If we were going to do it at home, we would have to do it ourselves. Although it would be difficult, knowing that there was one right way was surprisingly helpful. Even so, had I been in this alone, I wouldn’t have taken on the job. Kevin has more fortitude, dexterity and experience with firearms than I do. We knew that taking the pigs to a slaughterhouse would have caused a lot of guaranteed stress without a compensating guarantee of clean death. Killing them at home would have risks, but it was our only chance for that ideal death. Painless. Instant. On a day like any other — although not for us.
We started preparing a couple weeks in advance. We cordoned off an area of the pen, just wide enough for one pig, so we could bring in one at a time. We had a tub full of milk as bait and distraction, and a block-and-tackle ready to hoist the rear leg. Kevin bought .22 hollow-point bullets (to guard against a through-and-through that wouldn’t stun the pig), and we got permission from our neighbors, who own the only house within 500 feet (the Massachusetts limit) of where we would do the shooting, to discharge a firearm.
We rented a hot-water pressure washer to clean the pigs, and, we hoped, to scald them so that the hair would come off. If that didn’t work, we had a propane torch, to burn off the hair, as a backup.
We set up a second block-and-tackle a few yards away so two pigs could hang; one would be cleaned while the other was gutted. We made a giant stretcher of two huge bamboo poles and two moving blankets so we could move the pigs around.
And we recruited friends. A pig slaughter, like a barn raising, is a takes-a-village kind of event. Unlike a barn raising, though, it involves blood and guts and death. On pig-slaughter day, you know who your villagers are.
Two couples helped us: Ron and Susan, friends from Maine, and Don and Tanya, local friends. Ron was a sheep farmer for many years, and Don and Tanya have a small farm with cows and goats. None of us had killed and processed a pig, but there was significant collective experience with killing large mammals, and with guns.
Dealing with imperfection
We met at 9 that morning, and I fed everyone breakfast. We walked through the day’s logistics and made sure everyone approved. We took a deep collective breath, and began.
There had been so much planning, there were so many details, there was to be so much hard, heavy, dirty work. But three moments mattered more than any of it: the three shots that actually killed the pigs.
Two of those three went just as planned; Tiny and Spot both dropped instantly, and we cut and hoisted them. The third did not. Kevin shot Doc and she didn’t fall. She bellowed once, and then backed into the pen.