Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where My Food Comes From - farmyard butchery

Warning: this post is about where meat comes from, home slaughter and butchery on the farm.  It may not be for all readers.

First time slaughtering my own animals for food on the farm has been a very emotional and spiritual experience   We processed (a deceptively nice word for killed and cut up) a goat and a ram last week.  It made a very strong impression on me, and as traumatic as it was, I feel satisfied that I did it, and will do it again.

Trying to reconcile the fact that I eat meat with the rest of my values has been a long journey   I want to be consistent in values and actions, to have my actions congruent with my beliefs.  This has been one of the places where I seriously failed at doing so in the past.

Left to right: Hunting knife for boning, cleaver for soft bones,
kitchen knife for cuts requiring strength, and on top a steal to maintain a sharp edge.
Not shown, bone saw.

With the goat and the ram, I had different friends do the actual deed (very interesting to see the difference in styles, but that's a subject for another time).  Then I helped skinned the animals.  Brought the flesh inside and butchered it.  Took me about 3 to 4 hours per animal to skin and get it into freezer size portions - roasts, stewing/sausage square, cuts for hams, and so forth.

It was really amazing to me to turn a living animal into food - I felt intensely grateful to the animals and it gave me a very different view of life.  I learned a lot about myself.

I learned that I don't ever want to make a killing stroke on an animal.  This is really heart shatteringly difficult to watch.  But I do feel I could do it if needed to be done, in a survival situation and there was no one else around to do it.

I also learned that processing the meat myself made the emotional transition much easier.  Because I felt so grateful  I didn't want to waste anything.  In a small abattoir or large slaughter house, they have what they call hanging weight.  This is the meat minus the skin and organs.  From hanging weight to packaged ready to go, the usual loss is 20 to 30%.  For my half of the ram, I started with 40lb of meat, and after it was cut up ready to go, ended with 39lb of meat, that's a loss of only 3%.  I'm keeping the fat for cooking and soap making, the bones for broth, the little scraps of meat for sausage and stew.  Moreover, I know where each piece came from and can cook it accordingly.

Gratitude to the animal is very humbling and reduces waste.

Keeping the animal at home for slaughter, saves it a long trip to the abattoir, a journey that can take days of stress.  On top of that, at the slaughter house, the animal is surround by other stressed out animals, and the smell of blood and other things that terrify them.  Not going into details here, but at a facility, the animal basically has a stressful end.

When I think back on the abattoirs and slaughter houses I've visited (big and small), I know how much I disliked the conditions.  The conditions were clean and up to code, but that's not what bothered me.  The way the animals end, the stress and fear that they display - because animals do display these emotions.

On top of that, the facility butchers the meat, cutting it up according to their standards, which, quite frankly, are different than my own.  With some things, I can be very fussy in the kitchen.  At a facility that processes hundreds or thousands of animals a day, many perfectly good cuts are ground when they don't need to be.  It saves a lot of time and energy for the home cook, but it also produces a lot of waste.

It's better for the animals to have their end at home, and it's better for my kitchen economy to process the meat myself.  Although I do need more practice and/or lessons to get the cuts of meat better.

I also feel really bad for all the commercially processed meat I've eaten in my life.  I don't think I want to buy meat again, not without knowing where it came from and how the animal met it's end.

What am I going to do with all this meat?  The Ram/mutton is mostly for eating.  The fellow was only just 2 years old (in 19th C England, 2 years old and younger was lamb, whereas most countries now have the age at 12 months or less) and a very gentile personality.  The meat is tender and mild flavoured, very tasty and perfect for roasts, fresh sausage, soups, stews, pasta, &c.  I think I'll make a couple of small hams from the hocks, just to see what it's like dry cured.  As for the goat, she was old and high strung.  Her meat is mostly going for curry, dry cure ham, and dry cured sausage like Kabanosy - things that are slow cooked and spicy, or spicy and cured.

Now keep in mind, home processing animals from start to finish is not an easy task - emotionally or physically.  It's not at all like the books say it will be.  If you want to home process your animals, here are a few things you need to do first.  Check the local laws.  Some countries no longer allow farmers to kill their own animals, or require a special licence or certification to do it - I have opinions about this, when it's done right, it's the most gentle passing possible for the animal, but it has to be done right.  Other places like here, we can only kill our own animal on our own land for our own consumption   If we want to sell our meat, it has to be processed at a government inspected facility.  Another thing you need to consider is your  neighbours.  if they are within site of your yard, they may take issue and cause a fuss.  Or they might come by and demand some meat for dinner.  Last of all, have everything clean and ready before you begin, including somewhere to hang the meat, knives sharpened, freezer paper... &c.

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