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 heifer 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 heifer Smokey.
Smokey is our herd matron Ruby's calf, and let me tell you she's been a pill from Day One. She's always had a snarky personality (gets it from her mom) and is a clever escape artist to boot. Altogether a pain in the patookus.
We also call her our One-Horned Wonder because it was the first time our trusty dehorning paste had failed us. One horn grew, hence her nickname.
Anyway the mobile butchers were slated to arrive this morning, so yesterday evening we called the herd up from the pasture and managed (with very little trouble, for once!) to get Smokey into the barn, where she most assuredly didn't want to be. But we learned last February (when we butchered our steer Nebuchadnezzar) that doing the actual shooting in the barn is mighty handy. The butcher can shoot at point-blank range and not miss, and the animal isn't running all over the place.
Smokey kept giving us understandably (and, as it turns out, justifiably) suspicious looks at being locked up.
But no matter! For once we were SET! No chasing recalcitrant cows all over creation just as the butchers drove up. No sirree, not this time! We went to bed feeling smug and pleased with ourselves.
That was our first mistake. NEVER get smug on a farm.
Sure enough, I woke up at 5 am this morning to the noise of a heifer yelling... but not in the barn. I looked out the window and saw her ambling across our neighbor's pasture, hollering at the other cows. Crap.
Turns out she had managed to jump over the barn gate (above her head!), stomp through my young corn patch, and break open another gate into the woods, where she slipped through three other fences until she arrived in the neighbor's pasture.
Remember what I said about this girl being an escape artist? I could not WAIT until she was in the freezer.
I woke up Don, we threw on clothes, grabbed push poles, and got her off the neighbor's land and back onto ours, then tossed her in with the rest of the herd. "The butchers can just shoot her in front of everyone," pronounced Don through gritted teeth, and I agreed with him (thus proving it's not a smart idea to herd cattle before caffeine).
For a variety of reasons the rest of the morning was awful -- too much work at too early an hour, plus I was worried about getting Smokey into a manageable position before the butchers arrived. Plus the day was heating up again (it's been very hot lately).
Miraculously the herd moseyed back into the driveway area around 8:30 am, and I told Don, "Let's try to push her back into the barn." He was skeptical that she would go, but we armed both kids with push poles and actually succeeded! While I stood guard at the gate so she wouldn't jump over it again, Don got a 2x6 and screwed it over the top to block the escape route.
Thankfully -- and literally -- within five minutes after accomplishing this, up drove Potlatch Pack!
I tell ya, when I heard that gun go off which announced Smokey was down, I did a little dance of jig. (Okay that's mean, I know...)
They used a winch from the truck to pull her out of the barn.
Mel (the butcher) slit her throat over a bucket to catch the majority of the blood.
Here he's skinning the head, which he'll remove to get it out of the way.
I thought there was something grotesquely picturesque about this photo. In a macabre sort of way, of course.
Then Mel lowered the carcass to the ground and got ready to skin it. Since he's working solo today (he often works with his nephew Chance), he used this bar to prop the body up.
Starting the skinning. Skinning is a tricky business, and Mel is an expert.
He also removes the hooves. Can't skin a cow with the feet still on! This also exposes some strong tendons in the back legs which are used to hoist the carcass up.
Skinning. (Notice the head and feet in the background.)
Halfway through, Mel half-hoists the carcass higher to make skinning easier.
Notice the plastic holster of sharp knives, fastened around his waist with a chain belt. Last February when Mel's nephew Chance was butchering our steer by himself, he slipped in the mud and fell. "That's why you always wear your knives in a holster rather than putting them in your pocket!" he said cheerfully as he got up covered with mud.
Here's one of the hooks, slipped through the Achilles' tendon in the hind leg. These hooks will be used later to hoist the carcass up and slide it into the truck.
But meanwhile Mel uses a bracer bar to finish skinning and make gutting easier.
Gutting. He's already sawed through the breast bone. We asked him to save the liver, which a neighbor adores.
Sawing through the spine, cutting the carcass in half. Notice the internal organs on the ground.
Hosing hosing hosing. These guys hose things down constantly to keep things as clean as possible.
Mel opens the door of the truck, getting ready to slide the carcass inside on rollers.
Remember those hooks we saw earlier, through the Achilles' tendon? Mel is lifting those hooks onto rollers to slide the carcass halves into the truck.
Portrait of a hard-working blue-collar man.
One last bit of skinning and cutting before the halves are separated.
Ready to slide into the truck. Mel will transport the carcass to his facility, where it's hung in a cooler for at least a week before being cut and wrapped.
Hosing down one last time...
...and into the truck.
Time to deal with the internal organs. Mel always slices open and empties the stomach. No sense hauling thirty pounds of half-digested grass around.
We asked if he could dump the contents in a wheelbarrow so we could put it on the compost pile.
The chickens love butchering day.
And that was it! Butchering is done for the time being. We'll get the meat back in about two weeks.
Today Mel had a young man named Adrian with him who watched the proceedings with great interest. He was apprenticing to be a butcher and had already worked quite a bit with Mel, learning to cut meat. He still needed training for the slaughter, skinning, gutting, quartering, etc. of livestock.
I expressed my admiration for his choice of a practical career that would virtually guarantee him employment. "Mel tells me it's a dying art," he said, and I agreed. In a tough economy, I believe it will be the practical jobs that will survive. Society will always need butchers. But society may not always need experts in 18th century French feminist literature or something similarly specialized.