Butchering Capacity

Rebar Rising on Misty Morning

Will is working on putting up pink foam in the inspector’s office area for our on-farm slaughterhouse and butcher shop. Along the east wall you can see rebar rising as I tie it to the steel that sticks out of the slab and insert it into new holes drilled in the beam. Along the bottom is a ring of steel with another at the mid-line. Later we’ll put another ring of steel along the top beam at the header of the walls before we pour concrete. The pink foam insulation that Will is putting up goes around the entry door and the office window. By putting this insulation on to the forms now the concrete will crush it up tight. The foam will then insulate the concrete so that it cures better in the cold weather.

Someone asked a very good question by email about butchering capacity for our on-farm facility:

How many pigs do you reckon your facility’s plan could handle per month if it were staffed by a full-time butcher?

If we wanted to run the facility full-time we could process 20 pigs a day. With a slight adjustment to the floor layout perhaps twice or even three times that. The limit is one of chiller space. The carcasses must chill from 103°F down to 35°F and that takes time. I’ve set the chiller size to meet our farm’s needs but one could adjust that switching RTE kitchen space to chiller space. That means that per month we could handle about 5 days/week x 4 weeks/month x 20 to 60 pigs/day or about 400 to 1,200 pigs per month. That would be a lot, far more than we plan to do.

We’ve designed our farm and the butchers shop for Just-in-Time-Farming. That is to say, we fill orders as we have them each week. Thus we need very little extra storage space for finished product – we keep almost all of our ‘inventory’ out on the hoof growing in the fields.

In the process of getting our design to meet our needs I’ve gone through hundreds of variations for different scenarios. Sometime I’ll write about that. It would be the sort of thing to put into a book. My wife was just saying this morning that we should apply for a grant to write a book one it. Problem is, I’m busy doing stuff so I don’t have time to apply for grants. :) Likewise I’ll probably just write about it rather than writing a grant to get money to write a book. Simpler to just do.

They also asked another good question:

And as a side question…what’s the difference between “pigs” and “hogs”?

None really to most people although some people will say pig to mean piglet (a young pig) and hog to mean market sized pig (120 lbs to 250 lbs usually). For most people these are really interchangable terms. It is the sort of thing that does vary with regions. Soda or pop? Sometime I’ll write up a post of all the different terms. Did you know that a ‘sound of pigs’ is a group of piglets? If you ever hear them out in the field running around you’ll appreciate the origin of the term. :) [Update: See the FAQ where I made a list some different terms such as boar, gilt, barrow, sow, etc.]

Outdoors: 42°F/27°F Foggy, Some Sun
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/55°F First Fall Fire!

I use 4 weeks per month for the calculations instead of 4.3 so as to allow for some down time for maintenance.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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11 Responses to Butchering Capacity

  1. Anonymous says:

    I apologize in advance for using this forum to seek advice rather than just commenting on your wonderfully designed and well built butcher shop. I admire your family's "can do" attitude. Now, on to my question……..I have recently separated my nine piglets from the sow and am wanting to know how long it will take for her to dry up? I have searched the web but can't seem to find a definitive answer.

    Thank you,

  2. Hi Mike,

    After about three days she should be basically dried up. It will take her a little longer to flatten out and debag completely, perhaps a week or so.

    She will also come into heat during this time and be ready to rebreed if not already.



  3. BFW says:

    If pigs can grow to be 500-700 pounds, why not wait until they're larger than 250 to butcher them? Does the ROI go down after they reach about 200#? Is the meat tougher?

    I'm starting to salivate thinking about a 30-40 pound pork belly (imagine the bacon….).

  4. In the olden days they did often grow pigs to much larger size. The rate of growth does decrease as they hit around 200 to 250 lbs and they begin putting on more fat and less muscle proportionally. 200 to 400 lbs are all tender. 500 lbs and up are definitely tougher but this can be dealt with via aging and hanging as proven by experiments I've done, just like with sheep, goats and cattle.

    Today consumers have become used to the size cuts produced by a 250 lb pig so that is generally what we do although if someone wants a lighter or larger pig we do it no problem. When we slaughter a big boar the tenderloins are the enormous and delicious, the pork chops are the size of dinner plates and the shoulders & hams are gigantic.

  5. Leon says:

    Hi Walter,

    How do you plan to dispatch the pigs? If by shooting – what gauge and where? Thanks,

  6. Leon, see this comment which discusses stunning and death.

  7. Leon says:

    Thanks, I missed that one somehow.

  8. Walter, every day you and your family inspire my husband and I. Farmers for over a decade but new to raising pigs. Thanks a million.

  9. LJB says:

    Hi Walter. I just learned of your current project when I stopped by South End Market to get more of your hot dogs. I honor you for taking this extra (and large) step in your commitment to doing things 'right' from start to finish with your farm animals. Question: (when) can I bring our sheep to you for slaughtering?

  10. LJB, Our plan is to start with just pigs. Eventually we will likely do sheep and cattle too but our own as this is an on-farm butcher shop. To do butchering for other farms is more complicated regarding regulations, permitting and insurance.

  11. Heather Rudolph says:

    Thank you for writing about your experience in such detail. I am working on buying an existing custom exempt butcher shop in eastern Oregon and converting it to USDA. Your first blog with reasons why it is needed is exactly what I needed to see today after being told (again) why it’s just not worth the trouble. Yes, it is, especially with the COVID complications.
    Again, thank you!

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