I’m almost sure I’m not….like 80%. Et toi?
If you are extremely sensitive to issues like death, the death of animals, or faint at the sight of blood or…guts (for lack of a better word), then you should probably skip this one. And you might be a vegetarian.
The following post is about our first hog capture, and as you can imagine, it’s going to involve descriptions of the capture, slaughter and processing of feral hogs. There will be graphic descriptions and photos. If you tend to take things like this with you – if they live in your brain and haunt you (as they do me sometimes), then this post might not be for you and you might be a vegetarian.
So…for several years now, M and I have been cutting factory farmed meat (FFM) and meat products out of our diet. This includes any meat (chicken, pork, beef, lamb, etc.) that isn’t 100% pasture raised, finished and local. We have also cut out commercially caught and farmed fish of almost every kind, as well as shrimp, oysters, scallops, etc. Our decision to cut out factory farmed meat was based on the many, many negative externalities and direct effects (health, environmental, ethical) associated with factory farming. Our decision to cut out commercially caught fish was based on the unsustainable and wasteful nature of most commercial fishing operations and the negative effects that overfishing and netting have on the earth’s oceans.
Anyone who knows me well, knows that food is practically porn for me. I love richly marbled, aged ribeyes. My love for fatty tuna can only be rivaled by my love for salmon – both with those rich glorious veins of white fish fat. I love foie gras…I’m going to say it. LOVE it. On toasted sourdough bread…with nothing else. It was my jam, when I splurged and could afford it. But those days are over. And it pains me. SO MUCH sometimes. But I (we) have our reasons and I’m good with them. You don’t have to be good with them or agree with them – that’s ok. Everyone else is welcome to do as they do. And we will quietly accept the “Portlandia” comments (MOM). And if we go to dinner at your house, we will likely try to gingerly avoid the meat, if possible, or eat it (if its expensive and the centerpiece of your meal), because it’s probably amazing and we don’t want to be those dicks who don’t appreciate your food or effort, because we do.
So, given our little fatwa on FFM, we don’t eat meat as much meat as we’d like. In addition to our dietary restrictions, we are also under budgetary restrictions, so the farmer’s market is an option, but a rare one. They have most of what we could want, but it can get expensive. So we hope for a deer each year when hunting season rolls around, but that too can be expensive if you don’t know someone with land to hunt on. And then there is the little matter of waiting for hunting season and the fact that its called hunting, not catching, and sometimes you walk away with nary a glimpse of deer. So this year we decided to supplement with feral hog from the Earth Native property. It’s not large enough to hunt deer on, but its rich with swine. We know this because its like a hog highway out there and the 2 game cameras on the land confirmed it. We tried the regular hunting option (you can hunt pigs any time of year), but pigs are very smart – they are widely accepted as being smarter than young children of at least 3 years of age, dogs, and even some primates. They also have an exceptionally keen sense of smell and are very social animals, so if one doesn’t smell you, one of the other 15 piggies they roll with, will.
After some impatience with traditional hunting methods (gun and bow), we finally decided to trap. Enter M and his welder…and the 4ft by 8ft, Lbar and cattle panel pig trap he made us… which drew no small amount of snide remarks from the neighbors about S&M and the like, for the week it sat in the car port. Long story short…we moved it out to the land and spent several months moving it around until the pigs found it and grew accustomed enough to its appearance to feast on the fermented corn scattered in and around the trap. One night, after many weeks of baiting an unset trap, we decided to set it. I’m not sure if M was nervous, but I was. I was excited about eating less beans, eggs and tofu, but I was also scared of what we would have to do to get there. You see, for the trap to be viable in the future, you can’t actually kill the pigs in the trap (see sense of smell above). The pigs have to be removed from the trap alive and taken elsewhere to dispatch. To do this you have to slip a rope through the bars of the trap and get it around the pig’s neck so that you can pull it taught and keep the pig pinned to one side or roof of the trap. Once the pig is immobilized, some brave soul (this would be M), reaches into the trap and grabs the pig by its hind legs, drags it out and has to hog tie it without getting kicked or bitten. None of these things is easy to do – practically or psychologically. And neither of us knew how many pigs we would catch or how big they would be.
Most of my hunting experiences involve a quick and seemingly painless death. Using a gun or bow, by the time you actually approach the animal, it’s the picture of stillness. Unless you’ve “winged” it and then dispatching it is an act of mercy. There seems to be very little suffering and I take comfort knowing that it lived, as intended, in the wild. Also, I know that herd animals don’t often go peacefully. If they aren’t predated upon, they die of starvation or illness and disease. And when they are predated upon…well…you’ve seen animal planet…those packs of wolves or hyena’s tearing into the animal’s belly while it’s still alive. Nature never promised an easy life or kind death. Unless you’re an apex predator, it’s usually quite the opposite. So what little suffering is caused, is well within the bounds of what nature has in store.
These are my justifications for trapping and killing feral hogs. Because we want meat. Because we want meat from animals that have had the opportunity to engage in their natural social and foraging behaviors and be “happy” in their animal way. Because I know that the wild population can sustain the few hogs we may take each year. Because I have no doubts or illusions about death and I know that very few creatures get to die a quick and painless, easy death. These reasons may not be enough for you, but they are enough for me right now. I say all these things, not because I’m trying to believe them, but because this experience was very hard for me. And I can’t help but convey how hard it was, despite the rational part of me that knows it’s the better choice. I am sentimental in the way that privileged people are. People who have never known real hunger and who haven’t spent their lives killing animals for food. Ultimately, its hard for me to see things suffer – harder now than when I was young. It’s hard for me to accept and process death. And I think pigs are terribly cute – even the big, spiny tusked ones. They are smart and social and they evoke strong feeling and sentiment from me. So it was a very hard thing and I think about it all the time.
I’m not going to get into too many details. You know the process because I explained how it works. We had to do it 4 times because we caught 4 young adult pigs. There was one black one, two ruddy ones and one really red one – 3 females and one male. They did not go quietly and the sheer noise of it was one of the most difficult parts. They were strong and scared and fierce all at once. We did our best to stay as quiet as possible and go as quickly as possible, shield them from their fate as much as possible, and with as much dignity and respect as possible. It seems shi, shi and childish, but I tried to thank them and the universe for the meat, as we progressed. And when the worst part was over (the actual killing of the last pig) I got to walk out in the middle of the field and sob for a second. But I got over it, composed myself and we began the process of field dressing. My first solo field dress (with instruction).
I actually enjoyed learning how to do it on my own and managed to find some additional points of clarity with the results of our trap: 1) that I’m probably not a vegetarian, but I totally get why people would be and recognize it unconditionally and 2) that meat does not get the respect it should. Because it’s a very hard thing, to kill something up close, by your own hand or even watch it done. And the killing happens every day, by hand or by machine, whether you are there to see it or not. Whether you are still looking through the scope while the animal struggles or going about your day when that cow meets its end in a metal box – a creature, somewhere out there, died for that meat and it was probably not easy or quiet. But I can deal with that if I operate within a framework that ensures the animal lived its best possible life.
Below are pictures from our capture and field dressing.