I resolved that my pig(s), when sold for food, would be marketed entirely without drama. I would assign a value that was inclusive of butchering and processing, I would deliver (so nobody needs to deal with Bill), and I’d sell it whole or half in single transactions. Why? Because I found it a stone cold PITA to buy livestock for food and I’m convinced the uncertainty drives people out of the market. Also, greedy fellow I am, I’m convinced a pig that’s sold “easily” will fetch a better price than one that requires infiltrating the hidden farm economy.
Try this simple test: Which is more expensive “half a pig at $4 hanging weight plus butchering fees to be picked up at Bill’s place and Bill ‘aint open today” or “$400 I’ll bring it to your house”? If you can answer this, it’s because you raised your own pig. If you can’t, congratulations; you’re (statistically at least) a normal human being.
All I needed to know was what the market would bear. You’d think it was easy. It wasn’t.
I started by querying the Foxinator (my “bacon pusher” who’s sold more pigs than I). “How much are you selling your pigs for?” I asked.
“Hmmm… good question. Why not drop by my place Saturday and we’ll talk about it? Bring Mrs. Curmudgeon. I’ve got a dead tree you could take for free firewood.”
“Cool!” I love free firewood!
“Also bring your fold up chicken butchering table, and the big propane burner and pot.”
This didn’t sound good. “Why not bring my chainsaw?”
“Sure, bring a chainsaw if you want. See ya’ then.”
I’d been had. Chickens were about to be butchered and butchering is very hard work and I was going to be doing it. Shit!
It turns out Mrs. Curmudgeon already knew about this. I never get the memo.
That Saturday, in the shadow of the dead oak that I wasn’t cutting into firewood, we butchered a few dozen birds. Several other folks arrived. It was a social event. As social events go, chatting and laughing while slashing with sharp knives and tackling squawking poultry is superior to a dinner party with professors. As with all homestead activities, it was chaos, some parts were gruesome, and it was hard work but it was also fun in it’s own way. The chickens were free range. Children were dispatched to catch them; much happy screaming and a few skinned knees ensued. We borrowed a machine called a “chicken plucker”. I am not mature enough to say “chicken plucker” without giggling.
I’d brought beer. There’s no reason to be sober while butchering.
With complex jobs like this, everyone eventually finds a job at which they specialize. Mrs. Curmudgeon eviscerates with skill and minimal mess. (When I do the same thing I make a total mess.) Others (especially kids) are good at catching terrified fowl. Others get adept at operating the “plucker” which tends to bang my knuckles.
I, for no apparent reason, have settled on two duties. The easiest of the two is managing the dipping pot (prior to plucking you need to dip chickens in hot water to loosen the feathers). This is a finicky job. You have to continually mess with the burner (which keeps going out because some jackoff insisted they all be manufactured with “Nader Alarms” for safety… thus the &&^% shuts off randomly). When you dip chickens the water spills, when you add more water the pot gets too cold, too much flame and the pot gets too hot. There’s an art to keeping the water hot but not too hot.
My main duty is “Dirty Harry”. Someone has to do the killing. That’s me. I don’t know if this makes me macho and useful or a bloodthirsty psycho; suffice to say, someone’s got to do it and nobody else wants to. (I get a lot of jobs like that.) Though the Foxinator deserves credit as she helped with many of them.
One could write a book on the best way to kill a chicken. Several people probably have. I’m still learning but I can proudly say no chicken has come back to life so from that point of view it’s just a matter of improving technique. Sometimes it goes down with a minimum of fuss. Other times my grip will slip and suddenly there’s a fountain of blood and squawking and knives dropped in the dirt and I get covered in blood. It’s best if things go smooth… especially if you’re selling the bird and want the finished product to look nice. Like everything, it’s harder than it looks. And no, I don’t use an axe.
Somewhere around chicken 20, I broached the subject of pig pricing. “So about the sale price for pigs…”
“Did you know I’m rolling the chickens in with the pigs?” Foxinator enthused.
“I traded 2 1/2 pigs and 20 chickens toward the price of that.” She nodded at a nice used truck parked on the lawn. Damn! That seemed like the deal of the century.
“I threw in a lot of cash.” She added. This brought things back to reality. If you could really trade 2 1/2 pigs and 20 chickens for a whole truck, homesteaders would be rich.
“But the other pigs?” I was still looking for a price.
“Traded 1/2 pig for driveway plowing all winter.” The Foxinator beamed.
Damn! She knows how to strike a deal! “And the rest?”
“Sold at the fair. It was a part of the setup. So much a pound hanging weight. I didn’t have to pay butchering. They picked ‘em up right there. Pretty handy really.”
No shit! So I’m going to have to navigate Bill’s butchering confusion and she just signed some paperwork at the fair and walked away. I have so much to learn.
Later that week (at the coffee shop) one of the customers wandered up to me and started a conversation; “I hear you’re selling pigs?” It was like a flashback to several years ago.
“Yes I am selling pigs. Do you want one?”
“Yes! Yes I do! How much?”
“I have no idea whatsoever.”
“Look, I’ll get back to you with a number. I apologize. You don’t plow driveways do you?”
“Er, I drive a Prius.”
“Damn! Well let me write down your cell number and I’ll call you back with a price.”
“You don’t know the price?” He looked crestfallen.
“Sorry, it gets complicated.”
“Um, so you’ll call?” The guy looked hopeless. He kept looking out the window to my truck. I had the decency to drive a truck but it was filled with split oak with nary a pig in sight. Poor guy.
“Don’t worry. I have the best bacon there is. You’ll be happy. Just be patient.”
“OK.” He shuffled off looking sad and bewildered. I’ve been there too. He has my sympathies.
I still don’t know the price I’m going to charge.