth--but I could see that it might take all day to the three of them and we still had the scoring and ripping and bunging and all to do.
So Pete pulled the tractor into the yard and prepared the pig for hanging by cutting open its hind ankles and exposing the tendons. I fetched the stretcher from the shed and Pete worked the hooks between the bone and tendons of each ankle. He attached the stretcher to a hook hanging from a chain connected to the bucket of the tractor and then raised the bucket . The pig slid along the ground for a ways and was then hoisted into the air, hanging upside down, its hind legs splayed, its pink belly exposed, and its snout just grazing the ground.
I'm not sure how much combined experience we had in animal skinning, but I think not very much. I had none. Neil had at least seen a pig being skinned. Pete seemed to have some hunting experience and he started in as if he had some idea of what he was doing. He began at one of the hind ankles, cutting around it and down the inside of the leg. Once that leg was mostly skinned he cut a line down the belly just through the skin. Having watched Pete do the first leg, Neil got himself a knife and started in on the other. I stood back and watched for a while.
Neil was making headway on the left side and Pete was working down the back when he handed me a knife and asked if I wanted a go. I said, "sure," and went to work on the right side. Pete had already done most of it, but I skinned a portion of the belly and was particularly proud of the work I did on the front leg. When I looked up from the leg, however, I realized it had taken me as long to do that one small section as it had taken Pete to finish the back. Neil was making good progress on the left side and the first pig was just about skinned.
Together we made fast, if not particularly neat, work of skinning the pig. In our inexperience we had taken off far too much fat and had made something of a hash of it, but it was skinned, which was the main thing. It was an odd sight, actually. The pig was skinned to the neck and its skin was hanging down over its head like a woman doing a headstand and her dress coming up.
Now that it was skinned we had to take its head off. Pete cut it most of the way off with his knife, but had to pull out the Sawzall to get through the spine. And then the head and skin fell to the ground in a big, fatty, bloody pile. What was left looked more like food and much less like dead animal. (I was struck by this transformation throughout the day.)
Next we had to gut the pig--a process requiring multiple steps and great care. You can make a mess of the skinning and still have edible pig. You absolutely cannot make a mess of gutting an animal. All of it sacks and tubes and bits containing bodily fluid really need to remain intact.
The first step is to score the belly. Pete cut through the flesh until he came to what looked like a thin but strong membrane. He made a hole in the membrane with his knife, widening it with his fingers until he could get both his index and middle finger on the other side of it. He used the fingers inside the cavity of guide his knife down the membrane, cutting it but none of what is best left un-punctured. As he cut, the pig's insides began to fall out. Neil caught them and held them so Pete could finish ripping the belly.
Neil stood there holding the pig's still warm innards while Pete set about dealing with the bung. He cut around the anus careful not to puncture anything and loosened the bung on the inside. It soon turned into a two man operations so Neil passed the innards to me and went around the pig to help Pete. It was a cold day, snow lay on the ground, so it was actually a treat to hold them. They were so warm and soft--not gooey at all--and interesting to look at. There was something floral about them, or maybe they looked more like sea creatures--anemones. While I was warming my hands in the pig's entrails, Pete and Neil had managed to loosen the bung and tie it off with the yellow twine. Pete came back around to the belly side of the pig and began to loosen the line and pull it away from the lining of the cavity. We let the entrails fall freely now and worked farther up the pig. Pete came to another membrane and cut it out revealing the lungs. We were all struck by how perfectly clean the inside of the pig was. Pristine walls, white and smooth. Pete had some trouble cutting what was left of the esophagus, but after a little work a large pile of offal lay on the ground. Neil hauled it off and put it in the heap with the skin and the head.