Joyful Noise Home-N-Stead

Where superior meat choices really are black and white!

When to Butcher?

The topic comes up frequently on the various AGH/Pastured Pigs/Homesteading Facebook pages on when is the best age to butcher the American Guinea Hog, as well as questions on size, cuts, and processing.
This brief article will look at some of the options that an owner may consider.

The American Guinea Hog, being a landrace breed, comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. There are long and tall examples as well as short and stocky and everything in between. All taste fabulous!

The standard commercial hog is about 6-8 months old at market, weighing between 250-300 pounds. The commercial hogs have been bred to be lean and long to produce an abundance of bacon and chops in a short amount of time. This results in meat that is light colored, lean (little to no marbling) and dry. The AGH, on the other hand, are a half-size heritage lard hog that takes 16-18 months to grow to “market” weight and it takes 2 hogs to accomplish that. What happens to the meat of the heritage pig when it is grown for 16 months? It is dark, marbled, and succulent. Yes, the cuts will be smaller, but Oh the Delight to the taste buds!

An important consideration for when to harvest your pork is Feed Conversion Ratio. This is the measurement of how efficiently an animal converts the feed given to muscle mass attained with attention to when that rate drops and the animal no longer grows at a relatively fast rate. The FCR slows at about 16-18 months in the Guinea Hog therefore it is the most economical time to butcher. Each breeder chooses how they will raise and feed their stock and in what manner they choose to ‘finish’ the hogs. A hog raised entirely on pasture will likely experience a slower growth than one supplemented with some grain. Growth of the guinea hog is dependent on genetics, feed practices, and environment. How I feed my hogs in Indiana will not have the same results as the breeder in the deep South, or the far North. Weather conditions affect feed conversion via cold/heat stress.

The previous thoughts on ‘market’ hogs are only one aspect of enjoying the meat provided by our wonderful hogs. What about roasters, BBQ, suckling pigs, or oven-roasters?
Do not get into the rut of only considering 16-18 mo old hogs as ‘ready’. An 11 mo old guinea hog makes a fine whole hog roast for a Cuban Roaster.

Eight month old pigs are a good size to debone and roll into a herb-filled roast. These can be prepared and frozen for space-saving meal. A 5 mo old pig is the approximate size of a commercial sucking pig (high end meat here!) yet has the age to provide so much more flavor. This age typically makes a dandy size for the smaller home smoker.

Younger pigs, just weaned, at 8-12 weeks are great for oven-roasters for Sunday dinner, giving a lovely centerpiece main dish with little left overs.

Overrun with piglets and needing to downsize quickly? Think Cornish Hens. Cornish Hens are actually 4 week old meat birds that are butchered very early. Why not have 4-6 week old piglets prepared for individual plates? This may take a more adventurous cook and diner, but the delightful meat will be a reward.

We started this article with “market size” hogs and progressed to smaller sizes but what about older hogs? The most succulent pork I have ever had was from a 4 year old boar, castrated and fed out for three months to avoid the possibility of taint. The cuts had amazing marbling and were tender every way we cooked them.
I have also butchered a 7 year old cull sow. The slaughter house suggested all into sausage, but I went with typical cuts and did not regret the choice. The meat had more texture than a younger animal and did become a bit chewy when flash-pan cooked (high heat and quickly), but when cooked low and slow was tender and delicious.

You have many age-options for enjoying your American Guinea Hogs. Over the next several posts we will explore ways to utilize the Whole Hog.

Now, go out and enjoy the succulence of Goin’ Whole Hog!

Becky Mahoney, previously published for Curly Tails, newsletter for the American Guinea Hog Association.