Monday, April 25, 2011

Butchering Pearly

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


Okay. That said, today was the sad day we had our injured heifer Pearly butchered.

Normally I don't get sentimental over our livestock. When it's time to butcher a steer, it's no big deal. But this is the first time we've had an injury on the farm so severe that we couldn't let the animal live.

If you recall, Pearly cut her ankle on a sheet of roofing tin I carelessly left on the ground. The cut was so deep it severed her Achilles tendon. We've had her in the barn for the last week since she could barely hop around on three legs. Fortunately the mobile butchers were scheduled to be in our neighborhood today, so Pearly didn't have to suffer too long.

My normal morning routine (for the cow/calf pairs currently residing in the driveway) is to put their hay in a couple of wheelbarrows, then let the animals out one by one. Since I didn't want them in the vicinity when Pearly was butchered, this time I let the animals out, but didn't put out any hay. They milled about in confusion.

I wanted all the animals down in the pasture, out of sight of the barn. We haven't put the animals in the pasture yet this year because the grass isn't tall enough and we don't want them eating it down too quickly. But this was a special occasion. Once I put some hay in a wheelbarrow, they followed me readily enough.

A couple hours later, Potlatch Pack showed up. The business is run by Mel and Chance, an uncle/nephew team.

The first thing to do, of course, is the actual killing. Notice the quiet and respectful stance Chance takes as he approaches the animal. He keeps his rifle tucked out of sight until just before he aims.

These guys are experts. One shot -- that's it. Very quick, very humane.

They dragged her out of the barn and hoisted her up to drain the blood.

The men wear waterproof aprons and holsters with knives. They constantly sharpen the knives on a sharpener which also hangs from their belt.

Skinning. In their capable hands, this procedure takes only ten or fifteen minutes.

They use a modified chain saw to cut the carcass in half.

The men are constantly hosing themselves down, as well as their tools and the carcass. They keep everything very clean.

See that white sack? Sadly, it was as we suspected -- Pearly was quite pregnant. That's the fetus.

Hanging the carcass to finish skinning and finish cutting in half.

Into the truck, along with the carcasses from a neighbor's farm.

The men have barrels for putting unwanted organs and other parts, but they always empty the stomach because otherwise it would take up too much room. This is the half-digested hay from the stomach.

But how far along was the fetus?

The men have seen fetuses in endless stages of development. A cow's gestation is nine months and ten days. They estimated this one to be 7 1/2 months along. It was a girl. Notice the pearly-white hooves, just like her mom had when she was born.

In the end, the men buttoned up their equipment and left me with so little to clean up that I was done in two minutes. These guys are consummate professionals and it's no wonder their reputation as experts is widespread in this region. They took a sad situation and did the job quickly and cleanly. We're grateful they're here to do it.

I sometimes say this blog is to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly about rural living. Today was a little bit of all three. The good is we will soon have meat in our freezer. The bad is we lost an otherwise healthy heifer. And the ugly is we lost an unborn calf as well. Such is life in the country.


  1. As sad and heartbreaking as it is, it also was the right thing to do...

    Thank you for not only taking us thru the process - a learning process for a lot of us - but considering the other animals' feelings as well (that was precious).....

    Sometimes things just don't work out as planned, it's how one handles those sudden twists and turns ~ You have a good soul and a courageous character.....

    Thank goodness for a mobile butchering company, they look amazing too....

  2. Patrice,

    What can you say in response to a post (and an event) like this. Thank you for sharing your life. As you said, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I continually feel blessed for having "made your acquaintance." You (and Don and the girls) are simply the best.

    Jeff - Tucson

  3. I saw the pic of the unborn and actually said "Aww" outloud...and I see death in my hospital regularly.

    And that's all I have to say 'bout that.

  4. MICHAEL DEAN MILLERApril 26, 2011 at 1:22 AM


    If they didn't get startled by the rifleshot or chainsaw and only witnessed the slicing and dicing from their stalls, do you believe the other beefcritters would understand or 'know' what's happening?


  5. I have what might be considered a silly question, but I don't want to risk looking it up on the web (I only read the text of this post and I took my glasses off for the pictures): was the calf still alive at that point? Or did it pass with Pearly's passing?

    I also appreciate your candid post of this process. I may look at the pictures another time when it isn't so early and I'm feeling a little stronger.

  6. As "ready" as I thought I was to read about this necessary process, news of the fetus did me in. I'm sitting here in tears; what a tragedy. I'm sorry, Patrice.

  7. We all start to die the day we are born, our animals are no different.Do not beat yourself up mentality because you slipped upped. Hard lesson learned, I know I can't cast a stone.
    Had Enuff

  8. When we were on the farm and it came time to send the steers off. My grandfather got in his car and left. My parents said that one of them would go in our freezer. I told them, "I WILL NOT EAT JUNIOR OR SISSY!!!" They said later that they bought another steer. HA, probably not, but, what did I know, I was a kid. Farm life ain't easy.

  9. So well done! That was a good post on a reality of keeping livestock. The downside.

  10. Wow. Thank you for taking the time to document this all. I've never seen a step-by-step butchering for a cow.

    I'm sorry you lost two heifers out of this. :(

  11. Even though I recognize it is a part of country life, it still makes me sad. Thank you for showing the humane way to take care of your animals in life and death.

  12. I'd never seen this before - interesting. But very sad about the unborn calf. Do you do anything with the hide?

  13. To answer a few questions:

    The calf died probably moments after Pearly did. Sadly there are parallels in human pregnancies. If the mother dies, how long before the fetus does? Mere moments because of oxygen deprivation, if nothing else.

    One time we butchered a steer right in front of the rest of the herd. Don was out of town and I had no choice – it was winter and there were limited places we could put the cattle, and I had no way to separate the steer from everyone else. The other animals were TERRIBLY upset and I vowed to never again let them witness a death of one of their own. Some people think I’m overly anthropomorphizing our livestock, but I don’t think so. I was there, I saw their reaction.

    The men offered me the hide, but I had no interest because we have no way to tan it. Nor do I have any particular need for the leather. The standard procedure is for them to take the hide and sell it to a tannery, which helps defray some of the costs of doing a farm call (especially with gas prices). Pearly had a beautiful brindle hide which is not the most common coloration, so hopefully it was worth something.

    One more thing I’d like to add. The advantage of using a mobile butcher is the lack of stress on the animal. You saw how Pearly was shot right where she lay. Of course she didn’t know what was coming, and so she didn’t suffer “mentally” at all. If we would have loaded her into a trailer and taken her to a slaughterhouse, she would have been terribly stressed. Instead she died just where she was born and raised. I can’t think of a better way to go.

    - Patrice

  14. Would it have been possible to keep Pearly alive long enough to deliver the calf and then do the butchering? Why not? It just seems like the loss of a calf (future cow) would be a big loss.

    This was a very interesting post. Thank you.

  15. That's a good question, Anon 7:41. We actually gave it some serious thought. The trouble was, we didn't know exactly how far along Pearly was in her pregnancy. It turns out she was about two months from term. Keeping a seriously injured animal alive for that long is cruel. Also, hand-raising raising a calf from birth is tricky. Do-able, but tricky. But the biggest issue would have been keeping Pearly alive. We didn't want to put her through any more pain and suffering.

    - Patrice

  16. We have butcher wild game, but fortunately we haven't had to butcher an animal we knew. It's all part of the farm life though, I realize.
    I'm sorry about the loss of the calf as well as the cow.

  17. Patrice, that was a beautiful, painful post. I've butchered our meat birds and deer when hubby hunts. But I've also had to put down injured chickens and it is so emotional even though you know you have to do it. The butchers you used appeared to be fabulous at what they do. (And the mobile idea is fabulous!) They probably made a hard situation easier.

  18. In one brilliant article you have captured the
    sometime, difficult realities of living the
    Life on a Farm with livestock.

    We have no such mobile services available, due to requirements for state health certifications and a facility here that would meet state regulation, to bring an outside butchering contractor ONTO our farm.

    I wholeheartedly agree, the loading, trailering, and travel,is most stressful, especially on an already stressed or injured animal.
    Thus, we perform all of our own butchering and processing, here. The state also will not allow us to sell any of our grassfed beef, unless, it is butchered, after inspection by a paid state inspector, at a state certified processing facility. The added overhead costs for these services, in addition to the fuel and time, prohibit us from even making the consideration of such arrangements.

    Thank you Patrice for being true to the story.

    Thank you for your acts of compassion toward all your farm animals.


  19. Such a hard lesson to learn. Thank you for sharing this. Oh, and I think you are right to lead the animals away from the slaughtering. Have you noticed if your animals notice when a animals is slaughtered, i.e, the absence of that animal? I know dogs notice a companion is gone but I have wondered if cows, sheep, horses, etc notice. Thank again Patrice. Are your girls doing ok with this? I would think their hearts hurt....I will pray for all of you.

    Ouida Gabriel

  20. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)April 26, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    Thank you Patrice and your family for sharing life on the farm with us. Most people never give a second thought to where their meat comes from. Too bad all of it can't be obtained this way instead of huge slaughter houses where you just know there is no compassion given to the animals. Kudos to Potlatch Patch - they are good and compassionate men.
    A friend put down one of his Angus and had it butchered locally.The meat was just wonderful! Nothing, ablolutly nothing, like what is purchased in the supermarket.
    You made the right decision in not keep Pearly alive just to get the calf. Good people don't let amimals suffer if they can't be saved ..and you are definitely "good people".

  21. So sad, but - as you said - sharing some of the harsher realities of rural living. We have raised all of our kids to understand that for us to have meat on the table, something had to die. For a while, it seemed as if our oldest was going to go vegetarian.

    Good Post.

  22. I know you told the vegetarians not to read it, but I couldn't resist. (I read all your butchering posts and, having grown up in the country, am very un-squeamish.)

    Such a sad reality, but such a beautiful way for an animal's life (or should I say, two animals' lives) to end--in a place where they are loved, nurtured, and valued. I hope you are all doing ok.

  23. Patrice -
    I'm with you.
    Whenever I have to kill an animal I remove the animal or the other herd or flock members if possible.
    Many farm animals trust (and sometimes love)their humans - they don't need to see that kind of stuff.

    My experience has been that livestock will only become upset or fearful if the dead animal's appearance is significantly changed.

    That's part of the reason a calf, foal or lamb will stay with it's dead mother, and why the other members of a herd or flock will carry as if nothing has happened in the barn or pasture when one of their own dies from natural causes or accident.

    Aside from the noise from the gunfire, most farm animals don't seem to get upset or understand the killing of a herd member with a rifle as long as the dead animal's appearance is not changed.

    But once the dead animal's physical appearance and outline or form is altered by skinning, gutting, removing the head or feet, the other herd members DO NOTICE and can become very agitated and fearful.
    Dr. Temple Grandin has written several papers about this in regards to the ritual slaughter and humane treatment of livestock.

    Sorry you've have such a trying week & loss.

  24. Thank you for posting this. I did not think I could review the photos, but am glad I did.

    "Bless us our Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen."

    There is a reason this is said before each meal.
    Pearly was one of God's gifts, and she did not die in vain. This prayer reveres not only God, but fosters respect for the animals (or the sweat of the brow of one who grows the produce)
    that allow us to continue our earthly existence, by the grace of God.

    God's creatures. For us, God's children.
    I will never be ungrateful again. Thanks for the reminder about how difficult procuring our next meal can be.

  25. Oh how sad and heartbreaking for you. I'm so sorry. Polly looks sad in the photo. Good for you though, for taking the responsibility of cow ownership so seriously.

  26. Please don't let yourself fall into this trap Patrice. It was an accident. You do not need to be feeling remorse. That is a problem for the ladies. You gave the beast very good care as far as it could go. Everything has it's life span. It's probably good you did not live in an earlier time when people where really hard core.

  27. Granny Miller - Thanks for the insight, I always wondered how much they understand or how they understand.....sometimes it's easy to apply "pet emotions" to all animals, when that may not be the right ideas......I'm amazed at animals' ability to accept losses, at times better than some of us humans can ~ I also think that they understand illness/injuries better than we do...that's not to say they don't feel anything but are more understanding/accepting of them (and the results).....

    Ultimately they rely on us humans to make sure they are taken care of in times when they need help.....

  28. That is always the part of farm life I hate. I am glad the butchers were in your area.

  29. Patrice and family, I know this wasn't an easy thing for you guys, but for everything there is a season! And you guys will not be hungry if times get harder!
    Is it bad for me to ask about the slaughter of chickens? How is that done?
    Kelly in NC

  30. Patrice, thanks for sharing this post and sharing a little bit of youself. Had to have been hard to do what was a necessary task.

    Based on some of the things you have posted in the past, these critters are almost like pets for you and your clan. Hard to have to put a pet down, I know because I have had to do it a few times.

    After the beef is aged and you serve it I know you guys will give thanks to the Lord for his bounty.


    PACNW Righty

  31. Hugs to you and the family...I know its such a very sad and difficult time. Just know that its part of His plan and the fact that you've shared the experience with so many, will help others in the future.

  32. A friendly reminder of the life cycle. It isn't always a pleasant cycle, but a cycle nonetheless. Thanks for an interesting read about the process

  33. With all those halters on cattle you may want to rethink this practice before another accident! Why wouldn't you know when your calves are due? Cattle/horses/dogs whatever your breeding you should know when your "crop" is due!

  34. "Notice the quiet and respectful stance Chance takes as he approaches the animal. He keeps his rifle tucked out of sight until just before he aims."

    One of the most humane things I've ever read.

  35. I have read your blog regularly ever since I saw a link from Survivalblog. I live a bit vicariously through you, as my ultimate goal is to become self-sufficient on a farm or ranch somewhere. I thank you for posting all the down-and-dirty details so I can see what it really takes to make it work. I'm sorry about the loss of Pearly but I appreciate that you have shared this side of the farm life as well.

    -Stuck in Phoenix

  36. I see life going on as it has for ten thousand years.To the butcher men I say ALLright! May you and your business prosper.That is what will happen. Believe me it will be alright.

  37. I could sense your feelings of loss and sadness and also appreciate the way you respected and honored Pearly. We had a tragedy with our goats and I am still raw from it 6 years later. I was away and my elderly mother-in-law had some rhododndren cut and sent it with my husband as a "special treat" not knowing that it was posion for goats. I came home to three screaming goats. We were able to save one but the others died a horrible death even with pain medicine and help from our vet. The vet tried to comfort us but we still felt terribly guilty. A very hard lesson learned.

  38. I know I am posting well after the fact, but thank you for sharing the experience. We raise goats, and tomorrow for the first time I will be helping (or solo butchering, my friend-wasn't clear) a young bull calf.

    We had one young doe injured in a dog attack, and she recovered. and we were relieved we didn't have to butcher her, she's the sweetest doe in the crop, plus I had to help her and her brother out in our first hard kidding. I too felt sad at the fetal calf, but as everyone noted, farm and ranch life isn't the clean, sanitized reality advertisers want city folk to accept.

    ... Blanche in the Great Basin