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I want to die with my cud in my mouth

June 11, 2009

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.

100_6841Gambrel placed in tendons. 



 Hoisting the carcass.


Continue skinning.


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. 

100_7197Then quarters.


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?

50 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2009 10:14 am

    Thank you for this post. It was very informative. For us ‘city folk’ there is typically such a disconnect between what we see in the field (passing by in a car on a jaunt into the country) and what ends up on our plate. I think everyone (myself included) would have a greater appreciation for what we eat if we can at least witness part of the process.
    Thanks again.

  2. fullfreezer permalink
    June 11, 2009 10:25 am

    What a wonderful way to go. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to know that there are services like this around, having a professional, peaceful end is what they deserve.

  3. June 11, 2009 10:55 am

    Very nice post. It’s important for people to know where their food comes from and if you’re going to eat beef I believe this is the ideal way to go. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  4. June 11, 2009 11:28 am

    Very interesting post, when I was younger we always raised a beef to slaughter, we always felt alot of the same things you felt. The beef we would get back seemed to be short and from an older, tougher cow then we took to the slaughter house. After several years mom and dad just decided to sell the cow and by beef at the market with the money from the sell of the cow. Looks like you found your guy though.


  5. June 11, 2009 11:47 am

    It’s the only way to go………with your mouth full 😉 Good post and very true too!

  6. June 11, 2009 12:09 pm

    Wow. Just, wow. Can’t get over the size of the digestive tract, or the amount of grass. Thanks for the education! So much better than the huge ‘factories.’

  7. June 11, 2009 12:33 pm

    Super post Nita..

  8. June 11, 2009 1:44 pm

    You have enlightened, educated and in a very eery sense entertained me: how gross and fascinating can come together at once…

    I think JodyM summed it adequately: Wow. Just. Wow.

  9. nfmgirl permalink
    June 11, 2009 1:46 pm

    I appreciate that you take such care with your animals, and they go so quietly. This would be the only way it should be.

    I read in a book by Jane Goodall about a time when a chimp named Old Man MacGregor was doing very poorly. I think it was a bout of Polio that left him paralyzed and dragging himself around. They finally decided that they had to intervene– it was time to put him down and end his misery. So one day they gave him some raw eggs– his favorite– and while he sucked on the raw eggs, in total bliss, someone came up behind him and put a bullet in his head. He had no idea what happened, and was happy as a clam when he passed peacefully. I’ve always said since that everyone should go like Old Man MacGregor– happy, peaceful and without a clue what is about to happen.

  10. June 11, 2009 2:10 pm

    Thank you from this biology teacher/ethical omnivore.

    I’ve assisted on many a deer, pig, chicken butcher but never a cow. Someday I’ll convince my family or my in-laws we need to raise our own beef, too 🙂

  11. jean permalink
    June 11, 2009 2:33 pm

    This was just fascinating. I had no clue about any of this. The gut was so green, I know it makes sense to you, but to this city girl? No clue. I hope you post more about this. It’s interesting to see where my food comes from and I’m trying to find out as much as possible. Thank you so much.

  12. June 11, 2009 3:19 pm

    fascinating! i never knew the digestive tract was that large. i read this while eating dinner, drooling over the screen at all that raw beef!

  13. June 11, 2009 3:29 pm

    Very good post.

  14. June 11, 2009 3:42 pm

    Very interesting and nicely documented. Thanks for posting.

  15. localnourishment permalink
    June 11, 2009 3:46 pm

    Fascinating! Please forgive the “city girl” question, but the blood flows right into the pasture? This doesn’t disturb the cows when they revisit the spot? So very interesting! Thank you so much!

  16. June 11, 2009 4:12 pm

    Having never experienced anything like this, I found the post fascinating, educating and compassionately documented. Thank you again for showing us where and how our food comes from. You’re the best.

  17. June 11, 2009 5:11 pm

    Glad to see your post today. I was about to send out a search party.

    For the record, when my number is up, I want to go as a little old woman, in my sleep, preferably after enjoying a sunny afternoon on a Caribbean beach. Then all my little elderly friends can say, “Oh she looks so good after soaking up some sun on her usually pale cheeks!” Well, hey, if one has to imagine their demise, it’s just as easy to dream big as it is to dream small.

    Deep in my memory banks, I remember seeing parts of the butchering process as a kid. Not start to finish, mind you. Plus, I clearly remember the meat in the stores being labeled with the name of the steer, it’s stats like weight and age, and what local farm it came from. That’s all changed now, but that’s how it was when I was a kid. All the steers at the fair were purchased by the butchers at the grocery stores. I remember looking at them and associating them with the meat at the store.

    It’s good to be reminded where meat comes from. Glad you found a reputable guy to come on site.

  18. June 11, 2009 5:27 pm

    Wow, great post indeed. Can’t wait to show MM. I cannot believe all the grass, very cool pic!

  19. June 11, 2009 6:43 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this – it was a really fascinating insight. I had no idea a cow’s digestive tract was so huge…although it makes sense I guess!

  20. June 11, 2009 7:33 pm

    Another city girl here! I have been fortunate enough to see a calf be born, but I’ve never seen this. Wow. Quite a post. I agree that we should all know a bit more about what happens to give us the food we eat.

  21. June 11, 2009 8:27 pm

    Great post. I always loved it as a kid when we butchered a deer or steer at home. Maybe a little weird, yes? But always made for a great anatomy lesson. Thanks you for posting this.

  22. June 12, 2009 12:26 am

    I am still gob smaked over the size of the insides. WOW! Thanks for such an informative post.

  23. June 12, 2009 4:08 am

    OK all that grass in the rumen was fascinating! The on-site slaughter looks very clean to me compared to what I’d imagined. A couple of questions (maybe I didnt read carefully enough)…what happens now that he cut it up into quarters? Does he take it somewhere there somewhere at your place and finish cutting it, or do they let it hang in a cooler a certain amount of time and then cut it up further?…and if so, is this at your place or somewhere else? What is done with the hide? Do you use the heart for anything? The parts that are not used, are they disposed of by the man or by you somewhere on your property? I’m just curious about all the details…like what happens to the head, etc. Not trying to be gross…I just wonder! 🙂


  24. onedog1955 permalink
    June 12, 2009 7:51 am

    This is a beautiful, touching post. Thanks.

  25. June 12, 2009 7:56 am

    This is great! Thank you!

  26. Maeve permalink
    June 12, 2009 9:43 am

    Thank you for sharing the pictures. Being included in this process helps, I think, in our appreciating the things we eat, and respecting the life of those things before they ever get to our table.

    (I find the insides of things to be quite fascinating too. I had no idea what tripe looked like. And now I do. 🙂 )

  27. June 12, 2009 1:46 pm

    Wonderful photos and a great post !

    Lucky you having folk who come to the house.


  28. June 12, 2009 6:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing this process. Like you, I find the process fascinating. What did you do with the hide??

  29. June 12, 2009 9:26 pm

    Absolutely amazing, post! I am SO THANKFUL you shared this story today. I had NO IDEA cow guts were so huge! And you told the story in such an engaging, compassionate way. You’ve doubled my respect for farmers and the kinds of decisions they have to make about how best to humanely end the life of these animals.

    Thanks for sharing this in today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  30. Mael permalink
    June 12, 2009 10:48 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you!!! This post was amazing. My grandfather was a butcher way back when. I’d always heard stories about how he would calmly walk out into the field and slaughter a steer. I’d never figured out how it was done. I’d love to see more posts like this. This was super informative. I especially like seeing the rumen. Absolutely fascinating. Now how do you go about aging the beef? I’d read somewhere that you are supposed to hang the beef for weeks? Is that not always true?

  31. debra permalink
    June 13, 2009 12:57 pm

    this was so informative. all of my life, meat has come from the grocery store in neat little plastic packets. some where in the back of my mind i knew what was on my plate once had a face and a personality. thanks for reminding me of that. i’m amazed at how bloodless it all seemed. and the part about avoiding the adrenaline, so true. when your food is afraid, you consume its fear which then becomes another poison is an already toxic environment. thanks for taking time to put it all down and for the detailed photos. and, thank you to blackie for his contribuition.

  32. June 14, 2009 1:11 pm

    I will eat some chicken and fish… but mostly I’m a vegetarian. (It all started with the puking during pregnancy many many years ago)

  33. June 15, 2009 5:17 am

    That was so much better for Blackie to go in peace. I can’t imagine the horror of slaughter house for those poor cows.

    Once again you show great respect for your animals and in the posting and pictures. Thank you for the care. At least you know from which your food source comes.

    take care Nita,

  34. June 17, 2009 11:18 am

    Great post! (But where’s the white Styrofoam backing, plastic wrap, due by date, and bar code?)

    I too am fascinated with the butchering process (though have yet to do a cow). Man, that is a LOT of grass in his tummy.

  35. June 17, 2009 7:41 pm

    Amazing post, Nita.

  36. Susannah permalink
    June 19, 2009 1:20 pm

    Nice post, great photos. I’d love to book your mobile slaughter guy – think he’ll drive to Vermont….hee hee.
    Glad you found him!

  37. June 22, 2009 6:21 am

    wonderful post, Nita, a real education. Thank you.

  38. June 23, 2009 4:54 am

    Thank you so much!!! I am a new farmer to 2 Jersey cows and this has been a fascinating experience. I liked the post on poop too! I am so green it isn’t funny! But bc of folks like you I just keep learning. Really…thanks!

  39. Mike R permalink
    June 26, 2009 8:01 am

    I appreciate your knowledge that you share.
    Your life seems simple and fulfilling, although I’m sure it’s more work and tougher than I could handle.
    The folks at Wild Idea Buffalo take care of the land and respect the animals that provide for them, like you do.
    I admire you and them. Thank You!

  40. January 26, 2010 9:30 am

    Wonderful, wonderful post. I often see cattle rolling down the highway on their way to the local slaughterhouse and always wondered if there was another way to do it. It just looks so stressful and uncomfortable. I’m thrilled to know that there *is* another way! Your guy seems to be fantastic! I wonder if there’s anyone like that around here?

    As always, your posts are informative and inspiring. I hope that someday I, too, can truly be a farmer. Not sure the husband is too excited about that idea, though.

    Looking forward to your answers to all these wonderful questions –

  41. March 21, 2010 6:21 pm

    I was fascinated by the pig slaughter I attended a few years ago, it was better than any biology or anatomy class I ever took. Also I felt how precious the animals are and how the only reason I want to kill them is in order to live myself, because they are so beautiful inside and out, and they have so much important work to do on the Earth. I also felt that the animals have a larger spirit that is inclusive of all of their type, that is continuous (until extinction) that is even more sacred than each individual animal. I feel that we, as human individuals, can take comfort that it is the same for us. That when we die as individuals, we can take comfort in knowing that we have lived our lives the best we know how, to continue the spirit of our kind into the future.

    I posted pictures from our hog killin’ at this link:
    Scroll down and click on the link under the picture of the piggy – in the center column.

  42. August 13, 2011 6:47 am

    Love this post… and the pictures. I am not a city guy, and although I have never seen cattle “field dressed” I have certainly seen lots of wild game done this way. I used some mobile slaughter guys for a bunch of roasting chickens, it can sure save a ton of work when the pros do it.

    I actually found your article because I was searching for Gambrel, I am manufacturing one to take with us on our annual moose hunts.

    The bit about Blackie and his intuition, I raised and Angus steer once that seemed to have lots of attitude too… maybe they were related?

    Anyway thanks for this post, it was a great read.
    On my website: you may find some interesting reading too. Please stop by and check it out. ~ Mark

  43. Tim permalink
    October 8, 2011 4:48 pm

    Wow that’s an impressive set of skills to be able to do this for a living. Does anyone know where I can find a video of this whole process?

  44. May 29, 2012 4:17 am

    Thank you for this post. It was very informative. Being a veterinary student myself it really helped me learn a bit more.

  45. Racquel permalink
    July 31, 2013 7:50 pm

    Every time I need more knowledge about farming processes I just need to come here. Very Informative and well documented as usual.

  46. January 4, 2014 6:15 am

    Loved this post. We just butchered our own pigs and I was amazed at the amount of guts that came out of them, but wow-beef have a ton!


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