Country Living Series

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Butchering Nebuchadnezzar

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

Okay?

Okay. That said, this morning we butchered our steer Nebuchadnezzar.

We actually had him slated for the freezer about a month ago, but literally on the day the mobile butchers were supposed to show up, we got socked with our one and only blizzard of the winter. Needless to say we called and canceled, since the butchers wouldn't have been able to get within several miles of our house.

So Nebuchadnezzar got a month's reprieve.

This is the guy. He's supposed to be a steer, but the circumstances under which he got emasculated were, let us say, rodeo-like... so apparently it didn't "take." Bottom line: he looked like a bull, he acted like a bull, but he wasn't fertile like a bull. What a pain in the patookus.


It was a day of screaming wind. When it's windy, it puts the animals in high spirits... so convincing Nebuchadnezzar to come into the corral was neither quick nor easy. Fortunately Polly was in heat, so I grabbed her halter and hauled her into the barn, and Neb followed. Ah, sweet hormones... even if he was lacking the equipment to do anything about it.


Once we shooed him into the barn, the butcher decided to shoot him inside the barn rather than in the driveway area. This had two advantages: one, no chance of Neb kicking up his heels and possibly causing the butcher to miss his shot; and two, the butcher could shoot him at point blank range, which he did.

The place to shoot, incidentally, is between the eye and the ear. The bullet enters the brain and the animal is down instantly, with barely a twitch. One shot, no suffering. Terrific method.

The butcher's name is Chance. Normally he and his uncle, Mel, work together; but Mel decided to take the day off, so Chance did the work himself. He attached a chain to Neb's leg and dragged him out of the barn and hoisted him up. Don is holding a bucket for the blood when Chance slits Neb's throat.


At least, that was the plan. We didn't account for the wind. It was blowing so hard the carcass was swaying, and only about half the blood made it into the barrel. The rest splattered on the ground, and a fine bloody mist covered Don and me, who were standing down wind. Ah, just another day of country living.


In the photo above, see how Chance's yellow waterproof apron is flared out? The wind was gusting upwards of 50 mph, making work challenging.

After the blood was drained out, Chance removed the head. He works bare-handed which, in this weather, seemed like a miserably cold thing to do... except his hands are buried inside a body-temperature carcass. Remember this next time you're inclined to gripe about your desk job.


Obviously not much blood made it into the bucket. Oh well, it was a nice thought.


Next Chance lowered the carcass to the ground and prepared to skin it. While the hydraulic lift was lowering the carcass, Chance pulled on the front legs to get Nebuchadnezzar to lie flat... but between the hideous wind and the slippery mud, Chance crashed to the ground. He got up covered in mud but still cheerful. "That's why you always wear your knives in a holster rather than putting them in your pocket!" he announced. Can't argue with that.


First he removed the feet.


The back legs have some very strong tough tendons, literally strong enough to hang the steer. Chance slices between the tendons, leaving a gap for the hooks.


See the hole near the bottom? In a few minutes Chance will insert hooks into the holes in both legs.


But first he has to skin. His skinning knives are amazingly sharp and he sharpens them constantly with a sharpener hanging from his belt.


He uses a meat saw to break through the sternum.


With the carcass about halfway skinned, it's time to hoist it up again. Here's where the hooks get put through the tendons.


See the edge of Chance's yellow apron flailing in the wind? The gusts were nearly enough to blow us off our feet.


The carcass is slowly being raised, and Chance takes the opportunity to hose things down. He hoses things down constantly, including himself.


It was about this juncture that FedEx drove up to deliver a package. The driver -- a very nice young man from Russia -- didn't notice the proceedings at first. "I'm sorry you came just now," I told him. "We're butchering a steer." He looked up, saw the carcass, and said very quietly, "Ouch."

As the carcass slowly rises, Chance works off most of the rest of the hide. By the way, he sells the hide to a tannery to subsidize the cost of the farm call.


This is also the time to open the body cavity.


More hosing down.


With the carcass fully off the ground...


...Chance can finish skinning it.


At this point he inserts meat hooks into the tendons for later on, when the carcass is cut in half and rolled into the truck on overhead rollers.


Now it's time to gut the animal. Dig right in!


He asked if I wanted any of the organ meat. I said a neighbor enjoys fresh liver and heart, and asked him to keep those. Our neighbor also likes fresh tongue, but I forgot to ask him to save it.


Here they are. (The color adjustment on the camera makes them look more purple than they really are.)


Next step: cut the carcass entirely in half down the backbone.


More hosing down.


See the yellow apron in these photos? The wind is still howling.

At this point Chance transfers the meat hooks onto rollers, getting ready to slide the carcass into the truck. Notice the hide is still attached.


With the carcass fully cut in half, only then does he finish cutting off the hide and removing the organs.


More hosing down.


Into the truck goes the first half. We're also the first stop of the day. Chance has another farm call a few miles away.


Time to clean up. The hide goes into one of the barrels strapped to the side of the truck.


Chance likes to empty the stomach before putting it in a barrel, to save room. Here he empties it into the bucket holding the blood.


There must have been seventy-five pounds of half-digested grass hay in that stomach. I could barely drag the bucket out of the way. We'll put the bucket contents onto the compost pile.


All the organs go into another barrel on the side of the truck.


Did I want the head with the horns, Chance asked?


Nah...


Chance spent a few minutes hosing everything down.


Notice how clean and tidy he's left our driveway. Except for some blood on the ground, you'd never know he was here.


Although I did notice this puddle got dramatically stained red...


Chance will take the carcass back to their facility and hang the meat in a locker for about ten days before cutting it up. I'm guesstimating we'll get about 350 pounds of meat off dear ol' Nebuchadnezzar.


I've said it many times before and I'll say it again: my admiration for the hardworking blue-collar men and women of this nation knows no bounds. Potlatch Pack is just a single example. They take a dirty job and do it quickly, efficiently, and humanely. It's a family-owned business, and these men do what it takes to make a living, provide for their families, and offer a much-needed and much-appreciated service to farmers in the region.

Thanks, Chance! Once again you did a wonderful job.

37 comments:

  1. I wish we had one of those around here. I am hearing about them more and more.

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  2. Thanks for his post, I showed my son (10) as a further example of how food arrives at the table (we've already been to our local friendly butcher to show him how the individual cuts are formed). He's not going to be one of the average kids who assume meat comes ready-wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. It's a bit more difficult to do here in the PRUK as all this has to be done in an abattoir far away from the public.

    Oh, and for the record, he wasn't the slightest bit squeamish with questions as to the how, why and where throughout. He also echoed my own admiration for a professional at work.

    I have to ask though

    "The wind was gusting upwards of 50 mph, making work challenging."

    Challenging? Are you sure you aren't just a little British?

    That smacks of our traditional understatement and stiff-upper-lip just a tad. You know? gale force winds are described as 'a little breezy', sub-zero temperatures as 'a little bit nippy', and we all remember the Korean war, a small British unit almost out of ammunition, being over-run by a massed human-wave attack, calling the American HQ and being turned down for help because the officer had described his units situation as 'we're having a little bit of bother here'.

    Keep up the good work!

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  3. That was a really cool look at the process! Thanks for sharing it with us. Mobile butchers make it possible for people like us to consider growing our own meat animals.

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  4. Sounds like a great couple of guys. I sure wish we had a mobile butcher here. It would make life so much easier. Blessings and enjoy the meat, Kat

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  5. That was Fascinating!! (I've seen and helped with deer, but not cattle)

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  6. Fascinating process, thanks for sharing.

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  7. Wow, that brings back some memories. Years ago I when I was still in college I live on a farm and the entire family would get together and butcher the meat for 5-8 families depending on who was participating that year. The week before all the guys would go butcher the steers like your photos show and also do all the hogs at the same time. Very long day. We usually did 8-10 animals on one day. They would be gutted, skinned and hung.

    The following week we would quarter (half the hogs) and take them over to a home made butcher shop where everyone would chip in and cut everyone's meat. It was a big team effort. When one person's stuff came up they would rotate off the line and start making decisions of how they wanted everything cut and packaged. Once there was finished it went into the freezer and the next person would rotate out. We cut, canned, wrapped, etc. the beef and pork for one family and then move on.

    It has been many years since we did that and I miss the family activity. Now the closest I get it these days is cleaning my animals after a hunt, but it isn't the same.

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  8. Curious. How long did it take from the time Chance shot Neb until the carcass was loaded in the truck?

    Oh, btw, tongue makes the most tender and delicious roast you have ever had! You just have to peel it which is a little "different". But our kiddos LOVE it and think it's the best part of the whole calf!

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    1. Took about an hour. In fact, when Chance drove the truck away, I went into the house and glanced at the clock and was surprised to find it was only 10:30 am. These guys are fast!

      - Patrice

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  9. Great post, Patrice, I'm adding it to my science for today's homeschooling (5th grade). sidetracksusie

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  10. We butcher our own every other year, and the in between years we haul our animals to a friend in the mountains.

    I kind of smiled when I read the blue collar comment, as we have removed ourselves so much from the white collar/blue collar mentality, that I forgot it is still alive and well.

    Living on a farm has made us more uni-collared as we can deliver lambs, muck out pens, treat an ill child, collect eggs, change a tire, and bake bread all in one day!

    Thanks for sharing. My butcher post is still one of the top ten post I have shared...I do believe people need to see where food comes from-especially if the animal is treated humanely(which is not common in commercial meats folks eat).

    Jennifer

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  11. That's the way it should be done.
    Sure beats life on a feedlot for Ol' Nebuchadnezzar.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I thought you weren't supposed to name your farm animals? :)

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    1. Nah, we name them all the time. Gives them some dignity, even those slated for slaughter. While most of our steers have had "meat" names, obviously Nebuchadnezzar was the exception. But we don't get so emotionally invested in a named animal that we can't use it for its intended purpose, i.e. filling the freezer.

      - Patrice

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  13. My grandparents had a farm when I was growing up. This was what was locally called "dirt farming" in that it was their living but was only about 12 acres or so. I do know for years my dad, grandfather, and some of his kin (uncles, brothers, cousins, etc.) would butcher every fall, as many animal as were deemed needed. I was never allowed to watch; my mamma said it "wasn't fit for children to see." So this was really interesting to me. I knew meat didn't originally come from the store, but I had no idea how it got there.

    I had to chuckle. There are many folks around here who think when the SHTF, they will "just go shoot a deer and then we can eat." Well, there are of course many - um - difficulties with that statement, not the least of which is finding the deer! But I suspect many of those same folks have NO IDEA how to clean and process an animal, not even a chicken, and probably would quickly convert to vegetarianism...

    In a nearby city last year, news was made when a few students butchered a deer in their apartment. Their landlord was most unhappy, as apparently were the neighbors. I appreciate your showing us that you need ROOM to process meat, and I really appreciated your butcher being so clean about the proces!

    Kathleen in IL

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  14. Homegrown is definitely better, the critters have a good life and you know how it's been fed and take care to provide a clean and quick death.

    Interesting name to choose - a grass eating king. Rather apt.

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  15. Congratulations on finding a mobile butcher that you like. I'm still searching....

    Scott in Athol

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  16. Brings back memories of a school field trip to the slaughter house...I think I stomach it better in pictures....lol

    Do you get to keep the hide? Do you have someone that tans it or do you do it yourself?

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    1. We could keep the hide if we wanted, but we don't bother. The butcher sells the hide to a tannery to offset the cost of the farm call.

      - Patrice

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  17. I wish we had a mobile butcher here in Indiana. How does the mobile unit comply with Board of Health inspections? We butchered our own heifer on our property with help from a few friends that have experience because no butcher shop would or could take it. These workers certainly have my respect also after watching this process. Thanks for sharing the photos.

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  18. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)February 23, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    Mmmmmm.....steak!
    Good article. I am going to show it to my grandson. He does not really think about where his food comes from. When he came to visit and saw my chickens for the first time, he asked where the egg came from. You should have seen his face when I picked up one of the hens and showed him. Priceless!

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  19. Absolutely fascinating (I'm unforunately a city girl). Thanks for sharing!

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  20. I want one of those mobile butchering things here in TEXAS. You would think there would be one! I have asked at our two local butchers about them offering this service, and they thought I was crazy. I wish I could talk my husband into starting this kind of service. I wouldn't even know how to start or what to charge.

    Thanks for the pictures. Too cool!

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  21. I will have to share this post with my 13 year old daughter who has said since she was six and processed her first chicken that she wants to be a butcher

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    1. Good for her! What an excellent skill to learn, especially for a young woman. I hope she follows through.

      - Patrice

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    2. My 9 year old daughter and I just read through this post. She thought it was "cool to know that someone would come to your house to do that".After helping to butcher so many deer, she didn't find it gruesome at all.

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  22. Pardon my asking, but what does it cost to bring a butcher onsite?

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    1. They don't really "charge" us for the farm call -- it's all built into the final cost of the meat. Since they sell the hide, that helps subsidize the cost. I won't know the final bill until they call us after the meat is wrapped, but my guesstimate is it will be around $300, assuming 350 lbs. of meat.

      If I remember, I'll post the final cost when we pick up the meat.

      - Patrice

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  23. That should be required reading to all city folk who think meat grows in styrofoam platters covered in plastic. Well not yet but they're workin on it! Uh, hey Patrice you don't eat those ol skinny rib bones do ya? You could ship em down here to me, I'd find some use for them...

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  24. Growing up in a rural area of Indiana, we were the only branch of the family that still had sufficient acreage to raise animals. We usually had a couple beef calves and a pig that were raised then slaughtered (at a slaughterhouse) and shared with family. We always named them. The calves were Ham and Burger one year, another they were Steak and Chops. The pig was usually called either Bacon or Porkchop. Dad wanted us to be humane, but never forget why they were there.

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  25. Life on the farm..real life..great post!

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  26. Exactly how home kill is done in Australia. :-) Good to see the pioneering spirit in America to.

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  27. Thanks for sharing!
    I am in the same boat as you were. I bought a supposidly banded jersey/holstein steer last year. Now he is thick neck, bellowing and I can see one hanging. We are calling the mobile butcher for three months out. If I can stand him that long.
    I wanted to ask you, since you have butchered bulls, and psuedo bulls do they have any off tastes because of hormones? Thank you for the help!

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    1. We've butchered three bulls so far, ranging in age from ten months to five years, and have not noticed ANY taste difference from the steers. We had the meat from the five-year-old bull divvied into only ground beef and roasts (no steaks) because we were worried he'd be tough; we also asked the butchers to hang the meat an extra week or so to make it more tender. The meat turned out just fine.

      Bottom line, you shouldn't have any worries about butchering your pseudo-bull and, like us, you'll probably be glad to have him in the freezer!

      - Patrice

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  28. Thank you so much Patrice!
    You are correct and he keeps bellowing like he is, it may only be ONE month before he goes!

    Thanks again! -Kim

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    1. We had out psudo bull done today. He seemed awfully small. How he tastes good! She sure was a pain!The home slaughter guys guessed his hanging weight at about 400. So well see what we get!

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