Some of you will read this column and think, ‘How has she never done this before?’ Others will shake your head and be slightly disturbed. Then, there will likely be a small faction that understands my level of crazy and smiles to yourself as you read.
    If you recall a few months ago in a column, I mentioned we had six little piglets on the farm. Well, those adorable piglets (Steven, Meat, Wilbur, Charlotte, Meat and Meat) grew into hilarious hogs. Feeding pigs was a job that never failed to make me smile. The pigs were conditioned to the sound of the Gray Ghost (one of our farm trucks) rumbling down from the barn; they would pop up and jump, bark, grunt and run to the trough. They knew what was coming for them: warm milk to make their daily cereal of corn, milk and scraps. They kept their pen neat and orderly – bathroom on one side, bedroom on the other. The simple fact that they eat everything without complaint and offer appreciative grunts is a reward for me; I’m accustomed to having at least one child complain at a meal. These giant pink roly-poly creatures were hard not to adore. Yet, they had a purpose, and that was to fill freezers.
    We are all aware of the insanity that has booked up our butcher shops in the past few months. Unless I wanted to have freezer-sized pigs, I needed to make a different plan. Thankfully, our next-door neighbor at the farm, Tom, has butchered a handful of pigs in the past few years and had the tools and know-how to get the job done. On the day before Halloween, we loaded four of the crew in the trailer and weighed them on the scale. They averaged 380 pounds a pig. Peter parked the trailer by the shop so we were ready for the day’s events. Tom, his son, Ethan, Tom’s brother, Todd, and their close friend, Tony, all rolled up early afternoon with knives, gambrels, gloves, and the most important tool for any activity such as this – great attitudes.
    Henry, Finley, Cora and I were attentive observers as they got to work on the first pig. Tom and his crew all knew their roles, so we stood back and watched with curious eyes. I have raised pigs a few times over the years, but this part of the process never happened on the farm. I was excited to learn more. After depositing the kids in the house for lunch and tossing an apple cake in the oven, I went back outside to see if the guys were brave enough to let me handle a knife and try to help. These men were so patient with me; I have never even skinned a deer, much less a hog of this stature. They handed me a knife and assured me I couldn’t screw up that bad. I truly enjoyed it. I am aware that sounds strange, but it was a calming afternoon of working with good-natured, helpful humans. The weather cooperated for us, it was brisk, but the sun was shining on us as one pig after another was hung up in the shed and draped with a sheet for the night.
    Thanks to the tutelage of my dear friend, Ruth, I was prepared to save as much fat to render into lard as possible. Tony expertly removed the inner, leaf lard into clean 5-gallon pails which still had lids that another friend, Kelli, had squirreled away in her basement. Then, our ghostly creatures hung in the shed overnight.
    As Halloween day dawned, cow chores were done on high speed to be prepared for pig work. Tom, Ethan, Tony and new recruit Joe arrived by 8 a.m. Stacy, me and a small herd of children greeted them in the wash bay of the shop ready to be told what to do. We acquired a few metal dishwashing tables from our hospital this summer, and those along with our large folding tables made our workspace comfortable. As Peter delivered the first pig to the table, we got to work, learning as we went what our roles would be. Ira and I, having never done this before, became the rib and bacon team. We patiently cut the ribs out and trimmed out the bacon slab. To say they had a good amount of fat on them is an understatement. We gleaned almost six 5-gallon pails of fat to render. Stacy and the other boys worked on packaging – neat and professional looking with cling wrap and freezer paper. Tom was running his band saw slicing beautiful pork chops and steaks. Joe worked on trimming up the hams, and Tony and Ethan worked on roasts. The sausage tubs were filling up as laughter and joking echoed across the wash bay.
    Even with members of the butcher crew being rookies, we managed to cut, package and grind sausage from all four pigs in about four hours. We enjoyed a simple lunch together in the shop, amidst the lingering smell of sausage seasoning. The kids (OK, me, too) were excited to try it, because the smell was so enticing.
As our crew of amazing humans left, Stacy, Peter, and I took a break to rehash the morning in the shop. Much like when we butcher chickens each summer, it is the people involved who make the experience. The stories, the teasing and the patient teaching all make for a memorable time. The kids being involved in the process from the feeding and cleaning of the pen to the packaging of the meat makes them appreciate their food even more, that is no secret. I’m sure our great-grandmothers were beaming with pride this past week as Stacy and I worked daily to render lard. It was a delightful and rewarding experience to be a part of the process from start to finish. For me, my heart is as full as our freezers.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (3), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.