On the morning of July 11, there was a crowd around the Miles Smith Farm pig shed. Loudon farmer Carole Soule, her husband, Bruce, and 19-year-old farmhand Duncan Coles, from the Virgin Islands, all busied themselves around the entryway.
Next to them, some curious pigs looked on from within the shed’s small enclosure. A large white trailer was backed to the shed door.
“C’mon buddy,” Coles said as he stood behind a large pink pig with splotchy black spots, and pushed. Because the 5-month-old pig had interacted with humans many times before, he didn’t seem bothered by the person maneuvering him through some boards and up a ramp – maybe just a little confused about where he should be going.
After several minutes, the pink pig and another black sibling pig were loaded and ready to go.
There was a tangible sadness in the air on this Monday, my usual biweekly day to go and visit the pink pig, named Pink 2.0. I pulled my muck boots out of my car trunk like I had for the past five months, though instead of staying and visiting Pink 2.0 at the farm, we were going for a one-way ride to the slaughterhouse.
Soule asked her friend driving the trailer, John Hersey, to pull up to her upper barn to get one last weighing of Pink 2.0, since we’ve been tracking his growth all along. When we got to the farm scale, though, Soule and her husband had some bad news.
“It’s floating,” Bruce said. “It’s wet.” The previous night’s rain was causing the equipment to malfunction, meaning we wouldn’t get an accurate reading.
Soule had previously told me that of all the things that came along with a reporter visiting her pig every two weeks, the weighing process was the biggest inconvenience.
The other inconvenience was imminent. Due to my reporting on this story, Soule was forced to schedule a slaughtering date for Pink 2.0 at PT Farm way up in North Haverhill. Her regular pig butcher, only a half hour away, was not interested in being part of a newspaper story, and after my inquiries, declined to take Pink 2.0 for processing.
To the slaughterhouse
We drove north on winding roads for an hour and a half to PT, which sits in the mountain-bordered, wide open farmland of northeastern New Hampshire. Soule said she was a regular customer but usually didn’t ship pigs there.
We arrived at a nondescript, tan warehouse with a sign out front a little after lunchtime. Hersey pulled the trailer around the back, where Soule opened the door to let Pink 2.0 and his sibling into a large, open air enclosure under the shade of the warehouse roof.
“They get car sick,” Soule explained, indicating the white foam around Pink 2.0’s mouth. It wasn’t surprising; I felt a little queasy after the drive, too.
Once he was in the pen, Pink 2.0 seemed to forget his stomach troubles. He was too busy investigating the other pigs and two cows in the surrounding pens.
“This is a really nice holding facility,” Soule said. “He’s got a lot of distractions here.”
Pointing to a small window toward the back of the pens, above a chute, she added, “They should go this afternoon.”
I lingered for a little longer, knowing this was my last opportunity to photograph and visit with Pink 2.0. Letting him shove his pink snout into my lens one last time, I waved a little goodbye, and then followed Soule around to the front of the slaughterhouse.
There, I saw what would be happening to Pink 2.0. Office manager Johnna Blake gave me and Soule a short tour, allowing us to peek through a door and a window into the processing facility.
Looking at the “kill floor,” Blake pointed to a downward hanging black hose. “They are stunned,” she explained. Water is used to soak the pig, and then it is electrocuted with a prod. At that point, the pig is brain dead.
“That’s the humane way to do this,” Blake said, noting that humane methods of slaughter are a requirement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The pigs are then hung by their back feet and are “stuck,” so they can bleed out. After a few moments, they are dead and then get a bath in scalding water, where their hair comes off and their toenails are removed.
Blake opened a door into another room to show what happens next. The pigs are hung and have their organs removed, and then are sliced in half vertically. They wait like that to be “broken down” and processed into the various parts bought at the grocery store – or your local farm stand.
At PT Farm, Blake said pigs are processed just on Mondays. “It’s a very seasonal business,” she said. While there were maybe several dozen pigs, including Pink 2.0, waiting to be processed on a July day, come October, Blake said, “We’re easily up to 70 head of pigs a day.”
More than a week after the deed was done – last Wednesday – I again pulled up to Miles Smith Farm in my Prius, opening my trunk to take out not my muck boots but a styrofoam cooler. I was going to buy some meat for the Monitor to prepare and try.
Soule led me to a back room in her farm store, where the final product sat in three cardboard boxes delivered by PT that morning: 25.71 pounds of chops and lard, 37.28 pounds in roasts and chops, and 40.92 pounds of ground pork.
It cost Miles Smith Farm $35 to slaughter Pink 2.0, plus $117 to process him at PT Farm. Add that to the labor, vet, bedding, food and other costs of raising Pink 2.0, and he was a $482.61 pig.
Even though we couldn’t weigh him on his final day alive, Soule said he came in at 156 pounds hanging weight, which means he was most likely between 180 and 200 pounds in the end. Of the almost 104 pounds of meat she got back to sell, she guessed they would make a small profit.
“We base it on what it costs to raise them and the overhead we have to do,” Soule said. “We do comparative shopping with other heritage breeds.”
Miles Smith Farm charges an average of $10.25 a pound for the various pork products it sells, according to a pricing chart. That’s enough, Soule said, to make it worthwhile. She would most likely make a little more than $500 selling her meat, minus what Soule and her husband kept for themselves.
Knowing your food
Soule has acknowledged throughout this series that though she has to earn an income, she doesn’t farm just for money, but to know her food. This is something she said is less and less common as time goes on.
“I feel like an alien sometimes when I go places,” Soule said. “I’m so close to life and death and raising food, as are all farmers. Then I go to the store and people buy things and have no idea where they’re coming from.”
Though raising food this way makes Soule confront that uncomfortable reality of death, she prefers it to when she was not raising her own meat – and was in fact a vegetarian – buying all of her food from the grocery store.
“The fact that we won’t eat something we know – it’s so crazy,” Soule said. “You need to show gratitude – the point is to show gratitude for that animal.”
I asked Soule if after all of this, she would be eating any of Pink 2.0.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “We’ll probably have some tonight.”
(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)