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Podcast 260 - Homestead Butchering Q&A

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Credit: Mike Ewing

In this podcast, Paul interviews Brandon Sheard the Farmstead Meatsmith on homestead butchering, taking his questions from those posted by readers in this thread. The interview is conducted over Skype, leading to some audio problems at Brandon's end unfortunately.

Paul starts by thanking Brandon for allowing him to publish Brandon's videos on his YouTube channel and mentions Brandon's ongoing Kickstarter to fund a butcher shop/classroom/film studio and slaughter truck. Paul points out that this thread also contains a link to Brandon's Kickstarter plus all his videos and some cool pics

Here is a list of the questions that were asked and answered in the podcast. It serves as a good summary of what the podcast covers.

Question From Chad Ellis:
In the videos there were shots that showed hams hanging in the home. It also talked about the butcher shop having to buy refrigerators. I would like to hear about the non-refridgerated shelf life of the products that were made in the videos. Especially things like bacon and ham.

Questions from Justin Koenig:
I was curious about the curing part. Much of the old timers around here( near Memphis, TN) say you couldn't do it they way they did because it doesn't get as cold or stay cold long enough. So, how does the traditional way work with warmer weather? They also told me to be sure and put enough salt around everything especially the joints. Does that sound about right?

I have one more question regarding boars taint, I was under the impression that if you butcher a boar that has been away long enough from sows in heat, that he will not have that problem, but everyone around here says you gotta castrate them but if you don't to be sure to cut the balls first right after the kill. Ask Brandon if cutting the testicles first will or does help to eliminate the taint.

Question from Kerry Rogers:
I just bought a side of a steer from an individual I know here in Texas. I'm comfortable that it was a well raised, only-chem-free-pasture-fed animal. The farmer had it custom processed at a small processor that does that kind of work, and I stayed up til 3am the night before, googling to try to learn how to complete the very vaguely worded cutting form, never having done this sort of thing. About 6 weeks later, the farmer brought many boxes of frozen packages to my house. So far I'm happy with the meat. It tastes "clean" compared to "grass-fed" grocery store beef. I'd like to hear Brandon's thoughts about this kind of processor. I met the farmer, but not the processor. Did they likely do anything unseemly there ? Should I have met them? I don't even know how the meat was aged. Did they add chemistry? I guess the main thing I want to know is: What typically goes on in these small comercial operations, and how should I research and/or vet the processor next time?

Question from Cory Berkey:
I am very interested in more in depth details on the curing process. Especially when it's warmer weather. Also, what would be the best route to start a similar business to what Brandon and his family have done? I have self taught myself how to kill and butcher my own pigs. My last pig had the best bleeding thanks to his videos. I'm about to do my last large black. I would love to purchase the kickstarter that flys him out so I could learn from him but it would be 2 years til I'm at that point in life. Would he do consulting on how to start you own meatsmith?

Question from Dave Hartman:
I have really small pot bellied pigs that weigh around 60 lbs at about a year old. Brandon, Have you ever processed such small pigs? Can you describe in what ways would you get the best cuts on this type of hog. I understand there will be no bacon cuts. I have wondered if just cooking the whole hog pit style would be the best option?? I will be raising many of these per year and would like to try some traditional curing but is this possible with such small pigs? I raise these small type hogs because they are very easy on my small permstead and they forage on grasses and dandelions. I would love to hear any suggestions you may have. Thank you for all you do. Are you interested in doing any workshops in central Montana?

Questions from Jacob Wustner:
Has Brandon ever experimented with using only honey in the curing processes and eliminated the use of cane sugar?

For using brine or salt for washing his cutting boards and other wooden surfaces, does he soak the wood in brine, just use it as a rinse, or does he use a straight up salt-scrub when washing these items? I am really interested in this idea of promoting the good bacteria on your butcher tools, so any more info on that would be awesome.

Questions from Steven Bublitz:
What was the process through which you learned this amazing skill and became able to execute it (no pun intended) with such beauty and grace?

How do you suggest a person start learning about meatsmithing? Do you have book or other resource recommendations?

Have you had any regulatory pressures from the "department of making you sad"? How did you circumvent or resolve those issues?

Where do you get your knives and what do you do to maintain them yourself? How'd you learn that skill?

Does your meatsmithing go beyond hogs? Do you also butcher chickens, cattle, wild game, etc.? Do you have plans to make informational videos on that, too (fyi, I'd be willing to shell out a little bit of dough for videos as high of quality as "Anatomy of Thrift")?

On the more metaphysical side of things, have you ever had difficulty in killing an animal? Did you have a period of adjustment to taking an animal's life, or did you naturally "understand" the relationship between death/life/animal/human?

Towards the end of the podcast Brandon mentions of, which sells a DVD on sharpening that he highly recommends.

Paul wrapped up by mentioning that he and Brandon have discussed Brandon going to Montana to do a workshop. If this happens, it is likely to sell out fast, so move quickly when the announcement comes. Brandon commented that any workshop will be a very hands-on since he thinks that is the only way to learn this skill. People should sign up for Paul's daily-ish email if they want to know when the workshop will be.

Relevant Links

Podcast 260 - Homestead Butchering Q&A

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Posts: 13
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Ahhhhhh!!! ste-PH-en!!! (Still pronounced "steven", but the last name is "boo" (like a ghost) and "-blitz" (like a linebacker). Imagine a nice german umlaut over the "u"...)

Also, thanks for using my questions, Paul! Very much looking forward to listening to this one.
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Location: zone 6b
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I'm a huge fan of Brandon Sheard, but I disagree with him on much of what he says about pot belly pigs. They are *very* lean when raised on pasture, no 3 inches of back-fat unless it's a rescue pet! This goes along with what Wind Ridge Farm says about pasture-raised PBP's - the boars are very lean on pasture, but the females will put on some fat between litters, tho they quickly use it up nursing the babies, who grow phenomenally fast. I started with 2 rescues and they stayed fat for about 6 months from having been overfed before I got them. Now they look feral with dish-faces and long, lean, deep bodies. Pot belly specialist medical experts say lean is much preferable to the fat ones you see so often - they're healthier and live longer, and the lean ones on pasture they have larger, healthier litters with fewer losses, while overly fat pigs have trouble delivering live babies.

I do think, tho, that if you want fat, they put on fat faster than the leaner type pigs. But fat unhealthy pigs, IMHO give you unhealthy meat - for the best meat feed the pigs the way you know you should eat - plenty of fresh green vegetables and only whole grain starches.

They don't stop growing muscle after 6 months and then just grow fat - in fact, their bodies grow for 3 years, tho the fastest growth will be the first 6-9 months.

I'll post back about the boar taint in PBP's, since I've got one to butcher when the weather cools off! I can certainly taste it if it's there!

Small pigs on the homestead are awesome, tho and he's right, every farm should have a few.

As for curing the whole pig, that sounds like a very good idea. Yum!
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Here are the notes I took during this podcast. Thank you to Brandon and Paul and anyone else who helped bring it to fruition.

Pigs are historically harvested the first cold snap of the year (end of November), which (hopefully) is at least as cold as a refrigerator outside.

Free water is the biggest culprit in the spoilage of meat. Salt removes water. Ambient humidity will hold water in the meat.

Dryness in the air is a huge advantage. Humid areas rely heavily upon smoking. A drafty smokehouse using wood fire to create smoke will absorb all the moisture in the air and puts off plumes of smoke which inhibits mold. Even in insane humidity, people have been processing pigs without the aid of refrigeration for a very long time. Smokehouses and salt are the key.

One person should be able to live off of one properly processed pig for three years.

Ruminants (perhaps because they eat only grasses) will keep fresh for a very long time unless it is very humid. In dry climates their flesh will often simply dry and turn into something akin to jerky.

Pigs have a more varied diet, they eat a lot of dirt, and because of the quality of their fat, their fresh flesh can be more prone to spoilage, which is why you don’t dry age pork (dry aging of pork needs to be aided by salt to pull out water).

A fresh pork chop from a healthy animal will keep in most refrigerators for about a week (perhaps 9 or 10 days). Do not put in bag or shrink wrap. Air flow is conducive to freshness - let it dry out. Perhaps put a small kitchen towel over the flesh and drain the plate regularly (again, available, or free or puddled water, is the leading culprit of spoilage).

If spoilage is going to occur, it is more than likely to start at the joints, which are heavily used and therefore have a lot of blood vessels which are blood/water soluble - CONCENTRATE SALT ON JOINTS.

Humidity is more important than overall temperature.

Boar taint is caused by testicles and testosterone and makes the meat inedible. Breeds that are closer to wild hogs are more likely to have taint (past 10 mos) as well as potbellies. A breed specific thing. Brandon has never had a problem with boar taint in animals that are 8-10 mos or longer - it is the animals that are older that are more affected. Most breeds are harvested so young (8-10 mos - adolescents, basically pork veal) that boar taint is not an issue. Breed and age are biggest factors.

Sexual maturity differs from breed to breed.

Brandon lets his pigs go to 8-10 mos since they are raised on pasture and he wants them to put on copious amounts of fat.

Mulefoot and Tamworth do not have boar taint issues as far as Brandon has seen.

Pigs will be impregnated the second it is biologically possible!


Conventional processors throw away 30% of the hanging carcass - unacceptable and a tragedy. Trimmings, musculature, bones, etc. 30% does NOT even include head, offal, shins and skin which are also thrown away.

Grass fed cows have a reputation as being tough and “gamey” because they are processed incorrectly [processed the same as grain fed feed lot cows].

A grass fed cow needs to be aged at least 28 days - it needs to break down because it doesn’t have grain fat, it has grass fat, which is saturated fat, which not only tastes better but is better for you. The fat in a grass fed cow is not as prolific. Fat is the key to tenderness. To compensate, because it doesn’t have grain fat, it needs to be aged for a month so that the meat can begin to break down and become tender through “a system of controlled spoilage” [it doesn’t go bad, it goes “good” - the proteins soften and become more chewable and tender]. No one on a small scale does this - they process beautiful grass fed cows as though they are the same as grain fed conventional cows, almost negating all the wonderful effects of the grass fed animal.

Brandon, nearly word for word: “Organic is a reflection of commodification rather than food production. The worst thing about organic is it allows consumers to not think about what they are purchasing and consuming. The greatest detriment to the entire food system is for consumers to not think about what they are consuming. It’s not necessarily that terrible things are being produced (it is terrible, obviously), but the only way in which [the terribleness] will be changed is that consumers demand that better products be produced instead (or produce them themselves). To demand more you need to know more, and to know more you need to do more yourself. These labels are mystifying - they are designed to make a person unable or unwilling to think about what went into the food. Organic is designed to sell things. Organic is a “market force”, it is not an agricultural force.”


Curing means removing available water from the meat.

Whole muscle curing: a slab of meat that is salted in some way, either in a wet brine or a dry rub of salt.

Examples: bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, lardo - basically chunks of meat that are salted.

The application of salt to the flesh creates an exchange through the process of osmosis. Water in the cell of the meat seeks a balance with the salt outside. An exchange occurs - salt pulls water out of the cell, thereby dissolving the salt, some of which goes back inside the cell but mostly the water is pulled out. This is basically binding water and removing water, which is done thru salting, which also makes life inhospitable to pathogens and spoilage bacteria, but very conducive to curing bacteria.

When meat is cured and dried out, jerky is the result. The pig is magical because when cured and dried, you get prosciutto. Salt is the means to the end, and if done properly, the end result of prosciutto is a rich, sweet, nutty flavor - not salty.

Salami: meat that has been ground and then salted.

Both can be eaten raw or, depending on the application can be cooked.

Consulting is not free and state specific. State Agricultural Department will farm off inspection duties to the county.

Potbelly Pigs

Potbellies should all be turned into bacon - their entire body. They are very fat and it is the best way to capitalize on their physicality. To get the most out of a potbelly or smaller pigs you cure all of it. Generally smaller pigs are lard pigs - not meat types. We’ve been turning them into pets so long that we forgot to breed them into excessively meaty, lean pigs, like the Yorkshire, so they have retained their lardishness, which is very good. They are extremely fat! A potbelly pig at a year old will be incredibly fatty - after 6-8 mos they stop putting on lean meat and start packing on the fat, all under their skin, to the point where the back fat will be 3-4 inches - so the pig will actually be more fat than lean meat in the entirety of the carcass. Fat has less water in it than flesh (flesh at around 70%), so these fatty pigs are much more conducive to curing. If you have fed them well, and they’ve been able to graze on pasture, they will have a higher percentage of saturated fat [if fed exclusively on corn and soy they will have lots of unsaturated fat, that is ok, but roast them whole]. Saturated fat has even less water than unsaturated fat and will cure very well.

Back in the day these pigs were not harvested for their fresh flesh (pork chops & spare ribs) - they were cured - every single ounce of them was cured so that people would not die during the wintertime [and also to eat extremely delicious food].

William Cobbet - “a pig is too lean if he is able to walk for 200 yards - lean bacon is totally useless for the working man and woman.”

His prescription for them was solid fat bacon - a belly that is 3-4 inches fat.


Jane Grigson: Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery

River Cottage Series

Knives: always buy used. High carbon steel - will have a patina on it, maybe completely covered in rust. Find stained, dirty knives at antique stores.

Knife sharpening is an art that takes years to master., Knife sharpening DVD
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