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. 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?
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.