Archimedes’ Farewell

Archimedes 2002-2011

Today we loaded Archimedes[1, 2]. Above he poses in one of his final photos on the south field pumpkin garden that he recently helped clean up. He is an old boar, our third boar, our lead boar. He has served in our breeding herd for close to a decade. For the last three years I have feared he would not make it through the winter, he loses weight during the extreme months but always has managed to make a come back in the summer. This year he is pushing 90 or 100 in pig years.

Holly with 6’6″ Sorting Board

Now after the flush of summer he is huge, buff, a beef-cake, with shoulders that brushed both sides of the loading ramp and a back so tall that it nearly hits the top of the inside of our van. Archimedes is a very big boar. In the photo above that is a 250 lb gilt behind him – he’s nearly twice her height at the shoulder. In the van he occupies nearly the entire transport area, a space that normally holds six to eight hogs. When he got into the back of our one ton cargo van the rear springs fully compressed. Archimedes is a very big boar.

Archimedes on left in South Field

And gentle he is. You don’t get to last that long on the farm if you’re anything else but gentle. He’s no push over, he takes first place when he wants to eat, but he is gentle, never doing unnecessary harm, never intentionally hurting us – although I did get accidentally cut on my leg once by his razor sharp tusks.

By the way, in the background of the photo above, behind Holly with her 6’6″ sorting board you can see the rump and tail of another much younger boar named Speckles. He may already be bigger than Archimedes. Speckles set a record for first year growth and has continued with that trend.

Archimedes in Transport Van

Archimedes is famous too. He is the boar who did the nude for modeling our famous Pork Cut Chart in his younger years when he was under 1,000 lbs. (That was all muscle and still is even at his advanced age – he’s no couch potato.) That poster has appeared world wide on farm web sites, farmers markets, stores, restaurants and T-shirts. He even starred on BBC-TV. Quite the international celebrity!

So why did we “load” him? It is his time. I have been putting this day off for a long time. But the time has come. It is off to butcher he goes. The gentleman has served our sows for years. Now he’ll serve our farm one more time as sausage. Despite how much I like him as a boar the reality is the banker and the tax woman must be paid. The idea that the old sow or boar dies out in the peaceful pastures is quaint but hurts the viability and sustainability of the farm.

Death out in the field of old age often does happen but I try to avoid it. If possible it is better for us to catch them while they are still strong and healthy, before they slip into decline. He has produced many offspring and the meat from him will produce one last boost to the farm that lets everyone else keep going. This is reality.

Archimedes will be the oldest boar we have ever slaughtered. He has produced many hundreds of sons who went to the butcher intact. None of them had boar taint. Likewise I expect that Archimedes will also not have the taint.

I am glad to have known him.

Update: Some photos Holly took of Archimedes delivery to Adams Slaughterhouse in Athol, Mass. If you’re looking for USDA inspected slaughter, butchering and smoking then check them out. We’ve now worked with them for over two years and been most pleased. If we lived next door I don’t think we would build our own butcher shop – they’re that good.

Our Brand new (to us) Extended Body Pig Transport Van (Ford E-350)

Archimedes rode in style inside our van. The back approximately two thirds is an animal transport area. Over the course of the last approximately one decade and three vans our transport has evolved from the little mini-van we used to use that held up to four medium sized pigs to now where we can easily carry eight big hogs in a trip as well as having space in the mid-section for a cooler for the meat coming back.

Archimedes Getting Checked Out by the Little People

The big finisher hogs that had been in the loading pen looked small once Archimedes arrived. Check out Holly’s comments below about his trip.

Many people have said to me, “why don’t you get a trailer!” The issue is trailers and icy mountain roads that we live on are a very, very bad combination. Add mud season on either end. On top of that during the winter I would much rather transport the livestock inside the vehicle with me than let them be exposed to the 65 mph winds on the highway. It is far more humane. Since we take pigs to market weekly the capacity of the extended body van works well for us and then we get to use that same space for back hauling. We virtually always run full – a secret in trucking to making every mile pay for itself.

Outdoors: 67°F/43°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/67°F

Daily Spark: I would rather be a failed perfectionist than a perfect failure.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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20 Responses to Archimedes’ Farewell

  1. Janice Emory says:

    Good-by Big Guy!

  2. nate says:

    None of them had boar taint. Likewise I expect that Archimedes will also not have the taint.

    I believe you, but how will you know?


  3. Jeff Marchand says:

    At that age is he only fit for sausage?
    Please let us know what his hanging weight was.


    • We’ll find out. I intend to taste test several cuts. When Holly dropped off Archimedes she also picked up the meat from Mouse who was our oldest sow to date to go to butcher. Most of Mouse went to hot dogs. Mouse was about 785 lbs. Some cuts were saved at special request for chefs and our own scientific taste testing. Doing our duty, eating in the name of science… :) If Archimedes meat is good then it will go mostly to the next batch of hot dogs too. They’re mighty tasty.

  4. With Mouse were the cuts simply too tough for our cultural norms? What leads you to push more of the older animals’ meat to hotdogs vs. sausage?

    Obviously Archimedes had a wonderful life helping build your slice of hog heaven from birth through death! As Nature intends.

    • We haven’t eaten the cuts from Mouse yet – they just arrived home, and I anticipate them being delicious. Petra, Anna, Winnie and other old sows were all great too.

      The reason for selling the older animals for sausage and hot dogs is the cuts are huge, the size of beef steaks as you’ll see if you click through those links. Consumers in general are expecting pork chops to be the size of conventional pork chops, not the size of a big T-bone steak. However, chefs prize the older animals for the increased flavoring and marbling as well as the huge cuts. What they don’t pre-order from each big animal is then available for hot dogs, sausage and kilbasa.

  5. Holly says:

    I took Archimedes to the butcher and he was, as usual, a gentle giant. He slept almost all the way down. (A three hour road trip.) At the butcher they put an ear tag on each animal. Archimedes barked at that process and Mikey, who usually unloads the animals for us, decided that he would let me get the big guy moving. Mikey knows animals and he says our pigs are the calmest, but he wasn’t anxious to get into the van with this big guy if he didn’t need to. So I got in and nudged at Archimedes till he finally got up and headed out the door. When I saw Mikey a while later, he told me that Archimedes was amazing. He was, of course, huge compared with all the other pigs there and he just calmly walked along and laid down when Mikey closed him into a pen. Everyone was asking Mikey “is that guy mean?” But Mikey had already figured out that he is a giant, yes, but a gentle one.

    • Sean says:

      A true gentleman to the end I suppose?

    • Ben Godfrey says:

      Hi Walter,
      We have now taken two loads of pigs to the processors. I move them in the back of the pickup with a cage I have built out of hog panels. We built a sorting pen/chute using Temple Grandin’s designs which works wonderfully. We sort them the night before and leave them overnight in a small pen where the only nice place to sleep is in the hay in the back of the pickup. Both sets have chosen the hay with no argument which allows me to go down just before dawn and close the back of the truck cage and just drive off. This part works great.

      However…there is something I am very unhappy with: the unloading. I have used two processors and at both places I have had an awful time getting the piggies off the truck.

      I have paid close attention to what Dr. Grandin says about transitions in the floor so I make sure that all gaps in the floor between the truck and receiving chute are covered by 3/4″ plywood and then with hay.

      The first time I ended up having to crawl into the cage and push them out with a sorting board. This bothered me so I rigged a board suspended on steel rope that I could slide to the back of the truck with a rope on each corner. This worked pretty well on the second load – for all except one big girl who lay down across the end of the truck and refused to move. No nudging or enticements with food made any difference. I even went away for 15-20 minutes to do the paperwork and this made no difference. I eventually had to loop a strap under her chest and pull her down the ramp.

      I have spent 10 months treating these girls so well as we select our breeding gilts. This last load was made up of the runner-ups. I really disliked the stress we were all under – me and the pigs – and I cannot imagine having to do such a thing for any larger a pig. You say you just “nudged” Archimedes a bit and he walked off. What have you done to make this possible?

      How do you sort the ones who go from the ones who will stay?
      How do you coax the market pigs onto your van?
      How do you coax them off?

      This experience has led me to understand even more deeply why you are working so hard to enable on-farm processing!!

      Thank you,

      • “How do you sort the ones who go from the ones who will stay? How do you coax the market pigs onto your van?”

        Each week I walk around the field looking for pigs who are about the right size to fill that week’s orders. I mark them with bright pink Halloween hair spray. We then herd[1, 2] marked pigs to the sorting pen near the driveway.

        At the sorting pen I reinspect the animals and make my final selection. Keepers stay back on the farm and market pigs are then moved up the chute to the driveway where they’re herded down to the loading pen.

        The loading pen is the last bathroom stop before the trip and we pause there. By then our van[1, 2] is docked to a chute on the loading pen. The van has hay and a light in it which helps. The loading chute has solid walls and is tall. We sweep the pigs out of the loading pen and across the level loading chute into the van. Going in that direction is the easy, obvious path and they take it.

        Realize that we do this every week, and actually often more than once a week when sorting cohorts, moving herds for grazing, etc. This means our pigs are used to being sorted but more importantly we’re very skilled at herding. As a team we know how to sort even other people’s pigs quickly and easily. But a stranger couldn’t just drop into the pack and do the job. They would not understand the language we use, body signals, anticipation of what was needed, be cued into the pigs’s or dogs, etc. Keep doing it and over time you’ll get better and better at it. It’s a system and pattern. In time you’ll get it. The right tools (e.g., sorting boards, flags, gates, alleys), the right setup and working dogs all help tremendously.

        “How do you coax them off?”

        Mostly this is a matter of patience. Sounds like you’re doing the right things. They need a little time to smell the scents and get used to the sounds.

  6. Carol Binkley says:

    Hi Walter,
    A couple of things my daughter and I have been wondering is how new babies do when they are born outside in the rain.
    I have 2 sows that are due and one may have babies now but it is still dark, so I will investigate when the sun comes up. I did find her nest last night and then I heard it rain. I built her a nice big shed with lots of straw, but of course she went out in the field. The temp here at night is in the 40’s and the days are still 60’s but if feels pretty cool to me and then being wet, ick.
    If she has babies today, I will have counted it right on the day, we’ll see. We were going to raise a little boy to butcher and test the taint, but I advertised them and had a call, so may not get to do research on these.

    Also, do you seperate any of them from their mom’s when it is about weaning time, or do they do that naturally?

    • Our sows tend to nest under trees, brush or the sheds they have available. This protects them from the rain. They do not seem to mind rain during the warmer months but November is not so good. By then they generally have all switched to using the sheds or at least the dense groves of conifer trees which stay very dry at ground level. I would take that behavior to be an indication that they prefer drier nests. They also tend to build nests on somewhat of a slope which probably is to avoid puddling.

      Naturally the piglets tend to nurse longer than is good for the mother. With wild pigs they have very small litters and predators make sure that even fewer survive to nurse down the mother. With our domestic sows having very large litters and our domestic super predators (the livestock dogs) eating the predators the sows can get nursed down from having such large litters. She tries to wean them by laying on her belly but the large number of piglets pester the mother so that she is unable to getup to go pee, drink or eat in peace. The result is it is best to purposefully wean the domestic pigs. We generally do this around six weeks but it may be as early as four weeks or as late as eight weeks. We tend to wean in large cohorts.

  7. CarolG. says:

    I will say I happily buy bigger cuts of meat than I need and then take them down to the size I need for multiple meals, a large chop or ham wouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, I would tend to suspect that the older animals would have a greater intensity of flavor. I’m looking forward to learning what you find.

  8. Erik Vogel says:

    Great story and info about the big guy’s last ride!
    Walter, just wondering what minimum size (or age) females should be before going out on a “date” with a boar the size of Archimedes?

    • I’ve heard of problems with big boars crushing small gilts. But I suspect that is an issue of slippery footing and this is reinforced by what Archie, the pig farmer we got Archimedes from, has told us. We had one gilt, Peggy-Sue, get a broken back from mating with a medium to large boar Longson, around 800 lbs. But they tried to do it while ice skating on a hillside rather than the more stable snow pack area of their winter yard. Normally with good footing there is no problem because both the pigs are very strong and the big boars are good at supporting their own weight, often putting a third foot down on the ground when mating with small gilts or sows.

  9. Chris says:

    Walter – I have a 2 year old gilt that never took (one must learn somehow I suppose) and I’m ready to have her slaughtered and butchered. I have a couple interested customers but I’m not sure what to offer. Given her size (I would estimate around 700 pounds) the cuts would be huge as you mention. I assume bacon is bacon even if you have to cut it down but the hams and chops worry me a bit. Curing the ham alone would take months if not years done Virginia style. What do you suggest for such a large pig?

    • At two years old and 700 lbs, assuming she’s not all fat, she is prime eating. A lot of chefs are looking for big pigs for making prosciutto and other specialty products. My favorite cut of meat is a large female like this and she is young enough to be quite tender. This is something the regular consumer looking for dinner chops does not recognize but pigs like that are prime eating. So I would not mark her down at all for age.

      We charge $3.50/lb hanging weight plus processing costs. See the order form on the Literature page for details. You want to look down in the By-The-Pig section at the bottom. If you’re selling smaller amounts retail then reference the By-The-Cut section above. For large wholesale orders we discount that, especially for regular customers.

      Some people do love the large cuts and will appreciate such an opportunity. The chops and Boston Butt steaks will be the size of beef steaks. I always save back a few steaks from these big ones for ‘scientific taste testing’. See Sausage Sows and Old Sow. Notice the large distance between the scapula and back bone on these large animals.

      So, I would say that the $3.50/lb plus processing is your base price with it going up from there inversely proportional to quantity. What you should charge will depend on your local market and how the sow was raised – e.g., conventional, organic grain fed, pastured + dairy, etc. These all make a difference in quality and thus price.

      The other thing we do with large pigs is make our delicious all natural hot dogs, kielbasa and such. Even older sows and boars are delectable this way.

  10. Greg says:

    How do you know when your boar is to big for your sows? My boar is pushing 600lbs. and my sows are around 220.

    • If the sow can’t support the boar then he’s too big or they’re too small. 600 lbs isn’t overly large. Spitz, our largest current boar is coming up on 1,000 lbs, maybe more, and he still breeds gilts just fine. Our very big boars often support themselves on three legs for small gilts. I think that all our sows are over 350 lbs or so. A 220 lb sow would be very small. Did you mean gilt perhaps? That’s the lower end of possible breeding size in our breeds (Yorkshire, Berkshire, Tamworth, Large Black and crosses). Younger pigs do sex play but the big breeder boars ignore them because they can smell that the gilts aren’t really heating.

      All that said, good footing is a must. A big boar with a small gilt, or even a moderate sow, can breaker her back, or one of them break a leg, if they have slippery footing like smooth concrete, slick wood or ice. A pig on ice is not a pretty sight.

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