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The animal par excellence for domestic slaughtering was the pig, along with hens, chickens and rabbits. They also slaughtered capons, ducks, doves and pigeons in other places. At the shepherd’s houses, a lamb, kid or old ewe would be slaughtered for the patron saint festivities or family celebrations. Farmers who kept larger livestock would kill a steer or another animal from their barn. The most widespread custom was for smaller animals to be slaughtered at home, while the larger ones were taken to the municipal slaughter houses.

Most of the large and small livestock kept on the farmstead were used for breeding or obtaining products to be sold at fairs and markets either directly or by means of intermediaries, such as dealers.

In the final stages of the 20th century, it was increasingly rarer for private individuals to sacrifice domesticated animals to eat, and families usually now buy the meat they need from butchers’ or supermarkets when the meat from the slaughtered animals is sent. Some rural farmsteads still keep animals in the traditional way, they sacrifice them and prepare them as in the past.

The men slaughter and joint the animal, while the women prepare the sausages and other products. Women also kill the small farmyard animals. In the past, the meat had to be eaten immediately or used as salted beef or pork, while freezers mean that it can now be kept all year. In that regard, it should be noted that even in places where there was no tradition of slaughtering calves at home or had been lost, the custom of doing so has been introduced. One of the most important reasons is that the jointed parts of the calves and of many other slaughtered animals can be stored and easily kept in freezer cabinets to be eaten later.

In the villages where there are still shepherds, people go directly them to buy the animal and the shepherd usually slaughters the lamb or kid and delivers t ready for cooking. It was reported in some locations that even today piglets are even ordered from a farm or butcher’s, and they are delivered ready for the oven. That is not the case with doves and pigeons that are delivered unplucked (Aoiz-N).

Domestic slaughtering has been the norm in rural areas.

Procedures used for domestic slaughtering

In some places, the slaughtering of animals to be eaten by the household took place at home or at the farmstead. Particularly in the case of larger livestock, they would resort to a slaughterman who would either come to the farmstead or the animals would be sent to the abattoir. Some farmers were also butchers or owners of establishments selling meat.

Domestic slaughtering of pigs

In Urduliz (B), the following information was reported about the domestic slaughtering of pigs and was the system generally found at the farmsteads.

The animal was slaughtered in winter and a day of the waning moon, ilberan, was chosen because if it happened during a spring tide, ur bizittan, the people believed that the meat would not keep for a year. When the animal to be fattened was bought, it was usually castrated, regardless of whether it was male or female, because otherwise the meat would smell and taste strongly.

The slaughter began to be prepared a few days beforehand with fresh fern being brought down from the mountain, irak, to be dried and then be used to burn the pig’s skin. The evening before, the animal was not fed so its gut was empty and the intestines would not break when used later.

The day of slaughter, txarriboda-eguna, was a very special day as, even though there was a great deal of work to be done, there was a festive feel about it as it was an opportunity for neighbours and relatives to get together to eat, chat and spend a pleasant time together. The day began in the early morning, when it was light, but sometimes the slaughter took place in the afternoon to combine the working day of the participants.

The act begins with the arrival of the slaughterman, kortadorea, and his helpers who are given a glass of liquor and some biscuits. The slaughterman enters the pigsty, txarritokia, grabs the pig with the hook under the chin, okotza, and with the help of three or four men or strong youths take it out of the sty and put it on a low table to kill it. In the past, the table was a plank place on logs or steel baskets, leaving the front higher for the pig’s head to rest on. Nowadays, two bales are used to support the board. Once the animal has been placed on the table and held down by its limbs, the slaughterman sticks the knife into the neck while he holds the hook with his leg and the pig begins to bleed, odolustu. A woman collects the liquid in a pail, stirring it non-stop and always in the same direction, so it does not set.

The bleeding operation and the death of the pig can take four or five minutes. According to the people interviewed, it has to be bled otherwise it would take a long time to die and that would cause problems. The pig is then taken into front of the house to burn the skin and make the rendering easier. If it is not well burnt, it is very hard to separate the skin from the fat. The pig is then placed on the floor, covered with dry fern and set on fire. The knife hole was first covered with corn husks, kapaxea, (today with paper – the feed sacks). When one side has been burnt, the animal is turned over using a pitchfork or stick. It is important to burn the trotters well to be able to remove them easily and use the legs. Some people now use a welding torch to burn the pig to avoid any possible bad weather.

The outside of the animal is then cleaned with water to remove any ash, dust and fern, using bits of tile, a metal brush, xarrantxea, the edge of a knife and, more recently, studded gloves that can be used to scratch. Special care is taken with cleaning the ears. The animal is then placed on a table and is then gutted.