Archive for November, 2011

Lard Rendering and Soap Making

November 6, 2011

I have had fun making soap.  I wanted to use more of the products from our pigs when we butchered them.  The fat was in large pieces to begin with and had come from a huge 10 year old sow who was developing arthritis and so had to come to the end of her days.  We didn’t want her to go to waste and she certainly did not.  In fact I still think of her fondly whenever I use our homemade soap.

The first stage of our soap making process was to render some lard.  To do that we had to cut the fat into small pieces, about 1 inch or 2cm square.  With so much fat to do it was all hands on deck, but using butchers knives meant that we had to be very careful of young fingers.

There are two methods of rendering lard, the wet method and the normal method so we tried both.  The wet method was to put the fat into water and boil it up.  Eventually the water all boils off and the hot lard starts to ooze out of the fat.

The other method is to put the fat straight into a pan and warm it slowly.  Again the lard oozes out of the fat.  Both methods worked fine.  I now tend to put just a little water in with the fat as it helps to keep the fat from burning as it initially warms.  Once the lard starts oozing out things move quicker.  It is quite amazing how much lard comes out.  The original pieces of fat shrink and start to crisp up as they are basically deep fried.

When as much lard has been removed from the fat pieces as possible the lard is poured into a mould.  I found it best to pour it through a fine sieve or even a course cloth.  It seems that if the fat pieces get cooked too much then the lard becomes tinted a deeper yellow.  This is not really a problem for soap but it is considered best to keep it as light as possible.


The lard was a beautiful white when it cooled.

When the lard had been poured out I was left with the fried fat pieces which are called cracklings. These are mentioned in the Little House on the Prairie books as a treat, but even salted we found them pretty unappealing.  However the dog and the chooks were not so reticent.

So, now that the lard was prepared I could get to the task of soap making.  I wanted a really basic lard soap so the only ingredients that I needed were lard, water and caustic soda.  The ingredients needed to be weighed accurately and mixed in a stainless steel or enamel pot.

The recipe that I use is:

2.75kg (6 lb) of rendered lard
4.5 cups of cold water
350gm (12 oz) lye or caustic soda granules

The lard was melted in one pot and the caustic soda was added to cold water in another pot.  I had to be very careful doing the caustic soda mixing, as it is extremely alkaline and will burn and the mixing of it causes a very hot reaction.  Once both mixtures were cooled to the right temperature (110°F for the lard and 85°F for the caustic/water mix) then the caustic mixture was added to the lard and the whole lot was stirred well together (usually for 30-60 minutes).  I continued to stir until the mixture thickened enough that marks remained when it was stirred as shown below.

I poured the mixture into some ice cream containers lined with an old tea towel and let it set overnight.  The next day I cut it into bars, using gloves so as to avoid any stinging sensations.  Apparently it pays to be careful with the soap for a couple of weeks until it has hardened.  It can be used after 6 weeks.  It looks a bit rough but is great to use.  It is scent free, lathers nicely but is hard enough to not disappear into a sloppy mess if it gets wet.  We love it.




Making Pig Sausage Casings

November 6, 2011

I decided that I would like to try to make sausage casings when we butchered our latest pig.  The internet is such a marvellous resource and I found a few sites that gave me an idea of how to do it.  However none of them had photos, so when I did my own I took some pictures to illustrate the process.

I started with the small intestines from a home butchered pig.  The intestines are held coiled together by some connective tissue that I simply sliced so that the intestines could drop into a few straight runs a metre or so long.  Then the intestines were rinsed with fresh water inside and out.

It turned out that my sink tap was a perfect fit to push the intestines onto and rinse them through.  At this stage the intestines were quite thick and a browny pink colour with a strip of fat along the outside.

Next I peeled off the connective tissue that had held the intestines coiled together.  It was a thin clear plasticy tissue that was fairly strong and pulled off without too much hassle.  Then I cut or pulled off as much of the remaining fat as I could.

After peeling the casings looked like the picture below.  I turned them inside out and rinsed them both sides.  They could be turned inside out by turning a cuff in one end and running water into the cuff.  The weight of the water pulls the casing inside out.  It was kind of fun to do.

At this stage the inside lining of the casing, all those little tiny villi that absorb the food, still need to be removed.  I had a go at doing it straight away but it was hard work and was not being successful so I put the casings into a plastic bag in the fridge for later.  A week later I finally found the time to do more research into how to do the scraping.  Some sites recommended soaking the casings in salt water for a while and I thought perhaps I should try that, however given that they had already waited a week I just gave them a try.  It turned out that no further time was needed.  After turning them inside out I used a bread and butter knife and the scraping went very easily.  In fact some of the fat that I had not managed to remove earlier also came off as I did the scraping.

The final casings are thin and a transparent pale pinky white in colour.  Once again I used my tap to rinse them and you can see what they look like at the end.

Finally I put them into a brine solution (salt and water) and stored them in the fridge.

Of course I had to have a go at making sausages after all that effort.  I am very glad that I have a little electric mincer as it makes the job much easier and we use it every time we butcher one of our pigs.

And the finished product – all our own pork!

Now I have to confess that while the sausages were quite edible we did find the casings to be a bit on the chewy side.  I wonder if it was because the pig they came from was 2 years old, older than most pigs butchered commercially, or whether sheep intestines would be better for fresh sausages? Anyway I hope to use the rest of these casings to make some cured sausages instead and the thicker casings should be fine for that.

Pig Shelter

November 5, 2011

It has been a journey of learning for us when it comes to making pig shelters!  Pigs tend to be hard on shelters.  They love nothing better than to rub themselves against the sides, dig underneath the supports and have a squabble in the middle, so the poor shelters get a real work out.  The cost of the pig shelter is a major issue with us as funds are severely limited.  Anyway, I will share with you our experiences so far.

Our first pig shelters were A frame shape, made with a wooden framed and covered with tin.  We considered a strawbale structure instead but at $3 a bale it was going to cost us more than the A-frame, and with the volume of rain over here the bales do not last long during Winter, or even in Summer sometimes.  We did however have cheap timber and lots of secondhand corrugated iron available, so that was what we used.

Our very first shelter was for 3 piglets and it lasted for quite a while, being passed on to the next batch of piglets as well.  It even had a raised floor to keep the little ones out of the mud, but they were destined to outgrow it fairly quickly.  Eventually it was destroyed by pigs getting a bit too big and a bit too rough and it got too far gone to be worth repairing.

We have also used the old half a tank as a shelter.  The pigs actually quite like them, but the old tanks we have are not very big and so get outgrown.  The pigs also like to knock the backs out sometimes, although they can be riveted back on, so we still have one that can be used by younger pigs.  You need to watch them in a high wind though, we tend to put them close to trees as a wind break.

When we were given our big pig we built another A frame for her.  We bought 9 pieces of 1.8m hardwood from the local timber mill, and used some secondhand aluminium sheets and roof capping that we already had.  We also needed nails and roofing screws.  Our total cost was under $20.  Tools used were a mitre saw, air compressor and associated nail gun, angle grinder with cutting disk and electric drill.  With all of the power tools it took us a bit over an hour to make.

The pig approved, she had heaps of room and could make her own bed out of the straw provided, but it took her only 2 months to wreck it.

She managed to knock the front of the frame apart, so for our next attempt we made a welded metal pig house instead.  We made it wider and lower, as she had trouble turning around in the previous one.  She still attempted to knock the back wall out regularly but we were able to reattach it with rivets easily enough.

It lasted about 9 months before she broke the frame of that too.  😦  Also now our piglets were way too big for their little house too.  They had, in fact, taken up residence in a greenhouse plastic covered geodesic dome that had blown from the chook and garden system into their paddock and had wedged itself over a stump.

This dome lasted them a surprisingly long time, until the big pig joined them in the paddock in fact, at which time she commandeered it and it began to deteriorate from then on, especially when the big girl would chase the others out.  We did running repairs for a while but eventually it got just too far gone.

We gave some young pigs each a mini dome for a while.  They had been made for broody chooks, but the pigs liked them too as they provided rain protection and shade.  They were basically framed from rural poly pipe with a circular base, two arches crossed over as uprights and another smaller circle attached up high to keep the shape.  They were covered with chicken wire for the hens but we pulled that back to allow access for the pigs.  A small tarp covered it all. I didn’t seem to get a decent picture of them but one can just be seen in the background of the photo below.  One pig kept theirs in quite good condition but the other pig decided he preferred to sit on top of his and so would continually squash it flat. Another issue was that they were very light and would fly away in a strong wind.  Pegging them down was no good as the pigs dug the ground up and the pegs along with it, so we ended up tying them to trees.  All in all it was just not worth redoing them when they broke.

So, we decided a more permanent structure was needed.  We thought that using some nice solid uprights might be a good idea, so we enlisted the aid of 4 nice strong trees already in position. We had a lot of small saplings that had fallen in a wind storm too, so we made use of them and cut them into bush poles.  We stacked the bush poles along the back and one side of our new structure, securing them by hammering a dropper parallel to the tree trunks leaving about a 15-20 cm gap. When the poles were stacked to a good height, we tightened the dropper to the tree trunk with fencing wire and a gripple, just like tightening a fence. We attached two pieces of milled timber across each edge as a sloping roof support, and covered them with greenhouse plastic.  It was secured with stripping that was nailed on to the roof supports.  We also attached some plastic down the sides to keep the drafts out. It took us about a day to make, coming up with ideas as we went, and it has now outlasted all our previous efforts.  We have had to reattach the plastic a number of times as time has passed and wind has torn at it and it needs replacing now, but the basic structure has remained quite sound for the last year and a half.

We made a second and then a third shelter using the same basic two sided, high roofed model but modifying them according to the materials available at the time, and we were reasonably happy with the results.  It was important to have a good slope on the roof plastic, and not to have any areas that would cause the water to pool in one spot, or instead of running off the rain would collect and weigh the roof down.  Of course we haven’t always had trees growing nicely in the right place and so have had to dig in uprights instead.  One shelter made with plastic covered panels lasted well until they busted through the plastic one day.  We replaced the panel with tin at the back and the tin has had to be reattached a few times as they will tear it off occasionally when the mood takes them.  Log walls are definitely better.

The pigs seem to really like these shelters, they give them shelter from wind and rain, are spacious and airy and allow them to escape quickly in case of a dispute.  All our farrowing has been done in the two main ones.

To improve on the roofs we made some panels out of 2 x 1 inch rough cut wood.  They were assembled using a nail gun with the wood strips 500mm apart.  (How is that for mixing imperial and metric for you).  Then they were covered with tarps which were held on with thins strips of wood that we cut on our table saw and mounted with 4 bolts to the original frame.  We can then attach extra tarps from the roof panel to the base to give extra shelter in Winter if we want to.


We have found these roof panels to be very good at having the rain water drain off and they have stood up to the winds very well.  All of our shelters have needed occasional running repairs which we are happy to do so long as the basic structure remains sound.

It would be lovely to have unlimited funds to purchase something portable and pretty, but in the meantime our pigs seem happy to make do with their bush shelters.  Sometimes of course they just sleep under trees or in their wallows. We are still experimenting and hopefully will come up with more ideas in the future.