The Ukrainian Tradition of Butchering Pigs

Most families in Ukrainian villages raise pigs to provide meat for the family. They buy them when they are piglets, and will feed them for about a year and a half before calling for the local person who specializes in slaughtering and cutting the animal up for meat. This process is usually done twice a year before the religious holidays of Christmas and Easter.

Sometimes the pigs are slaughtered by somebody from the family if there is a person who knows how to do it. More often, the family invites a special person to do this. They usually pay him by giving some meat from the pig.

The pig is led to the place where it will be slaughtered.

“Almost every family in the village has their own specialist for this process. My husband or my son can’t kill a pig. So we ask our neighbors,” says Mariia.

Its cloudy outside and the sun is rising as we head to the barn. We pass by the place where the animal will be slaughtered. The spot is near the house because it’s simply easier to carry meat into the home. There is already one pig that was killed earlier. Along the way, we see another one being cut up. On this Saturday morning, two weeks before Easter, the weather was good and several pigs were slaughtered.

We come to the barn. Mr. Yuri is the local “Koliy,” or man who will do the slaughtering, is struggling with Mr. Vasil to get the pig out from the stable. The animal does not want to move and the task is hard because the pig is very stubborn and nearly 200 kg.

Yuri, the Koliy, kills the animal while men hold it down with ropes.

Mariia is very nervous. “I am going to pull it out by myself,” she says.

Even after the animal was killed, it continued chewing the grass because of reflexes.

The men wait as the animal dies.

“It’s the nerves,” says Mr. Yuri. “The pig can even bite someone’s leg after we kill it. It almost destroyed the barn while we tried to catch it. It made me so furious that I’m glad we finished it. I was so mad that I could have smothered it with my bare hands.”

Vasyl comes with a wheelbarrow. Three men can barely drag it with the weight of the dead animal.

The dead animal is pulled onto the wheelbarrow.

Yuri and Igor, Vasyl’s son, place the pig close to the house as they prepare for the next step.

Maria pulls the animal off the wheelbarrow.

Vasyl brings a small gas tank and they use a torch to singe the skin of the pig. This is done to get rid of the small hairs, and to sterilize the skin after washing it.

Vasyl singes the skin with a torch.
The skin is pulled off.

At the same place, the neighbors are already finishing the cutting process.

Neighbors do the same work.

Yuri says to the grandfather and father of the family that helped him, “What a big pig you grew. We can barely move it.”

The skin of the pig is watered to prevent cracking.

When they start cutting it, they see that the bladder had grown very large.

“That the animal was probably visiting a local pub,” says Yuri with a smile.

The main work is the process of cutting and dividing the meat and the men joke and talk the entire time.

Yuri cuts the head off.
It is removed from the body.
Yuri cuts the animal down the middle.
The interior fat is removed.

“You see, I don’t have any skills . I couldn’t even drag the pig out from the barn,” he laughs.

“Butchers are real specialists. Their cow goes to the place they want on its own. Your pig was very silent. Probably an introvert,” he chuckles.

Nothing is wasted and every part of the pig will be used in cooking.
The layer of fat, or “salo” in Ukrainian, plays an important role in Ukrainian cuisine.

The air fills with the smell of fresh meat.

The meat from the one animal weighs 200kg and fills a balcony.
The men sit down at the table for a meal that includes some of the fresh meat.