Monday, May 10, 2010

Butchering day

I'll repeat my warning from last time: DO NOT READ THIS POST if you are vegetarian or have a squeamish stomach. This post shows pictures of our bull calf being butchered. I don't want anyone whining that they weren't adequately warned about the graphic nature of these photos.


Okay. That said, this morning we butchered our bull calf, Beefy. After our debacle a week and a half ago when Matilda was in heat, Beefy suddenly realized he's a bull and has been acting accordingly. We didn't want two bulls around the place, so his date with the freezer came a little earlier than anticipated. He was about ten months old.

Now that Ruby and Smokey are out of the barn, we managed to get Beefy inside the barn and lock him there. Last December, when we butchered Chateau, Don was out of town and I had little choice but to round up all the animals and put them in the small pasture in front of the house (it's roughly triangular in shape so, cleverly, we call it "the triangle pasture"). This wasn't the best technique because the steer was shot in front of the herd, who were naturally upset.

This time we planned to keep Beefy in the barn and shoo everyone down in the main pasture for the first time this spring.

Lydia sleeping (just too cute to resist)...

The day started with wisps of fog creeping around the canyon.

The sun rose around 5:30 am (can you see Brit, our horse, in the foreground?).

When I released the chickens, I noticed what looked like dog urine next to the coop door. I can only conclude it was from a coyote. This is why we button up our chickens at night.

The herd milled around, restless because I had closed the gate to the triangle pasture...

...until they realized I'd opened the gate to the big pasture. Whoo-hoo! Freedom!

Here's Beefy, unhappy that he couldn't join the rest of the herd. Sorry little guy. It's been nice knowin' ya.

Potlatch Pack arrived mid-morning, and swiftly dispatched Beefy inside the barn and bled him out there (at my request - it's easier to pitchfork the blood-soaked hay from the barn). He was so small they could just drag him out into the driveway to butcher.

Here they're starting to skin. This is Mel (on the right) and his nephew Chance (left). They wear holsters with knives around their waterproof aprons, and constantly sharpen the knives from a sharpener dangling at their waist.

Here Chance takes a modified chain saw and slices down the center of the ribcage, so they can hang and gut Beefy.

Most of the skin is off, and Chance pulls out the innards. We saved the liver for a neighbor who (yuck) actually likes that kind of stuff.

The men are constantly hosing down the carcass as well as themselves and their tools. I'm impressed by their cleanliness. Here Chance is hosing the carcass, which they've finished cutting in two with the chain saw.

Hoisting it higher and getting ready to slide the carcass into the truck.

Putting on the rollers. You can see the other carcasses from other farms inside. We were their fourth (and last) stop of the morning. They'll head down to Potlatch, about an hour's drive south, to hang the meat for a couple weeks, then cut and wrap.

Finishing cutting off the skin. They sell the hide to a tanner to subsidize the cost of the farm call.

And that's it. From start to finish took about half an hour. These men are good at what they do!

I've said it before but it's worth saying again: Those who read my columns know of my deep admiration for blue-collar workers, whom I feel to be the backbone of this country. My admiration for America's working class is exemplified by these two men. Here they were, working hard, taking a dirty job and doing it quickly, efficiently, and (in this case) humanely. These are hard-working family men doing what it takes to make a living and provide for their wives and children while providing a much-needed and much-appreciated service. Potlatch Pack is a family-owned business widely known in this area for its ethical handling of livestock and meat products. What’s not to admire?


  1. Very cool. My husband and I are both vegetarians, but we have a lot of respect for folks who raise their own meat. If we could do the same, we'd probably be meat-eaters too. :)
    I hope Beefy gives y'all lots of good meals!

  2. Aww, poor Beefy. I love liver and onions. I love how Lydia is SO bothered by it all.

  3. That is so nice you can butcher on the farm, and not have the animal stressed by move and strange environment at the butcher's. I don't know of anybody doing that in Nebraska. We have to drive about 45 min to take our cows in.

  4. Nice post. What do you do with the hay from the barn where they bleed him out, burn it?

  5. Dreamer, we compost it. We have a huge mound of soiled hay we pitchfork into a pile and let the chickens have their way with it. In about two years it will be ready for the garden. The bloody hay is just as good.
    - Patrice

  6. We hunt and butcher deer, a pest in this area. We keep almost everything, the dogs get what we don't eat and we tan the hide. My friends don't understand and think its horrible but I tell them its horrible for animals to live in a feed lot. At least this way the animal lives a happy life and is much appreciated. Plus we save heaps of money!
    Thanks for the photos, its always interesting to see how other people process their animals :)

  7. I'm much does it cost to have a mobile service like Potlatch Pack come out to do the job? This is great - less stress on the animal. I'm sure the meat will taste a lot better! Good on you for raising your own meat.

  8. The "kill fee" (the price for a farm call, the actual killing, and the skinning and gutting) was $56. After that, of course, the cost will depend on the weight of the animal. In this case, the "processing and wrapping" was $99.90. We were also charged tax ($9.36) and a brand fee ($3) for a total of $168.26.

    - Patrice

  9. Dear Patrice & Team,

    Greetings from Bangalore India !!

    The Chinese who converted to Buddhism invented a form of emulation meat which is basically has a Soya as its base but it tastes just like beaf, Chicken, Lamb etc when cooked and eaten.

    This form of emulation-meat is very popular in the Chineese vegetarian Shops in China & South East Asian Countries . I request all you guys to please try it and promote it if found suitable.

    The benefit here(of your blog) was that the animal need not move around and hence was less stressful, but the benefit i am proposing is that if it is the taste and the nutrition is what you guys are really looking for them then you can avoid killing the animal in the first place !!

    Have a good day ahead
    Anand (

  10. Welcome, Anand! I'm so happy to have a reader from India!

    We butcher our own beef for two reasons. One, we like beef (smile). But two, we only have room for so many animals on our acreage. When we start getting over the number of cows our land can support, we either sell them (if they're female) or eat them (if they're male). That way everything stays in balance.

    Also, since we cannot grow soy but we CAN grow meat, this way we're self-sustaining for our meat production.

    Still, the emulation meat idea is clever. Can you send a recipe or a method of making it? I'd like to post it for readers who may be vegetarian.

    - Patrice

  11. Killing is always painful. Beefy lived with you as a family member with the hope that he is safe and protected in your family. But you people butchered it. Instead of rearing more animals restrict and protect the existing animals. They will feel blessed and you in turn will be blessed by jesus to compensate for the loss. Just save one animal and see. You will feel great when you see it happy.