Home Butchering

Qualifications and Preparations: Unless you've had a college course in comparative anatomy or dissected a cat or two in a zoology course, you may not be able to distinguish one muscle bundle from another. When I was a little girl, my mother believed that every situation could be made to have educational value. As the teachers of subjects like "Hellenistic Marketing" and "Music of Ancient China" say, it's bound to be useful sooner or later; you might be surprised just when. So whenever Mother cleaned a chicken, she would call me over and have me identify all the various abdominal organs. Eventually, I struggled through 3 years of pre-med at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But chemistry, trigonometry, and physics were my downfall. So I didn't become a doctor. But I got straight As in all the anatomy and dissecting-type subjects. I have just listed for you my credentials for writing about meat cutting—above and beyond having done it.

"Butchering" is when you kill, skin, gut, and quarter the animal. Then you hang the quarters up to age, in the case of most animals, or merely to cool overnight, in the case of pigs. This book does not describe professional butchering; it assumes that you can probably tell bone from meat from fat—and not necessarily much more. Its essential goal is to enable you to get your meat from hoof to pan yourself, and I trust it will accomplish that. There are cuts here that you don't see in the store, but a professional butcher has lots of expensive power-cutting equipment that you don't want or need to buy. You'll understand any procedure better after you try it a few times. The school that best teaches you something is the one where you actually do it enough times to get comfortable with it. The biggest hurdle is getting started—getting the confidence that you really can do your own butchering.

I've tried hard to make the directions that follow clear and dependable. It would be even better than reading this chapter, however, if you could butcher and cut up an animal with somebody who is experienced. If you are inexperienced and must be on your own, it's a good idea to start with something small—such as a chicken or rabbit—and gradually work up, rather than trying to learn on a 1,200-lb. cow. The basic principles are the same.

In general, if you are careful with your basic preparation (don't shoot the animal if it's excited, get it thoroughly bled out, don't spill intestinal contents on the meat, get it cool, keep it clean, and don't let the meat spoil), you really can't go too far wrong. You're going to eat the meat yourself. If your steaks are triangular, they will just give you a good laugh every time you eat them.

Jacki Robinson, Reddick, FL, wrote me, "Fifteen years ago my husband and I decided to move out of the city into the country ... We bought a 5-acre postage-stamp farm that was already set up with garden space, barn, root cellar, and chicken house. After some repairs we were ready to start, and we did. We got a milk cow, a beef calf, goats, chickens, geese, guineas, ducks, bantams, pigs, and bees.

"When it came time to butcher our pig, we could get no help from any neighbors. (They were sort of close-knit and related to everyone but us. The consensus was that we would never make it.) So we went to the library. Our beautiful librarian loaned us a copy of your book ... My husband butchered our pig while I sat on top of the truck with your book telling him what to do next. The pork chops looked like triangles, and there were many unnamed pieces of meat, but it sure tasted good. After that, the neighbors were a little friendlier. I checked out your book so much that I finally bought it. Living out here is so precious to me. Growing a child and the food we eat are enriching my soul."

Once you have gotten the animal killed and the meat cut, you need to preserve it (or have a big barbecue and eat it immediately). So before you commence slaughtering, be sure to decide how you are going to preserve the meat, and be prepared to get that meat processed within the necessary time limit. This chapter contains a section describing every possible way of preserving meat, including freezing, canning, and drying. The last section tells how to make homemade soap from surplus animal fat and how to tan skins. (Candle-making info is in Chapter 1.) Books and Supplies: A good one is Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game by John J. Mettler, Jr., D.VM. (1991). It covers beef, pigs, sheep, deer, poultry, rabbits, small game, goats, horses, and also buffalo—as well as pickling, smoking, and curing meat, and how to build a smokehouse and make sausage. Butchering, Processing and Preservation of Meat by Frank G. Ashbrook contains material from USDA bulletins. Texas A&M offers meat science info and training seminars such as "Beef 101" and "Sausage School"! Contact the Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, Dept. of Animal Science: 409-845-5651; fax 409-847-8615; meat.tamu.edu. The American Meat Science Ass'n lists classes, such as Pork 101, on its website: 217-356-3182; fax 217-398-4119; [email protected]; www.meatscience.org.

Forschner knives ar German products that are very good. They are available only from butcher supply houses. Recycled professional (Chicago Cutlery's Biocurve) processing knives are available (bargain!) from Tim Shell: 540-8854965; 407 Mt. Solon Rd„ Mt. Solon, VA 22843-9718; [email protected]. To cut up something large like a beef, a band saw really helps, but they are very expensive. We don't have one. Sometimes you can find a small saw secondhand for a bargain price. Some people make their own. Fit to Eat?

What's Live and Fit to Eat Don't choose an unhealthy animal for slaughter. If you suspect an animal of being unhealthy, get it checked by a veterinarian and treat it until it's healthy again. (Then wait for the antibiotic to wear off.) What's Dead and Fit to Eat If you know an animal has just died, and you know why, here are your rules: don't eat an animal that died of a disease (other than a non-micro-bial-type disease, like foundering). Do eat an animal that died of an injury, like getting hit by a car. It would be a shame to waste the meat. If you don't know why the animal died, or if it has been dead awhile, definitely do not eat it. (When in doubt, throw it out.) As soon as possible, as much of the blood as possible must be drained out. Getting that accomplished is very important and very necessary if you want the meat to look normal and keep normally. Don't butcher or eat any animal that has received any kind of medication within the last 2 weeks or that has been been recently wormed or treated for external parasites. Check the directions on the medicine container for the precise withdrawal periods after which butchering is safe. The time varies according to the particular treatment. Your Meat Inspection: After the slaughter and evisceration of any animal, examine the internal organs and the carcass carefully for any visible abnormalities that might suggest the unfitness of the meat for food: 1. Local bruises and injuries, enclosed abscesses, and single tumors are conditions that the professionals simply cut away and discard; the remainder of the animal is fine to use.

2. Worms in the intestinal tract are routine and don't disqualify the meat.

3. If you find inflammation of the lungs, intestines, kidneys, inner surface of the chest or abdominal cavity, or (in the case of sheep) numerous yellowish or pearl-like growths scattered throughout the organs, call your vet and discuss whether you should use the meat! (When in doubt, throw it out.)

4. If a liver has many white-filled spots on it, you have coccidiosis disease on your farm. The livers need not be fully spotted. Any slight discoloration is a sign of infection. Chickens can get it; so can various other varieties of poultry, rabbits, and sheep. Do not eat the meat of infected animals! Burn the carcass.

Butchering Meat for Sale or Trade. The Federal Meat Inspection Act requires that some meat that is to be sold or traded for human consumption must be slaughtered under inspection in an approved facility under the supervision of a state or USDA meat inspector. For more details about these regulations, see the Chapter 9. Radioactive? If they ever drop the bomb, or if a nearby nuclear power plant or nuclear waste dump blows up, don't eat any internal organs, bone marrow, or animal skin. The muscle meat will be safe if you keep it absolutely dirt-free. Milk from dairy animals will be contaminated if your animals ate contaminated feed or drank contaminated water. It will be okay if they ate clean feed and drank clean water. Other Poisons. Relative to the industrial-chemical era in general, if there are any poisons in the animal's system, they will wind up getting concentrated in the brain, liver, and kidneys and in the fat. So minimize your eating of animal fat not only because of cholesterol but even more because of DDT and other chemicals!

When to Butcher: Around here the best months for butchering are late October, early November, and late February. That's because then the weather is cold enough so the meat will keep, but not so cold that everything keeps freezing on you. An outdoor temperature of around 35°F is ideal, since spoilage bacteria do not grow well in such a cold environment.

Another factor in the timing of slaughter is food supply. There is often a time that's economically best for killing. For grass eaters it's when the grass gives out in the autumn, which is around the same time as when the weather gets cold enough so the meat will keep. Another economically determined time is when the critters will no longer put on much extra meat relative to the food they eat, when they're basically done growing. That's why ducklings are ready after about 10 or 12 weeks.

Small animals like rabbits and poultry that will go straight to the refrigerator or the table can be butchered under any weather conditions at any time of year. Larger animals that will be quickly barbecued whole, like small pigs, lambs, or kid goats, can also be butchered in summertime, even without refrigeration. But for larger animals, you'll have to consider how long it will take you to get the animal butchered, how long you want to hang it, how long it will take you to cut it up, and what plans or facilities you have to store the meat (canning, freezing, locker storage, drying, etc.).

Avoid slaughter in high winds, when dirt might be blown into the workers' eyes or dust onto the carcass. Most people avoid slaughter in hot weather, except of a small animal such as a goat. Hot-weather slaughter is best done in the late evening hours. In most families the men butcher and cut up and the women wrap, but I know some country women who take great pride in cutting up the meat themselves. Wear old and very washable clothing to butcher. Most people get blood, etc., on their clothes. Wash your hands and arms frequently.

Preparations for Slaughter: All large animals are typically killed, skinned, and eviscerated outside and then cut up on an inside counter. Small animals may also be cleaned inside the house. Checklist Before Large Animal's Slaughter 1. Choose ahead of time a site with clean running water handy.

2. Locate a tree with a high, healthy limb or a building with a high beam strong enough to hang the carcass from. You'll also need a block and tackle or strong rope or singletree and hoist to raise the animal's rear end.

3. Have ready a gun or pistol (.22-caliber or higher rifle or pistol with cartridges) and know how to use it.

4. Collect a few very sharp knives and means to sharpen them again (a steel knife sharpener or Carborundum whetstone), and a meat saw. Razor-sharp knives minimize waste by enabling you to trim closely and precisely

5. Gather buckets to hold liver and heart (you need a 4-gal. bucket for one cow's organ meat) and clean cloth or food-grade plastic to cover the animal after the carcass is skinned and eviscerated.

6. If you're butchering a larger animal, you'll also need a regular wood-cutting saw for cutting the animal in halves. The meat saw blade is too thin for that job.

7. It is also helpful to have a bucket of warm water with a heavy dash of vinegar in it for washing your hands when they get sticky, especially after you've been handling the innards and before you go back to work on the meat.

8. It's a good idea to clean and defrost your freezer before putting a large amount of meat in it. And check whether you have enough space available in your freezer. If you have a small freezer and a large animal, consider boning it out and cutting away and discarding the fat.

9. If possible, pen the animal the day before slaughtering. Do not feed it for 24 hours before killing, but do provide ample access to water during all that time. Withholding feed helps because then the guts are less bulky. Access to water helps complete bleeding out, results in brighter-colored lean meat, and makes skinning easier. But if penning isn't possible, don't worry. Your meat will still be all right.

10. The offal (butchering residue) can be awful if you don't have a plan to deal with it. See below.

11. Plan how you'll age the meat. See below.

12. If you're planning to freeze the meat, you'll need freezer paper and freezer tape, which you can get at a grocery store or from a local butcher. Have handy a crayon or marker to label your freezer packages with date and contents. Options for the Awful Offal: You could bury it in the garden, give it to the chickens, push it over a cliff, feed it to the pigs, or compost it. Feed It. It takes chickens a long time to eat up cow innards. Pigs can take care of them right quick, but for either pigs or chickens there's a concern that eating innards reinforces the animals' parasite supplies. You can solve that problem by boiling the innards at least an hour, and preferably several, before feeding them to the animals. In that case, you need a huge pot and an outdoor place to get a fire under it. That's probably the best solution. In warmish weather, innards can get stinky pretty fast. Compost It. Another solution is to compost the waste— innards, extra bones, hides, and blood (but not fat). Add them to your yard clippings, manure, peelings, food leftovers, feathers, and anything else organic. Mix everything with a layer of soil. Let it set a few weeks and then stir it again. But then you have to cover it in a way that guarantees some critter won't dig it up. Since some of these items decay very slowly, the delayed action continues to feed nutrients into your garden for a long time. Remember: If not thoroughly bled out, the meat won't be pale in color. It will look "funny" and won't keep as well. And be careful to tie off rectum and to not let contents of the intestines spill onto the meat. That's how it can get contaminated with the likes of E. coli.

General Principles of Aging Meat: Aging, a bacterial breakdown of complex proteins in the muscles that adds to flavor or tenderness, naturally begins when the meat is cool. If you choose to age the meat, keep it at about 40°F Warmer temperatures increase the danger of spoilage. Colder temperatures slow down the process. Aging large animals for about 10 days should be sufficient. Deer will age in a week. Antelope should not be aged longer than 4 days. Very lean carcasses are not suitable for longer aging because they dry out too much. If the animal was less than a year old, the meat doesn't need aging at all. Don't age pork and pork-type meats (bear, wild boar, etc.).

Aging is done after skinning and gutting and before cutting up—except into halves or quarters (whichever is suitable for the size of the carcass). The aging process helps tenderize the meat and mitigate wild flavors. Small animals may be wrapped in a damp cloth and aged in your refrigerator for a day if they are young, for up to 4 days if they are old. Somewhat larger carcasses may still be small enough to be cut up and aged a while in your refrigerator. How long or whether you age large animals will probably depend a lot on the age of the meat and the temperatures the meat will be exposed to.

Wild hoofed game is often hung about 10 days; it needs to be kept at 35-40°F for that period. If you have a walk-in cooler where you can hang your meat and keep the temperature above freezing but below 40°F (meat will actually turn out more tough if frozen within 24 hours of butchering), you could age it for 1 week, or 2, or as much as 3. If the weather is cool enough, let the meat hang in one of your own outbuildings with the door shut, to prevent wandering canines from helping themselves and to protect it from freezing at night. If you don't have facilities to hang the meat that long, or if the temperatures are getting too hot, by all means go ahead and cut it up. It may not be as tender as it might have been, but at least it will be edible.

Continue reading here: About Cutting Up

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