2023 - Volume #47, Issue #3, Page #07[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
They Slaughter, Butcher And Sell Hogs On Their Own Farm
“We have customers all over the West,” says Elmer. “We’ve had orders from as far away as Florida, usually family members of a local customer who have tried our product. When they’re in the area, they’ll stop and pick up meat.”
Elmer, his wife Cherie, and their son Sage have built a dedicated clientele. They and Sage’s son Ezekiel raise and process about 400 hogs a year. Their customers willingly wait 6 months or longer for their orders to be processed.
Elmer admits that Pigtail Pork is different from what he describes as show pig pork. He breeds for longevity and taste with a cross of mostly Chester White, Duroc and Berkshire. Unlike the larger, commercial hog operations that feed corn, the Elmers feed their pigs barley.
“Barley changes the flavor of the meat immensely from corn-fed,” says Elmer. “I fed corn in the past, but the meat seemed oily and not the right texture.”
Recently Elmer was reminded how different Pigtail Pork is. They processed an off-farm hog for the local FFA instructor.
“He and I have a constant argument over the difference between breeding for longevity and breeding for the show ring,” says Elmer. “His hog was solid muscle with no fat. I wouldn’t eat it if he gave it to me. It would be like chewing on an old tire. The fat provides the flavor and juiciness. We endeavor to produce pork that you can cut with your fork, that’ll melt in your mouth.”
The Elmers have been producing melt-in-your-mouth Pigtail Pork for 20 years. Prior to that, they sold their pigs on the hoof to commercial buyers. Gradually the market changed as other producers in the region got out of the business. Elmer credits Sage for suggesting on-farm processing.
“The first thing we did was build a slaughterhouse,” says Elmer. “We looked at plans with slaughtering, processing, and freezers in the same location as customers picked up their products. However, we know people don’t want to associate the live animal with the meat they buy. Our slaughterhouse is out of sight and out of mind.”
Hogs are slaughtered one day a week. Once moved to the processing area they are cut, wrapped, and moved to the freezers. Cuts like hams and pork belly and specialties like sausage and snack sticks are loaded into a vacuum tumbler with a special salt and sugar mix.
“The tumbler puts the cure into the muscle in about 3 days instead of the 15 it did in the past,” says Elmer. “We do this because we don’t have enough time or space to hold product while curing.”
The Elmers also make dry-cured products like prosciutto and Italian sausage. “With dry curing, we use the natural enzymes in the air to work on the meat, but you have to maintain the correct levels of humidity and temperature,” says Elmer.
Getting products like bacon cured just right is key to building the customer base, notes Elmer. Comments from other small packing plants in the area say that customers complain if a cure is too salty or there is an off flavor.
“If you have really good sausage, ham and bacon, then the rest of the cuts will be acceptable,” he says.
Referrals have resulted in a customer list of several hundred names with new ones added regularly.
One thing the Elmers won’t do with their pork is ship it. Customers have to come to the farm in southeast Oregon and pick up their orders. Many are local, but many others are from Portland and even Seattle, 8 hrs. away.
Elmer encourages FARM SHOW readers interested in doing on-farm processing to join a state meat processors association. He is a member of both the Northwest and the Montana Meat Processors Association.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Pigtail Pork, 67750 Lower Cove Rd., Cove, Ore. 97824 (ph 541-568-4671; Facebook: Pigtail Pork).
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