I want to die with my cud in my mouth
The following post may turn some of you off, so I will give a you a warning – this is a post about field killed beef, and why I think if it is done right, this is a good way to go. Not quite a tutorial, but many pictures of the entire process. Well almost the whole process. And speaking of getting close to your food, check out the excellent Fight Back Friday posts at Food Renegade. Always a good read!
R. I. P. Blackie! You were a devil !!
Gee, where to start? With Blackie, or the dearth of reputable mobile slaughter guys? I guess I’ll start with the “professionals.” We used to just sell calves at weaning, and butchered our own beef for home use. We would do the butchering here and take the quarters to the local locker for aging and the cutting and wrapping. Then the stockyard in Portland closed, and we had to find something to do with all those calves. That’s when we began direct marketing, first selling calves to people who wanted to raise their own beef, then eventually to selling grassfed beef.
Over the years, we had our share of horror stories with the various mobile slaughter guys. There was Sure Shot Sam’s Slaughtering Service, Satisfaction Specialist. He was a raging alcoholic, who lisped. His personal life always got in the way, but he sure had a way with cattle. He could walk right into a herd and drop the one you wanted, before the animal even flicked it’s tail. When he got a felony drunk driving ticket and had to bring someone to carry the rifle and hand it to him, his choices in that department made us to decide he was too big a risk. Then there was Larry, he scared the cattle so bad by staring at them, we couldn’t use him. After that we had Slick Willy, but he took his share +, back at the meat cutting shop, and you never were sure if it was your animal or not. And with the rumors swirling about Dirty Dave, we just decided that it was easier and less stressful to take them to small family operated facility about 40 minutes away. They are certified organic and nice to work with. So it went, we could load the cattle on the designated day, and take them to the processor. Pretty stress free, no waiting for a mobile slaughter guy to show up with his alternator dragging the pavement, and making you wonder if your beef would be sitting alongside the freeway somewhere waiting for a tow truck.
Then along came Blackie! At two days old, when I tried to shoo him under the electric fence during a paddock shift, he bellered and bucked and pushed me down. At the time I thought it was cute. What a little tyrant. And the story of why Blackie is black when we have red and white cows, is even funnier…, well, now it is.
This story actually needs to be another post, and someday I will tell it, but for now, the short and sweet version is, that I borrowed a neighbors Hereford bull for breeding. This was before the days of Viagra being practically OTC, and let’s just say Charley wasn’t up to the task. Charley’s owner took my take on the problem a little too personally, and felt I was challenging his manhood and didn’t believe me. So I had to rent a bull of a different breed to complete the seasons breeding. Then we would hash out the details the next spring. Hence the black and spotted cattle that we have now. It worked out OK, all except for Blackie. His dad, Jay, was one of the sweetest bulls I have ever been around – but this Blackie – he ran everywhere, spooked easily and kicked up his heels at me everyday of his life at paddock moving time. Last fall when it was time to haul him to the processor, he took one look at the trailer and proceeded to jump all the crowding gates in the corral. When he got to the end of the corral he literally walked up on several steers and walked out over the last gate, crushing the steers and gates beneath him. He knew it was the end of the line, and if we had been armed that day, it would have been. No one was hurt, the corral was patched and everytime I rotated the herd through there after that, he would not come near. He wasn’t mean, but when you get an animal like that, that has so much instinct, you realize how strong and strong willed they are. So began our dilemma, we had to find a mobile processor, and we had to regain Blackie’s trust. Getting on Blackie’s good side was easier than finding a reputable person to come out and do the deed. I live on the side of town that isn’t too well served anymore with any type of large animal services. There isn’t even a dairy left in our county, so not much call for butchers or lockers, there is hardly even any cattle anymore.
We found a great guy, he had good references, he was prompt and knew what he was doing from start to finish. The most important thing to us would be that he would be a good shot, and be able to drop the animal in it’s tracks, literally, in the middle of the herd. Separating Blackie would stress him out, and get the adrenaline flowing, and that is not what we wanted. We wanted him to be relaxed and that would be the end of the story. His herd mates would have to witness this, so when doing this it is important that the animal just falls, it is a little disconcerting to the herd, but not like you might think. Just a little milling, and growling and then they calm down after you remove the downed animal. I’m not saying there is no stress, as this is a stressful situation, but it can be done with little suffering. And let me tell you, it went well.
I didn’t have the camera with me the entire time, so I am missing some pictures from the beginning. Our appointment was for 8:00 am, so I wanted the cattle cool, calm, and collected in the morning. To achieve this, I gave them an extra large paddock the evening before, to give them enough room to retreat if they got scared and to make sure they were extra full and ruminating the next morning. Cattle have a very good sense of smell, and dislike their routines disrupted. So on the stress free tack, I drove the fella out to the herd in my pickup. The plan being that he would just get out and make a clean kill. It went perfect, Blackie was lying right near the fence, chewing his cud. As we approached he got up and stretched and looked right at us. The end. The last thing he knew was good. It was a cool, fly free morning and his tummy was full. He was ruminating which is a very relaxed state for cattle.
After the animal is shot between the eyes, the throat is slit to allow for a good bleed. There are always a few involuntary kicks, and this helps pump the blood out. At this point we pulled the animal to a far corner of the pasture to allow the herd to settle down. It was all grass so we hooked a chain around the back feet and pulled the animal with a vehicle. If the ground was bare soil, or gravel, we would have used a stone boat, to keep the animal clean and the hide in good shape.
To start you roll the beef on its back, and prop it up with blocks of wood just behind the shoulders, this keeps the carcass from wanting to flop over. First, the legs are cut off at the knee and below the hock, and then the partial skinning begins. As the skinning is done, the carcass is always protected from touching the ground by the skin.
After the bottom side of the beef is exposed, a gambrel is hooked in the tendons at the hocks and the carcass is winched in the air to allow for more skinning. In this case the mobile slaughter truck has a winch, in a home setting you need a block and tackle, and some strong purlins.
Hoisting the carcass.
As the carcass is hoisted gravity helps empty the abdominal cavity. The internal workings of a ruminant are very large. When people look at a live cow and say how fat they are, they usually are looking at the gut. But that has no bearing on the condition of the cow at all. A wormy thin cow will have a huge gut. A cow in good condition has fat between the skin, and covering the muscle. I love this part of the process, and I am always amazed when I see the carcass, how skilled a meat cutter is, to get all that meat from what to me, looks like mostly bone!
Cutting around the bung.
Bringing the bung through to the front carefully.
Continue hoisting to allow the guts to gently ease out of the abdominal cavity.
Love that winch. This is hard work otherwise.
As you can see the digestive tract of a cow is almost as big as the man.
Removing the gall bladder from the liver.
Totally empty. As you can see in the background, the other cattle have settled down.
He will take the guts away but leave the contents of the paunch here. Here he has cut hand holds in the rumen so he can drag it away from the truck.
This is better than any biology class assignment. A cow’s rumen is a fascinating work of art. I know, I am weird. I never get tired of seeing this part.
Grass ingested by one steer overnight. Cattle should have enough grass to graze what they need in about 4 hours, so they can spend the rest of the time ruminating. Meat and milk is made at that time. If the grass is so short they have to spend all their time grazing to get their fill, they aren’t getting their fill, and are in a constant state of hunger.
Honey comb papillae of the rumen, aka tripe.
More papillae, looks like fur doesn’t it?
Almost done, just the head is left.
Bullet hole in the skull.
Keeping it clean, and as Pioneer Woman says, real.
Cutting the carcass in half.
Within an hour, the turkey vultures had shown up to scavenge for bits and pieces of trimmings. There really wasn’t much for them, but they cleaned up all they could find in a short time.
In all, I think the day was a success. The abattoir we are using now is probably going to close when the owners retire. I like the idea of mobile slaughter much better than hauling the animal when it is alive. Will we do all our beef this way? Maybe, at least now it is an option. And I learned a lot from Blackie, we had to bend to his needs, his fate was sealed when he was born, he came at the right time, to lead us back to a better way. And yes, Blackie, I noticed you didn’t kick at me the last paddock shift – did you know?