Saturday, June 4, 2011

Butchering our bull

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 bull being butchered. I don't want anyone complaining that they weren't adequately warned about the graphic nature of these photos.


Okay. That said, last Wednesday we butchered our bull Gimli.

We went back and forth about this decision. He's a fine bull and has fathered many calves. He's bred our cows as well as our neighbor's cow. Well over three-quarters of his offspring have been heifers. So why on earth would we butcher him?

A few reasons. One, his breeding has been uncontrolled. If a cow is in heat, he'll get to her no matter what (that applies to our neighbor's cow, too). No fence could keep him in. Since last fall we've known we desperately need a bull pen, but up to this point the weather has not cooperated for building projects. The ground is so wet that any attempt to auger holes -- assuming the tractor doesn't sink into the mud -- would simply result in collapsed holes.

So building a bull pen is high on our list of our summer projects. But we can't leave Gimli alone in the wooded side of our property (where the animals have eaten down the available grass) while all his girls are in the lush pastured side of the property. He would simply barge through whatever fences stood in his way and join the ladies. And then the indiscriminate breeding would start again.

We like to breed our animals in August and September so the calves will be born in May and June, when the weather has (theoretically) warmed up a bit. But we can't breed all the animals. Little Polly is still too young to breed, but she isn't too young to be in heat. So having Gimli loose with the herd was asking for trouble, since he would be breeding heifers we don't want bred.

Additionally, we're reaching the point where he would be involved in too much inbreeding. Bulls can be safely bred back to their daughters but not their granddaughters. We're starting to get a few granddaughters running around.

So bottom line, we decided to butcher him and start fresh with a new young bull in the fall. Meanwhile Gimli is in the prime of life and will yield somewhere in the order of 700 lbs. of meat -- enough to share with neighbors. Not too bad!

Unlike the sadness incumbent in butchering Pearly due to her injuries, butchering Gimli was no big (emotional) deal.

Mel and Chance with Potlatch Pack did their usual clean, efficient job. This time Older Daughter decided to watch the proceedings. ("You're kidding!" exclaimed Young Daughter when she heard. "This is the kid who can't watch a calf being born??")

Notice Mel sharpening his knife. These guys sharpen their knives all the time.

Here Chance opens the chest cavity with a modified chainsaw, while Mel keeps skinning.

The chickens thought this was all done for them.

The men are constantly hosing themselves down. They keep everything -- themselves, their tools, the carcass -- squeaky clean.

Next step is to hoist the carcass up so they can finish skinning.

Skinning -- at least, skinning done well -- is a devilishly tricky job. Needless to say, these guys are experts.

Gutting. Chance doesn't hesitate to literally plunge right in.

Next step is to cut the carcass in half, directly through the backbone.

More hosing...

Getting ready to slide the carcass into the truck. First Mel hoses down the inside of the truck.

But first they have to finish dividing the carcass...

...and removing the last of the skin. The hide is sold to a tannery.

Ta da! Cut in half.

Whenever we have an animal butchered, we have them save the liver for a neighbor who loves liver.

Haggis, anyone?

Once again Potlatch Pack did a wonderful job. Thanks, guys!


  1. Wondering how the butcher guys get paid... do they take payment in kind or are they strictly cash?

  2. We butchered our Dexter bull last summer for essentially all the same reasons. It's complicated sometimes isn't it!! Anyway, just wanted to let you know that we had him all ground into burger since he was so lean, and oh my, it was the BEST burger I've ever had! So incredibly lean and flavorful. It reminded me a little of buffalo. Enjoy your beef!

  3. We pay the butchers at the time we pick up the meat. They charge for a farm call, but after that we pay by the pound. The larger the animal, the less we pay per pound (because the farm call averages into the weight measurements). Gimli was pretty big fella by our standards, so we anticipate the total cost will out to about $0.80/lb.

    - Patrice

  4. Love it. I can't help but want to comment on the fact that one of the butchers has a belt made up of paper clips. Look back at the 10th picture down. It is the one of the close up of getting the hide off.
    I hope you have tons of freezer space and enjoy canning meat. Sounds wonderful.

  5. Interesting. Just like butchering a chicken . . but a LOT bigger. ;)

    How often do you butcher? Is it not cost effective to do your own butchering?

  6. We try to keep our steers on the hoof until they're two years old. When we butchered our injured heifer a couple months ago, obviously that was not a planned event. We butchered the bull because it was easier than dealing with the alternatives. On average, I'd say we butcher about once a year. It's rather unusual for us to butcher two animals so close together.

    It's not that it wouldn't be cost-effective for us to do our own butchering; it's that we don't have the skills and expertise. We *could* do it, but guaranteed it would be an all-day project and the results would be grim. These guys are here and gone within half an hour.

    Although...we watch the butchers every time they're out here. We're learning. Should the occasion ever arise where we need to do our own butchering, at least we wouldn't be *totally* clueless.

    - Patrice

  7. These posts fascinate me. :) Gimli is HUGE - what a lot of meat! And that liver is gigantic.

    I'm amazed at how easy the Potlatch guys make it look. I have cut up exactly 2 animals in my life (did not do the execution or the gutting, and only did the skinning on one of the two) and it's HARD.

    Gimli should provide excellent meat, with the way he was raised.

  8. Are you going to grind the whole thing into burger or save some steaks? Usually a bull can be kinda tough. FK

  9. Heavens no, we won't waste all that good meat on burger! At four years old, Gimli will be fine for abundant steaks. A few years ago when we butchered our older bull, we knew he would be too tough for much else but burgers and roasts (which were delicious, BTW). But Gimli should be fine. We always try to get as many steaks as possible, as well as roasts -- and naturally we'll get LOTS of ground beef as well.

    Goodness, our freezer will be stuffed to overflowing. What a blessing.

    - Patrice

  10. Interesting. My father did it with a splitting mall, a tarp and some knives, lol.

  11. I was raised in Northern Idaho and Dad usually got a bear, a deer and an Elk. He was a great shot and worked lumber so he scouted quite a bit. I still remember at 4-5 years old helping to butcher an Elk. Ok I just grabbed a fistfull of hide so Dad could skin it. But I felt great, I was helping DAD!
    I loved fishing and started cleaning my own fish at about 5 years old. Trout were easy but catfish were hard for a 5 year old. But Dad said you caught it you clean it. Yes a 5 year old was given a knife and taught to keep it sharp, since dull knives are dangerous. I did manage to survive all that bad parenting. LOL

  12. I know this is a lot to ask, but I'm so curious about the cost of it all. I saw your comment on $.80/lb., but have you ever factored in the cost of vet bills (if any), cost of feed for the life of Gimli and the farm call cost. When you factor all that in, how much a pound do you think you pay? ... theoretically.

    I wish I was your neighbor, I would gladly buy your extra off you.


  13. Wow, what a difference (size wise) between him and Pearly!

    I'm (still) impressed that there is someone local that you can call and come out to do this; and yes, it may be cost effective to do it yourself but these guys offer such a great (and professional) service - they should be supported.....

    I'm still sort of a newbie around here, I wondered how you would handle the breeding aspect once the limit had come --- now I know.....

    I bet your neighbors were happy, too, LOL.....

  14. Let's see, Margaret.... no vet bills for Gimli, he ate about two tons of hay every winter (but he "paid" us by fathering calves) (figure hay runs about $100/ton), and the farm call is built into the cost of the beef...

    In some ways, the more cows you have, the cheaper per cow (or bull in this case) you can raise them. Our biggest expense is buying hay for the winter (or paying a local farmer to mow and bale for us).

    We have the costs of fence maintenance and (hopefully this summer) building some extra stalls and a hay barn, but that's amortized over many years and many head of cattle.

    I figure it's still cheaper than buying that much beef at the grocery store, we sell extra heifers and earn some money that way, and our meat is grass-fed and organic.

    - Patrice

  15. @Kids and Canning Jars: It's actually not a belt of paper clips but rather a chain link metal belt that is used to hold the knives in the holster. My dad is a butcher and wears one.

  16. Stuck in CaliforniaJune 6, 2011 at 8:25 AM

    Thank you for posting these events in the daily life of a farm. My seven year old daughter and I just looked at these together. As we looked -I explained what was happening (compared it to a chicken, she has watched me prepare numerous times). She was very interested and asked questions. We have always made it known were our food comes from to her. I think this was a good introduction to larger animal butchering without it being overwhelming.
    Again thank you for a look into your daily life and allowing us to learn from you and your family's experiences.

  17. You mentioned the hide is sold to a y'all or the butchers? In other words, who gets paid? :)

  18. 700 lbs of meat. Mmmmm, lemme tell ya, I can see, hear, taste a ribeye grillin' right now!
    (Need any help with that?!)

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

  19. We essentially give the hide to the butchers, who sell it to somewhat subsidize the cost of the farm call. They always ask if we want it, and we always decline. (wink)

    - Patrice

  20. Do you like steer or bull meat better? We have a jersey bull calf that has been sucking for 4 months and not sure if we will keep him a bull for butcher. first timers so need advice. thanks

    1. We have not noticed any difference in taste between bull meat and steer meat. For safety reasons I would recommend steering all your bull calves shortly after birth, especially since intact Jerseys bulls have a reputation for being mean. If you can confine your little bull in a squeeze chute, you can steer him even now using an emasculator (you might want to get a vet to help you since he's a bit older). We steer our bull calves about a week after birth, once the testicles have descended. See this post:

      - Patrice