Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From Pig to Pork: The Story of Hagrid

Last month, I was contacted by a woman who was selling all her Guinea hogs.  She wanted to know if I would like to buy two adult breeding sows and an adult boar.  Since I'd already purchased two new sows and a new boar (Rosemary, Thyme, and Basil) in January, I didn't really NEED any new pigs at all.  But the woman was willing to sell hers for a bargain price, so I said okay.

When I saw the pigs for the first time I was stunned by their appearance.  All three were very obese (not an uncommon problem in Guinea hogs, since they are such easy keepers).  But beyond that, the boar and one of the sows were easily 50% larger than any of my other pigs.  I hadn't expected that!

For comparison, the photo below shows the new boar on the left, and the smaller (NORMAL sized) sow on the right:

The Guinea hog breed description states that adult Guinea hogs weigh between 150-300 lbs.  The main appeals of the breed are its small, manageable size and docile nature.  I estimated that the larger of the new sows weighed about 400 lbs. and the boar was closer to 500 lbs.

You can see by these photos how obese the boar was:

Then there was the question of temperament.  The two sows, Aponi and Asashi, were mild-mannered enough, but the boar, Hagrid, was a whole different story.  We've hauled pigs in the back of our Subaru Outback before.  They all pretty much just lay down and went to sleep until the journey was over.  By contrast, Hagrid spent the entire trip hyperventilating and trying to rip and chew his way out of the car.  He did a lot of damage and got himself so worked up, when we finally got him home and unloaded him, all he could do was stagger to the middle of the paddock and collapse, panting.  I was seriously concerned that he might have a heart attack and die right there!

After his ordeal, he just wanted to sleep for a few days.  Mindful that he had experienced severe stress, I mostly let him alone to rest, but went out periodically to check on him and speak to him kindly.  Because of his unusually erratic behavior, I was cautious around him, but I managed to pet him a little bit, hoping to let him know he was in a good place.  He didn't seem to enjoy it much, but I figured he just needed time to settle in, and then he'd be happy and friendly like all my other Guinea hogs have always been.  (Although, for the record, every other Guinea hog we'd ever bought settled in immediately with surprisingly NO sign of anxiety at the new surroundings).

Unfortunately, as Hagrid got more comfortable with his surroundings, his attitude didn't improve.  Instead, it worsened.  A few times, he came at me with a little more force and attitude than I felt comfortable with.  I scolded him and gave him a swat, and he immediately backed off.  "Oh," I thought.  "He just hasn't been socialized to be polite around people.  He'll do better once he learns what's expected of him."

But that was just the beginning.  A few days later, there came a day when he charged at me with a full-on threat.  When I scolded him, instead of backing off and saying, "Oops! Sorry, boss," he puffed himself up and said, "Yeah?  Bring it on, bitch!  I'm bigger than you, and I can rip your legs off!"  I had to throw rocks at his head to give myself a safe retreat from his paddock.

That was the last straw.  Guinea hogs are a docile breed, with "calm," "friendly," and "good with children" written right into the breed description.  Not one of my other Guinea hogs had ever shown even the slightest inclination towards aggression.  I've brought visitors and their children into my boar paddock so they could pet the mature boars.  Most of them flop right over on their sides hoping for a belly rub!

In the days that followed, Hagrid's aggression continued.  I couldn't even walk within 10 feet of his paddock without him charging at the fence, trying to get through it to attack me.  His posture showed the same arched body, angrily swiveled ears, and tensely curled snout that are typical when a boar is about to do battle with a rival.  His tusks were at least 3 inches long and he was fully prepared to use them. 

I was not unsympathetic.  For whatever reason---stress, too much testosterone, imbalance of brain chemicals, lack of socialization to humans, whatever---Hagrid was unable to react to me the way a normal Guinea hog reacts to people, and was instead thinking of me as another hog that he must challenge for dominance.  Unfortunately, in the pig world, that means doing bloody physical battle.

A week passed, and Hagrid's attitude didn't change.  There was no question, I couldn't keep a pig like that here on the farm.  He would be a constant threat to any person or animal who encountered him.  So we made an appointment for him with our local butcher.

After the rather nerve-wracking (but ultimately uneventful) process of loading Hagrid back into the car, we hauled him the 10 minutes across town to the slaughterhouse.  As sad as it was that it had to end this way, when we got back to the farm I was amazed at how relieved I felt that it was done.  Now I could cross the barnyard, doing my chores normally, without the anxiety of an angry 500 lb. hog charging at the fence every time I walked by.  The whole atmosphere of the farm changed back to its normal, serene state.  Until he was gone, I hadn't fully realized how much anxiety Hagrid had been causing me.

Some of the people who heard this story thought that I would be upset with the woman who sold me the hogs.  But that's not the case at all.  Hagrid's bad attitude wasn't her fault.  And ultimately, I still got a very good bargain, even if it wasn't quite the one I thought I was getting.  I got two nice new sows, who after some intensive dieting ought to do very well here.  Plus, because Hagrid went to the butcher, the sweet, friendly young boar that we had been raising to put in our freezer gets to go back on the sales list and perhaps go father some piglets on someone else's farm someday.  So it all worked out just fine for the overall good of the farm.

We've been raising Guinea hogs for a year now, and it's exciting to finally have a freezer full of meat to try.  I'll now be able to talk more knowledgeably about the unique qualities of the meat and give better advice to buyers who want to raise Guinea hogs of their own.

I now have more than 50 lbs. of bacon curing in the refrigerator (a subject for a future blog post) and I've been rendering lard all week.  I should finish the last batch of lard today, and will post photos of the process very soon.

For the record, the following list shows the meat yield that Hagrid provided (Bear in mind that he was an abnormally large and abnormally obese, fully adult Guinea hog.  Most Guinea hogs will provide much smaller amounts):

20 lbs. pork chops
19 lbs. ham steaks
18.5. lbs. hams
9 lbs. Boston butt
12.5 lbs. Picnic ham
8 lbs. spare ribs
12 lbs. tenderloin
17.5 lbs. shoulder steaks
6.5 lbs. soup bones
54 lbs. bacon
17.5 lbs. jowls
30 lbs. sausage
6 lbs. liver
2.5 lbs. kidneys
5 lbs. mystery packages (labels got smeared so we can't read them).

22.5 lbs. leaf lard
53 lbs. back fat lard

Total:  238 lbs. meat and 75.5 lbs. lard.

Thanks to Hagrid's ultimate contribution, a few days ago, we had our first taste of  Guinea hog:  A true farm breakfast with delicious sausage patties and eggs from our own hens.  Our freezer is full and we look forward to many more delicious meals over the coming year.

Thank you, Hagrid!  We honor you for your life and your sacrifice.


Nancy K. said...

Thank you for sharing this story with us, Nancy. It is a good reminder about not over feeding our Guinea Hogs.

I don't think that there could be any question that it was best to remove Hagrid from the GH gene pool.

Would you share what the difference between "leaf lard" and back fat lard is? I'm not familiar with those terms...

V.R. Leavitt said...

Holy smokes!! Wish we were still in VA so we could come to dinner some time. LOL Glad things are back to their normal pre-Hagrid state although I did get a good laugh hearing Hagrid say he could rip your legs off in the voice of Hagrid from the HP movies. I'm also glad he never DID rip your legs off. :-)

Jus Shar Designs said...

It looks absolutely yummy, Nancy!

Now, what are you going to do with the lard after rendering?

Anonymous said...

This may be a dumb question, but I was I was told we never butchered the boar pig on the farm because the meat would be "rank" and not good to eat. Is the GH different in that way?

Glad you weren't hurt -- an unhappy pig (sow or boar) can be very intimidating

Jean -MN

Nancy Chase said...

Nancy K: Leaf lard is the internal lard from around the pig's kidneys. Back fat lard is the fat that covers the pig's back, just under the skin. Leaf lard is considered to be the higher quality of the two because it is said to have a finer texture and more neutral flavor for cooking/baking.

Nancy Chase said...

Vanessa: LOL, thanks. I'm glad he didn't rip my legs off, too!

Nancy Chase said...

Beth: Some of the lard I'll save for cooking, and some I'll make into soap.

Nancy Chase said...

Jean: It's not a dumb question at all, and it was something I had some concerns about too. The "rank" flavor you're talking about is called "boar taint" which is caused by two chemicals the pig may (or may not) produce in his body.

According to what I've read, 80% of boars DON'T have boar taint, and 25% of humans can't detect it even if it is there.

I have also read that Guinea hogs, as a breed, are completely free from taint, although I don't know for a fact whether that is true.

Hagrid certainly did stink like a boar when he was alive, but the sausage that we ate so far didn't seem to have an off flavor, nor does the lard. We'll have to wait and see with the rest of the meat!

For more info on boar taint: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boar_taint