Old Sow

Sow Steak

That is a steak from our biggest sow to date, Anna. The ruler gives you a sense of size, her boneless pork chop was 7″ x 11″ and weighted over four pounds. This cut was taken at the top of the loin below the Boston Butt shoulder.

Anna went to butcher because she was getting ornery. She head butted Ben once from behind for no reason and several times had charged me. She was snappish and biting. This is not acceptable behavior. Safety first – I eat meant people. I can’t keep animals on the farm who might hurt us, visitors, the working dogs or other animals for that matter. If an animal loses its sweet disposition then there is someone else ready and willing to take their place – the mean one goes to the butcher.

I say sweet disposition because we breed for temperament among other characteristics. Niceness is not just environmental, it’s also highly genetic. Nice mothers tend to have nice piglets. Even if you do adoptions the niceness factor follows. This may be horribly unpolitical correct to say, but it is true. Fortunately, on the farm, with the livestock in particular, there is a very easy solution that ends up on my plate.

Crispy Pan Fried Sow Steak

I’ve been asked by several people over the years if one can eat an older sow, if they’re tough (the sow, not the person asking the question) and if they’re more flavorful. The answer is…

Older sows raised on a corn diet in confinement tend to be very fatty – this is according to our butcher. We raise ours on pasture so we don’t see this at all. The butcher says our sows have fantastic meat with just the right amount of marbling* and back fat. I bow to her expertise.

The older sows defintely have more marbling than finisher pigs of the same genetics on the same diet. Those finishers in turn have more marbling than a roaster or grower pig. Suckling pigs have the least fat of all. Pigs tend to put on muscle up to about 250 lbs live weight and then they start putting on more fat, although they’ll still put on muscle as obviously demonstrated by Anna’s enormous “pork chop” above.

Personally, I love fat. Anna’s fat was absolutely delicious with a sweet almost nutty flavor. This is produced from her pasture and dairy diet. What an animal eats has a strong effect on their flavor. Most of the flavor is in the fat and most of that flavor is laid down in the last month before slaughter.

So does an old sow taste better than a young finisher hog pig? Well, yes – not disparage the young but it is true. Yet you won’t be able to get many old sows. It took over half a decade to grow Anna whereas a finisher is ready for market in about six months or so. To raise big sows on a production basis would mean tripling the price of pastured pork. Anna’s tenderloins were the size of a steer’s and went to a high end market. We have customers who specifically order the big sows, paying extra when they can get the meat so they can make prosciutto and other fancy dishes.

Anna was not tough at all. The meat hung for five days, something I would do with beef too for aging. Will cooked it to perfection using my favorite recipe which he’s been perfecting since last year. The meat was tender, juicy and delicious. This is not to say that all old sows are as tender. Last fall we had one that was tougher which brings us to…

The one drawback of a large sow is that she will have more gristle in some cuts. After all, she has stronger connective tissue for those enormous muscles and massive bones. A 700 or 800 lb animal has to move more mass than a little 250 pounder. This is easily solved, just cut the meat and remove the gristle during preparation before cooking. To this end Will sliced that huge steak into one inch wide sections. He then felt the sections with his finger tips and cut out the little bit of gristle from them before battering and cooking the meat.

The final word? Anna was delectable! I wish I had twenty steaks from her in my freezer. As it was, we only had the single one for ‘scientific testing’ which we had to all share. Hmm… There’s one last piece on the serving platter… Flip you for it!

Outdoors: 52°F/44°F Overcast, Slight Rain
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/61°F

Daily Spark: “I have a firm rule – I eat mean people.” -WJ quoted on FacelessBureaucrat of the USDA 20090325

*Marbling is the fat within the cut of the muscle which makes the meat juicier as opposed to the back fat or other surface fat on the outside of the cut.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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22 Responses to Old Sow

  1. eggyknap says:

    Care to publish the recipe? We’ve just taken delivery of an entire butchered hog, and are looking for nice ways to use it.

    • I asked Will this morning and he is going to write up the recipe along with all the little tricks and tips he has figured out. Watch for it in a coming post. He has used the basic recipe with many meat cuts.

  2. emile says:

    you are so right about the economics thing. older pigs are more delicious and that is how we raise them over here in france. i am not talking of the big piggeries of course but of the small farms. they go to much larger sizes and favor more fat on the pigs. i also would like to second the request for the recipe as i am always interested in new ways of tasting.

  3. Kristin says:

    Last year, we avoided all corn, fed rolled oats & barley (at a much lower rate than grain we fed in previous years), much whey (from our own cheese endeavors), and acorns, lots of acorns! Hay too (thanks for the tip, Walter). They were 8 months & weighed over 300 lbs each. LOTS of the most delicious fat I’ve ever had!! We’re planning to raise 5 this year instead of 2. Can’t wait for more of that delicious fat! And pancetta…..and guanciale……and…..

    You are such an inspiration, Walter. But you knew that already.

  4. Chris says:

    So I’ve tried the various posts to find one this could fit in and this seemed closest. I have a one year old gilt who I’m pretty positive is pregnant (no heats for quite awhile, for instance). She is kept on very hilly pasture with our boar and they have plenty of room to run around and root. They have all you can drink water and all you can eat grower/whole corn in a 50/50 mix. I’m beginning to think that in addition to being expensive, that it is overkill for maintaining a non-feeder and I’m worried about the gilt losing her litter due to being overweight. I was thinking of switching them over to a daily ration of corn and grain to complement their pasture menu but not make them overweight. My main concern is the piglets – should I be concerned given the feed/pasture/exercise balance we’ve maintained so far?

  5. Chris, I would try gradually over a period of two weeks decreasing the grower/corn mix to half of what it is and then seeing how they do on this for a couple of months. This should gradually bring them back into condition. Overweight can reduce fertility and result in crushed piglets and low birth counts.

  6. Orrin Murdoch says:

    Good evening Walter,
    When killing a sow, how long have you waited after she has weaned her last piglets?

  7. Johan van der Merwe says:

    Hallo Walter
    Did you figure out why Anna’s behaviour changed? I have a small sow about 15kg that kills my chickens at a instand when they venture into their paddock. She has killed 3. Do you think this is a problem. The other pigs does not seem to bother the chickens. I did not know that a pig can deliver wounds like this after examining the dead chickens. I will always let the pigs sniff and nibble at my hands and fingers when I am with them in the field, but are very carefull now.

    • I don’t know why she changed. Pigs are very powerful. I do not encourage nibbling of hands, fingers, boots, pants, etc because if it changed to biting they could do serious damage very quickly.

  8. Laurie says:

    Hi Walter – The woman we buy our pastured Tamworth pork from gave us a bunch of sow bellies. Have you made bacon from sow belly and do you do anything different than normal?

  9. Aidan Hamilton says:

    I am very much looking forward to smokehouse posts Walter! One small grocery store in Wisconsin produced the best jerky I have ever had and it lit a small fire of passion in me. Then they got bought out and the recipie was lost with the old butcher. Their jerky retained a good amount of fat. Spoils faster that way but it was succulent.

    Another project on the list…

  10. Nat says:

    Walter, I have a couple of 29 month sows to sell. Are they young enough/tender enough to be marketed the same as a finished butcher hog, or should I market them as sows? (I would have to discount them probably.)

    • Our sows at that age, and older, are delicious. There is high demand for them. I have heard that some people who feed high corn/soy grain based commercial feed diets end up with distasteful fat on older animals. That also could in part be due to management – e.g., they’re being kept penned rather than out on pasture. I don’t have controlled research to give a good answer – just that for our sows they would be fine. Try one of yours to find out. Then you can make a decision on the others based on the first one.

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  12. Saskia Ghirotti says:

    Great post, thank you for all of the great information. One question, and please excuse my terminology as all of my pig knowledge I have gained in Brazil and only know the Portuguese terminology.
    I raise pigs and have already slaughtered two Barrows, I am now considering fattening a gilt and would plan to slaughter when she is approximately eight to ten months. Is it necessary to castrate? A lot of people where I live in Brazil recommend castrating the female because of meat tainting, but I am finding a lot of conflicting information. What is your experience? How can I avoid meat tainting? And, what is the likelihood of this happening?
    Thank you.

    • No, it isn’t necessary to spay a gilt (female). Spaying is the female equivelant of castration but it is more complicated since the ovaries are internal. It’s only done for pets to prevent breeding. At eight to ten months I would expect she will be very fine. Taint can occur in females, and even barrows, but is very rare. If you keep her area clean, ideally out on pasture, and she has plenty of fiber in her diet (hay or pasture) then she should not have taint unless she is of the rare Pacific Island pig breed where even sows have taint, or so I have read. For more on the topic of taint see the article about Taint. Read through the comments and click through to the linked to articles for deeper information.

  13. Jason Ray says:

    Love y’alls’ site, thanx! I could not disagree with you more on my “babies” nibbling my hands. It’s a very touchy-feelie way of closely communing with your pigs. Seems to be a loving gesture, and my closest gals do so with the most tenderest of intentions. In about 3 years with now 45(ish) pigs, I’ve yet to have one be too aggressive, however if that does occur, when bitten I bite back …. with a fork and knife. No way in the world I’d give up … dare I say “loving”… my gals without them gently mouthing my hands and fingers! I did have one that kept chewing the end of my boot tho, had to fuss at her, hehe.

    • Pigs explore things with their noses and mouths. It’s cute when they’re 30 lbs. It’s dangerous when they’re 100 lbs. It can be lethal when they’re 200 lbs or larger. They have very strong jaws. I would suggest dissuading them now. They might not mean to but they can easily bite off a finger, especially on a child.

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