We moved up to the Chicago area from rural Louisiana almost two years ago. Louisiana is home to many amazing and strange customs and is a place that has always eaten seasonally and lived farm to table.
One such custom is to hunt your food in order to stock your deep freezer. One day, while visiting a blackberry berm in our backyard, my husband pointed out the signature rooting signs from a large sounder of hogs. If you’re not familiar, hogs typically root (use their snouts to pull up earth) in order to search for food such as roots, acorns and insects. They really can destroy your property, they can attack and they can be a general nuisance. A Louisiana State University AgCenter economist estimates feral hogs caused more than $30 million in damages to crops on Louisiana farms in 2013, a problem that may increase around the state as the hog population grows. In Louisiana, it is legal to hunt them year-round.
Intrigued, we set up motion-activated deer cameras and laid out some corn to see what sort of activity our backyard was seeing. There was a menagerie of animals in our backyard every night including deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, and indeed, there was a sounder of hogs (6 of them!) visiting our back yard on a pretty regular basis, with the largest being a 225-pound solid black mama pig.
These hogs were certainly a nuisance. They had destroyed the land around the blackberry berm and were progressively rooting their way towards our house.
In an effort to control this nuisance, my husband decided he was going to shoot one of the hogs. He fed them corn religiously for a month. He even went so far as to hoist a Christmas tree lot light (these things are huge!) so that he could get a clear shot for when he was ready to shoot one. The hogs were initially cautious of the light, but they kept returning to eat every night. Keep in mind, these hogs are in our 3-acre backyard. I could stand in my dining room and could see them trekking and rooting in our backyard every night.
I was terrified by all of these things that were happening on our property. Dangerous and hungry feral hogs were near my home and children and they were destroying our property – and my husband was feeding them.
Finally, the day came when it was time to hunt the hogs. This was really a one-shot deal. My husband and two friends all decked out in their hunting gear went out to the backyard one evening at dusk with guns, bows, and their trusty deer stands for sitting in trees. The children and I were informed to stay inside no matter what. The excitement and tension was killing me! The sun set, and we anxiously waited.
After about an hour of waiting, a solitary shot rang out from our backyard. My husband sent me a text from his tree stand informing me of the kill. I was freaking out, but the children, the children were ecstatic and were running around the house excitedly yelling, “Bacon! Bacon!”
Shortly thereafter, with the help of our tractor, the black mama hog was brought to the house and slung up in a tree. She was HUGE and I’d never seen a wild hog up close before. It was a surreal moment for me to meet my meat in this fashion.
Now, up until that point, I was a huge proponent of knowing where my food came from. My husband and I both come from families where food is a major component of family time. My husband warned me to go inside, but I was firm about wanting to know my food intimately. As I watched, they began the tedious process of skinning, gutting and bleeding out of that mama hog. I watched as their removed her hair and skin with a very sharp knife. They then put a wheelbarrow under the hog, and with many tugs and grunts, they sliced up through the belly of the hog. Her insides fell out, including her baby piglets. As a mother, it was too much for me to bear. They cut off her head and took that and her innards into the woods, away from the house so the coyotes, foxes and other animals could graze on what remained of her carcass.
I can tell you now that while I do care about where my food comes from, at that moment, I did not want to be that intimately informed!
The next morning hog was then taken to the butcher for processing. We had the butcher make breakfast sausage, ground pork, jalapeno cheddar sausage, ribs and pork shoulder. That mama hog filled up our whole freezer. Not only did we have 110 pounds of lean meat in our freezer, but we also had a freezer full of food for bartering. We would often exchange the pork for meat or other items from our friends and neighbors.
I never ate that mama hog. I just couldn’t do it. I had seen too much, and it was too close for comfort. I was so disappointed in myself for not being able to truly know where my food was coming from because once I found out, I didn’t want to eat it because, honestly, I feel too much. I had this new intimacy with my food, which is all too common for folks in Louisiana, and I felt bad.
The mama hog did not suffer. Call it grace or miscommunication; my husband and his friend shot the same hog. She was shot through the heart with an arrow from the bow hunter, and my husband shot her through the shoulder and then heart. She didn’t run off when she was shot, but instead dropped right where she was standing. She died instantly.
Am I cruel for wanting this familiarity with my food? I don’t think so. I want to know what’s going into my body, I want to know what it’s been eating, and if an animal dies on my behalf, I should, with full consideration, respect that. However, a little too much knowledge can definitely kill one’s appetite.
I still eat meat; I am by no means a vegetarian. I am definitely more mindful about where my food comes from, and if I could, I would have a farm full of animals specifically for purpose of eating. I still believe that if I’m going to eat an animal, I should be familiar with the raising and killing of that animal. In fact, we will be visiting a farm later this year to select a grass-fed cow to fill our deep freezer, and we know that our laying chickens will eventually become chicken soup once they stop laying.
This was, however, a sobering experience for me. I realized that I’m a weak person, and I talk a big game about homesteading, and knowing where my food comes from, but when all the “feels” are present, I’d rather have a pet pig instead of a pork chop. I tend to think of animals as friends and not food, which would be great if I were a vegetarian, but I still have more work to do as a homesteader. I need to get over my meat guilt and continue teaching my children about where their food comes from. In this particular case, the food came from a hog in our backyard, and it was a great experience for the kids. They loved knowing their daddy shot their dinner, and ate it happily.
The sounder of hogs in our backyard never returned. While my husband was disappointed, I was happy for that. They knew what we knew; if they returned, they would become dinner.
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