Saturday, 14 April 2018

Bringing home the bacon

Yesterday, to our abattoir and butcher again to collect two pigs we delivered at the beginning of the week. In contrast to lambs, you get an awful lot of meat from a pig. Double that if you follow the common practice of taking two at a time. This means that collection day is quite a busy and time consuming affair. It helps if you are well organised and have reserved sufficient time to the task of sorting the meat once back home.

When you take the pigs in you need to provide instructions as to how you want them cut unless you are going to do the butchering yourself. As we have done this a fair few times we have a pretty good idea of what our cutting instructions will be. Here’s our basic list which we do vary from time to time.

Rolled boned shoulders
Rolled boned legs
Loin joints
Tender loin fillet
Rack of ribs
Offal (liver, kidney, heart, cheeks

It helps if you know your way around a pig and what you want as far as joints are concerned. It’s not straight forward as if you want more of one thing, say sausages, it usually means less of something else, such as belly joints or strips. Or if you want bacon this might mean forgoing loin joints. You also need to be quite specific so that you get back what you intended. If you want offal (and we do) then this needs to be requested. Occasionally I’ll make brawn but you won’t get the head back unless you ask (get the butcher to quarter it for you). Do you want any joints for home curing? Do you want the blood back for black pudding?

Some butchers provide a packaging and labeling service but this can add quite a bit to the bill so we are happy to do this ourselves. The meat comes boxed up. What we do is identify the main joints. These are generally too large unless you have a banquet planned. We cut shoulder joints into three portions and leg joints into two or three. You still get ‘family size’ joints this way. We weigh them, bag these up and label. We use good quality freezer bags and for smaller items, like packs of bacon, a vacuum packer. We also keep a separate list which we can tick off as the joints are taken from the freezer as a simple means of stock control. 

The smaller cuts are dealt with next: tender loin fillet, loin, rack of ribs. Next we bag up chops in pairs. Then the sausages are dealt with. We bag them up in packs of four or six which are usable quantities when de-frosted. The liver of a pig is quite substantial so this is cut into meal sized portions. The whole process can take several hours. 

The meat is primarily for our own consumption but we do sell some of it. We sell a few half pigs, some joints, but mostly sausages. This is not the result of any marketing effort but just word of mouth within our social network. This helps offset some of our costs. But we also get very good feedback about the quality of the meat (which concurs with our own assessment) and as a result returning ‘customers’.


  1. Many years ago we took 2 pigs to a butchers shop in Long Melford. They had a small abattoir behind their shop. When I went to collect the meat, all jointed, they were all loose and sitting in cardboard trays. A bit of a shock and a bit of a job to fit in a fiesta.

  2. That’s the very same place we have been using for several years, Col. We like them because they are a small operation and have got to know the team there well. It was a bit overwhelming the first time we collected two butchered unlabelled jointed pigs but now we know what we’re getting. It must have been a bit of a trek from your old smallholding.

  3. It's good if you can sell one of the animals. Slaughtering can be very expensive, especially cattle.

  4. Hi Dave, we are normally able to re-coup our slaughter and butchery costs but not the full costs of production as pigs are costly to feed. But then we are doing it primarily for our own self provisioning. I can see how a cattle must be a much bigger job.