Bacon Update: Part 3: The Barter Economy

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.

“Huh?”

“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.”

“Um…”

“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.

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About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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23 Responses to Bacon Update: Part 3: The Barter Economy

  1. What if you assigned a name to each pig and a price to each name? For example:
    Lola – $350
    1/2 of Lola – $175
    Ingrid – $400
    1/2 of Ingrid – well, you get the idea. It’s like naming sandwiches on a menu at a local cafe. Customer picks a name, thus picking a price and, viola!, they have their bacon. (Obviously I don’t raise, nor do I sell, pigs. Just trying to be helpful and think outside the proverbial box.)

    • Their names (as I was informed) are Tilly, Esmeralda, and Mr. Spanks. It could backfire? Some of the folks to whom I’m hoping to sell get a little hinky when I mention the pigs too “personally”… as if they wish to preserve the mental distance between critters and food.

  2. Albert says:

    Hmmm . . . $400 for half a pig, already butchered and wrapped? I’m going to _guess_ that’s more expensive than $4 hanging weight + butchering fees, but I’ll freely admit that the guess involves a lot of wishful thinking on my part.

    • I’m clueless trying to wrap my head around an estimate. I don’t know if $400 is too high or too low.

      I’ve been told my pigs weigh about 250 pounds; whether this is hanging weight or “walking around” weight is unclear to me. I’m guessing hanging weight because nobody weighs a pig that’s alive and kicking (pigs have an attitude you know). It’s probably a bit more because I meant to butcher them a few weeks ago and haven’t gotten it done. I’ve been led to believe 3/4 of hanging weight will wind up food. That’s a high yield compared to deer (which I’m more used to) but I supposedly have awesome pigs and they sure as heck appear more dense than any big game I’ve bagged. (Yield of livestock… what do I know about that?)

      Just spitballin’ here so don’t hammer me in the comments if I’m off. At least I know algebra, so let’s do algebra:

      If you take 250 pounds of anything and chainsaw it in half that’s 125 pounds. If you take 75% yield of the half you chainsawed that’s 93.75 pounds. Sell it for $400 and that’s $4.26 a pound. That’s $4.26 a pound to the end consumer who bought half a pig that’s a little less than 100 pounds by the time it’s in the freezer.

      Before anyone cooks bacon the butcher gets his cut (see what I did there with words… I’m a friggin’ genius.) But I have no idea where that fits in. I keep wondering what the end consumer would have to pay and if you picked $400 out a hat that would mean four and a quarter a pound. What does pork in a supermarket (which is crap comparitively) cost?

      Again, I’m not sure what the market rate happens to be. Can you guess I eat a lot of deer? Deer are hard work but don’t come with price tags. Mrs. Curmudgeon handles most of the food that I haven’t hunted. (She also keeps me out of the deli section lest I nuke our budget.) So four and a quarter for farm fresh pork sitting in your freezer doesn’t seem too bad but I haven’t bought a pork chop in a grocery store with dollars in a million years… if ever. Of course the bacon is worth way more than $4.25 but there’s going to be roasts and stuff too. Averaging $4.25 seems reasonable for the overall product.

      Now I’m hungry.

      A.C.

      P.S. I’ll extend my Curmudgeonly delivery offer. I’ll deliver butchered pork anywhere in the continental US for $4.25 a pound plus a mere $1759.34 delivery fee. Minimum order of 2 pigs. (At least one is mine mine mine!) If you ask nice I’ll throw in 50 rounds of .22 ammo and a signed photo of my dog.

      • Albert says:

        I guess one question is, how much have you spent on feed getting Solyndra and her sister (hey, if pigs have names, why not nicknames?) up to proper weight? That plus the butchering fee is the overhead – assuming, that is, that the labor to care for the pre-bacon can be written off as parenting/child-character-building.

        (Note that I’m not counting Mr. Spanks, since I’m assuming he comes out of the food budget rather than the homesteading-as-hobby/business budget.)

        I guess one option is, if you have the freezer space(or adequately cold weather), you can wait until you have the four packages of half-a-pig all butchered and wrapped up before figuring out the overhead per package. Or if Bill’s butchering fee is “per pig”, rather than “per hanging weight of pig”, you can probably calculate the overhead before you butcher.

        Then just add whatever you think the labor/transportation ought to be worth, and let customers know the total. Do remember to make a profit.

        Or, since I’m just some dude on the internet, if you can still get hold of Dudette, ask _her_ how she calculates a good price-per-hanging-weight.

      • Tim says:

        Could you not just go to a supermarket and see what they are charging? I’m not sure if people are buying back alley pork because they think it’s a bargain or they are willing to pay a premium for quality.

        On reflection, I’d probably recommend against using the phrase “back alley pork” when offering to sell your pigs.

      • Go to a store and do research? Not a bad idea. Sometimes the obvious things…

        On the other hand, folks (including me) can and do pay premium for farm pork. It’s not “back alley” it’s “better” and you can tell the difference.

      • Albert says:

        Drat. Knew I was forgetting something. Cost of transportation(if you’ve ever made trips primarily for pig feed), and however much Foxinator charged for the piglets themselves. Those six fences could stand to be paid off over time as well. (Maybe 5 percent per commercial pig per year? Are the gates good for that long? If they take longer to amortize that’s even better, of course.)

      • Albert says:

        Sorry. Didn’t mean to do that. It’s just interesting to try to identify the parameters of the equation.

        And, heck, if things go my way I’d like to be looking at getting my own homestead in maybe a decade or so. Utah has some nice forest coverage, has just about the best gun laws in the nation, and doesn’t get “the woodpiles are hidden under a meter of snow” cold. Probably a good place to look, when the time comes.

        Hmmm . . . wonder how much infrastructure I’d need to teach wee ones how to butcher their own bacon . . .

  3. Mutti says:

    How much did it cost you raise them? That’s always where I start with Beef, divide the delivery to the butcher fee, per head slaughter fee, the price per pound of the actual processing and throw in $1.00 per pound to ensure our 1/2 Beef is free. Worked out to $3.47 per pound so that’s what we charged. Easy 🙂

  4. J says:

    Hello. been lurking for awhile and thought I’d add my .02. We’ve sold pigs sporadically (when shoats are available for purchase to raise on our own)

    We sell by market weight for finished hogs. (ask the butcher what this is when you pick up)
    If the purchaser picks up from the butcher directly, than the purchaser pays US for the pig AND pays the butcher directly. We don’t usually do this with hogs, although we do it with beef, as butchering instructions are usually different, and that’s a lot more meat.

    It’s easier for us to pick up at the butcher and split the proceeds with purchaser ( usually ourselves). We pay the butcher and the purchaser pays us for pig + 1/2 butcher cost,. and whatever our delivery cost (which is nothing, they come to our shop to pick it up)

    It’s also customary for the butcher to ask what cuts you want, and the smoking directions.
    Do you want hams cured and smoked? (adds to the price) 1/2 or whole?
    How do you want packaged? (how many chops per pkg, etc)
    Do you want bacon sliced or slab? (sliced is usually customary, how many people have a meat-slicer?)
    Do you want sausage? Breakfast, Italian or German ?
    Links, Patties or loose?
    Do you want the loin or chops?
    Do you want pork steaks? Do you want them smoked?
    Do you want scrapple? Do you want the innards, scraps to make your own scrapple? (that’s NOT usually asked, I’m not sure how many people eat pig innards )

    From a 250-270lb pig you usually get @200lbs of meat. …Not worth it to buy a 1/2. Although it only takes about 6months to get a hog to butcher weight, come on. the hassle. As I said, buying shoats isn’t always easy, esp. recently with the pig virus that’s been circulating.
    (be like us and go out and buy another freezer if you don’t have space. we have 7)

  5. J says:

    Hello. been lurking for awhile and thought I’d add my .02. We’ve sold pigs sporadically (when shoats are available for purchase to raise on our own)

    We sell by market weight for finished hogs. (ask the butcher what this is when you pick up)
    If the purchaser picks up from the butcher directly, than the purchaser pays US for the pig AND pays the butcher directly. We don’t usually do this with hogs, although we do it with beef, as butchering instructions are usually different, and that’s a lot more meat.

    It’s easier for us to pick up at the butcher and split the proceeds with purchaser ( usually ourselves). We pay the butcher and the purchaser pays us for pig + 1/2 butcher cost,. and whatever our delivery cost (which is nothing, they come to our shop to pick it up)

    It’s also customary for the butcher to ask what cuts you want, and the smoking directions.
    Do you want hams cured and smoked? (adds to the price) 1/2 or whole?
    How do you want packaged? (how many chops per pkg, etc)
    Do you want bacon sliced or slab? (sliced is usually customary, how many people have a meat-slicer?)
    Do you want sausage? Breakfast, Italian or German ?
    Links, Patties or loose?
    Do you want the loin or chops?
    Do you want pork steaks? Do you want them smoked?
    Do you want scrapple? Do you want the innards, scraps to make your own scrapple? (that’s NOT usually asked, I’m not sure how many people eat pig innards )

    From a 250-270lb pig you usually get @200lbs of meat. …Not worth it to buy a 1/2. Although it only takes about 6months to get a hog to butcher weight, come on. the hassle. As I said, buying shoats isn’t always easy, esp. recently with the pig virus that’s been circulating.
    (be like us and go out and buy another freezer if you don’t have space. we have 7)

    Another thing. Once you find a butcher, I don’t know if you have one picked out or not yet, but if you find a butcher that is a good smoker of meats. HOld on to him/her tight! We’ve gotten some pretty horrible hams occasionally. Also, they should let you see their cutting room. And it should be spotless.

    • Ach! So much complexity.

      Well I’ve got one thing going for me. I’ve got a good butcher. He’s done several deer for me. The Foxinator sent several pigs there and some of the places from whom we’ve bought pigs have used this butcher. I’ve been pleased with the product every time. Only complexity is the fact that most of the pigs we’ve bought have had barter stuff thrown in to mess up the price.

      On the other hand, the guy is always busy.

      I did once go for fresh ham instead of smoked… seemed cool but smoked tasted better. I’m just sayin’.

      • J says:

        Sorry about the double post.

        >>On the other hand, the guy is always busy.
        This is always a plus. I try not to judge a place by it’s cover. We dropped off hogs once at a run down place, where his holding pen was a truck body. But his cutting room was spotless. Too bad the guy was deaf as a doorknob and not in great health. He smoked great meats. Kids debating their future should consider becoming butchers. A lost art. Rather than spending 100K becoming an underwater basket-weaving PhD.

        Barter is wonderful.

        As for the person above who mentioned using the store price. You have to remember that retailers mark up significantly because of the trucking/handling, cutting and repackaging of meat from the primary source.

        The whole point – at least to us, is that we know what goes in the animals and were treated humanely and they didn’t travel 1/2 the country to get to our dinner plates. Besides porkers are fun to raise. Unless they escape.

  6. David W. says:

    Really there are two different ways to sell your two pigs. Easiest and most smart way in my opinion is to do this. Figure up all the money you spent on all three pigs, minus any work you did to give them a home, such as the fence panels. Usually this consists of 3 things, the price of the pigs, the price of the food, and the price of the meds. Take that money and add 10%. That’s the price you will charge for both pigs together. So split it in half or quarters depending on how you plan on selling the pigs. Add in butchering and packaging price and then that will be the ball park answer you’ll give people. Say, “The pigs will cost X, and butchering will cost Y so the total will be about X+Y. If you want me to drop it off at your place it will cost X+Y+D” where D is whatever you want to charge depending on how much you want to charge. You’ll probably have to explain the difference between cost of pig and the butchering price to someone who has never dealt with animals before. This is probably going to be the “on sale” price. It’s a smart move for you because it’s probably cheaper than anyone else will sell for, and you get an entire pig in your freezer for just the price of what the butchering/packaging, or sometimes 100% free, depending on that 10% added in for misc. stuff you need.

    So, ball park prices, 150 for the pigs, 400 for food, and maybe 10-20 bucks for meds. So the two pigs will be sold, pre butchering prices, at about 313 dollars. Or about a 1.70 a pound for a 250 pound pig hanging weight. This means you get a free pig raised, plus about half the price of butchering for your pig as payment for raising the other two pigs. (I don’t include price of the fuel because it fluctuates and is hard to keep track of. You already have chickens so I imagine you get your chicken feed from the same feed store as you do your pig feed so fuel prices are something you’d already have spent either way. You can if you want to though.)

    The other way is the per pound type pricing. This… is complicated without knowing the breed and such of your pigs and what they look like. It could change from like 2-5 dollars a pound. I wouldn’t know where to tell you to start but it’s truthfully more of a profit style marketing system rather than a “Cool, I got a free pig in my freezer” system that a lot of people like. The price for per pound type pricing can be anywhere from 500 to 1100 after butchering and packaging prices for a whole pig are added in. Butchering prices can be anything from .40-.90 cents a pound plus extra for a myriad of different things, so figure around 100-250 dollars total.

    Also if you have connections with super markets and resturants you can really cut your feed cost down a bunch by just feeding them scraps or past date stuff. Like expired ice cream, they loooove that. Or baked goods that didn’t sell. I’d say avoid pork products because, well, its creepy to feed a pig other pigs, and mad pig disease might actually be real. Last thing you want is your pigs becoming sentient and craving brains. You will need real pig food too though.

    A lot of this is all from half remembered stuff from when I was a kid and my dad use to do this so take it with a grain of salt. I did google modern butchering prices just to make it easier and modern per pound prices. A big thing I would suggest for next year is look up local orchards near your house. Some of them have great prices on near end of the year apples if you pig them up yourself. One near us is 1 dollar per bucket of apples if you pick them yourself. They are usually great way to fatten pigs up the last few days/weeks before slaughter. If you have a decent cold storage room its possible to keep apples good enough to feed your pigs without them getting drunk next spring.

    Also, for next year, find buyers before hand. Keep track of the price of everything, then charge it the way I said up at the top of this post. The reason, if they ask, why they are paying extra than what their pig individually used it’s because YOU’RE the one who raised them. It might be a good idea to be up front about that then explain how your pricing differs from other places. The thing that gets most people is butchering prices, so have your butcher’s prices memorized. Overall they will be getting a great pig, for anywhere from a quarter to half off what they would pay for it from a commercial pig farmer, and a LOT off compared to what they would pay for it at the super market.

    Hope this helps, my figures might be off a bit. It is pretty late/early.

  7. Tsquared says:

    Pig on the hoof is running $1.06 per pound. A 275 lb pig will yield about 200 pounds of dressed meat. I haven’t had a pig butchered in over 20 years but the price is well worth having someone else do it for you if you haven’t done it before. Don’t forget to get plenty of sausage from the cuts that you don’t normally eat.

    • $1.06 a pound for a pig is a pretty good deal! For that price I ought to sit on my ass and let someone else raise one. I can’t imagine buying a 275 pound pig for $300 around here. Butchering apparently costs about $150-$200 a pig. I agree that it’s worth it to let a guy with tools, hoists, a walk in freezer, and a clean workspace do it. He’ll do in a couple hours what would kill my weekend. Plus he does a great job with the smoking and that’s an art.

  8. Mike says:

    From the local “hobby” farms around here in the PNW we pay $3.50 per pound hanging weight to the farmer and then processing fees to the butcher. From the bigger organic farms you will pay $4.00 per pound hanging weight. They sell at $6.50 a pound if bought by the piece (ie pork chops, a ham etc) at the farmers market or local farm store. For around here hanging weight is gutted and no head. I also think hoofs are removed for hanging weight. The packaged product is around 75% of the hanging weight as well. So about 150 lbs in the freezer. I normally split a pig and a half beef with another family each year. Beef is $2.25 per pound from the small guys and $3 to $4 from the larger farms. Five or so years ago beef and pork was reversed in prices (although beef topped out about $3 then).

    Since you want a single price and remove having to deal with the butcher I would say $850 for a whole pig (200 lb hanging weight that’s an avg for my last two rounded to an easy number). I get to that price as follows (again based on my local fees):

    $3.50 per pound hanging = $700.00
    $50.00 flat slaughter fee = $50.00 *
    $0.50 per pound special processing (sausage, smoking bacon/ ham) 50 lbs = $25.00 *
    $0.35 per pound cut and wrap 150 lbs = $52.50 *
    $22.50 for delivery = $22.50
    Total $850.00

    * Items paid to butcher

    Normally I pay the 700 to the farmer and the rest (minus delivery) to the butcher directly and I deal with the butcher (but Biils place is only open on the third blue moon when the wind is from the south issues). But that is what you want to try to avoid for your customer.

    For tsquared that can get pork at $1.06 a pound let me know where that is. It might be worth the gas money to get some there.

    Mike

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