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Porkonomics – Nature’s Green Acres 2010

09.14.10

I do this math, every time. And the way I see it, this is some of the most important information I can make public: How much does it cost to buy a pig? What does it work out to for weight? How much per lb? How much work is it? Why bother? These are all barrier-to-entry questions, so I feel they’re important to answer – over, and over, and over.

How much meat? The whole pig in this case: 200 lbs. I think most people think this would take multiple deep freezes to accommodate, but it does not. It hardly half fills our average chest freezer. And that includes skin-on cuts, fat reserved for rendering, bone-in hocks, ribs, and head. It does not include the spine, leg bones, shoulder bones, or offal [wasn't provided this time around]. This was a big pig. But it still fit in my Corolla. Most of our Berkshires have been closer to 140-160 lbs of meat or even less.

What does it cost? Nature’s Green Acres charges $2/lb for the hook-weight of the animal. Hook weight means killed, gutted, and hanging at the slaughterhouse on a hook – and there’s a lot of weight in the guts and organs. This animal was about 238 lbs on the hook. Because they don’t normally bill with the head and skin on, the farm excluded that from our weight, resulting in a total of $420 for the pig. The ‘kill and chill’ charge from Tofield Packers was $57.75. Total pig cost this time: $478.60. Price per lb of meat & fat on this one: $2.39/lb. With Irvings Farm Fresh’s Berkshires we’ve had cheaper pigs [$325 all-in last time], but that’s simply because those pigs were smaller and on a price per pound basis it they work out to about the same. Nature’s Green Acres’ may be about $0.25/lb more. Negligible, in my mind, in the larger scheme of things.

How much work is it? As a video will soon attest to, I’m no pro pork-cutter. We started at 9ish, finished a side around noon, had lunch, and finished the other side between 1-3 or so. Last year, we did 3 whole pigs in about 8 hrs with 3 people. So it’s not a full day, but it’s a tiring day. The good news is that fresh pork roast and a glass of wine taste exponentially more satisfying after a day of this kind of work.

Why bother? $2.39/lb is about 40% of the retail cost of Nature’s Green Acres cuts – at about $6/lb. I’ve done the homework - this puts it cheaper than box-store-industrially-raised-hormoned-drugged-pig. The ‘I can’t afford the ethically raised, hormone-free, drug-free, grass-fed stuff‘ rationale for buying industrially raised animals just doesn’t wash with me anymore. Sacrifice one day on one weekend once a year, and you get the good stuff for the price of the worst. ‘I don’t know how‘ objection = youtube. 2-3 years ago, I didn’t know how either. I’ve done 12 sides of pork since. Also important – you get to cook every part and enjoy it for what it is, you get to cut the meats exactly as you’d like [many cuts I do you simply can't buy], nobody will cut it with the care that you will, you get to enjoy stuff like crackling, you get to appreciate how much utility and nourishment can come from an animal, you get to render the high-quality fat for baking and frying [ethically raised animal fats are expensive - $8/lb for organic butter, for ex. this makes my rendered fat at $2.39/lb seem like a bargain], and you can have a relationship with the farmer and see for yourself how the meats you eat are raised. There are more reasons, but those should do.

So please. If you’re into meats, talk to your local farmers. Buy direct from them. Save yourself some money. Deepen your connection with your food. Do it yourself.

6 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    Magnificently done. The last few lines are really a thesis for your blog, I’d say.

    Oh, but isn’t there also a minor word of caution about anticipating a bit of skepticism the first time you are buying a pig? i.e. don’t take it personally if you get the feeling your amateurism is being gauged. Get in there and heft the thing. Know you’re capable of this project. The second and subsequent times you’re picking up your next pig, presume your own credibility.

  2. Wonderful post Kevin…cant wait to see the butchering video! I took the retail meat cutting course at NAIT many moons ago…I will critique your technique! LOL Actually, the one thing I’ve learned over the years of cutting my own meat is exactly what you mentioned…there is really no wrong way to cut the meat. It is just a matter of having a sharp knife and getting all the meat off the carcass. Beginners should not be intimidated by the thought of making an error…watch Kevin’s video when it is up….grab a knife and a pig side…start carving.

  3. Detailed information: that’s what I crave and that’s what I got. Very eye-opening regarding the economics and moving regarding the ethics. Yes, I am with you! I am still looking for a beef farmer and a veal farmer. Suggestions?

  4. Kevin says:

    Greg – Great point. Learn by doing is required, meaning when you start for the first time, be brave and get in there.
    John – couldn’t agree more.
    Valerie – Beef/Veal, Nature’s Green Acres nouveau beef is lovely and getting rave reviews around my dinner table. They can’t sell it at the City Market, but I have some ground so you can try it here – it may be on the menu Saturday.

  5. Mary says:

    What an inspiring article. Although I likely will not get a pig this year, it has sparked some thinking. Maybe just a regular person like me can do something like this. Thanks for the insight!

  6. [...] chunks of fried cheese…because we did that too. And bacon, how can I forget the amazing chunk of pork belly that Kevin just happened to whip out of nowhere. Homemade bacon….sign me up. Heck, why not [...]

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