Yesterday was a noteworthy day on our farm. It was a day that felt like it took our farm to a new level in the farm world. It was the first time we ever butchered a large animal that we had raised ourselves for the purpose. Yup, Charlie is gone now, we butchered our steer.
I am not going to pretend like it was easy and no big deal and just part of farm life for us, because it wasn’t. It was hard. It was very different from butchering a chicken or a rabbit that we have had around for 2-3 months and that was just one of many of its kind. It was hard. We calved him (kind of) and we have nurtured and cared for him. And yes, it was all done for the purpose of feeding our family. And we all knew that all along. But it is still hard not to get a bit choked up right before you kill something that has been such a major part of your farm for so long.
And that is exactly what happened. We got a bit choked up right before it was time. Who am I kidding? My husband got a bit choked up – I, on the other hand, outright bawled. Then, when I was done crying and ready for it to be over, I took the three younger kids to the library. Yup, I totally bailed on the whole thing. I wouldn’t even be inside the house and hear the shot. Granted, this is how we had it planned for months, we all knew that I would have to leave the property for the killing part. And my supportive and wonderful husband was fine with that. His friend was here to help him, and he has always known that I wouldn’t be able to handle that.
I think the very hardest part is the right before. Husband agrees. Then, once it is over, the stress of what you have to do to the animal lifts and you start to feel excitement over the wonderful blessing that has just been provided.
Because it is summer, and not the ideal time to butcher a steer because of the heat and flies and all, we decided to butcher in the garage. This would keep us in a cooler environment, free from pests. We cleaned the floor very well and then laid down a large sheet of clean plastic. We set up our long folding table along one side of the room with all the knives, freezer paper, tape and marker, etc.
This was not the ideal set up. Ideally the carcass would be hung so husband wouldn’t have to bend over. And ideally we would age the meat. But the timing of this calf’s birth was not ideal at all for our area (we didn’t breed the cow ourselves and will choose better timing when we do). And thus the timing of butchering isn’t ideal so we will not be aging it, knowing the meat wont be as tender. Hopefully, next time, we will be able to age it and hang it for butchering and everything. For now, we were making do with the set-up and timing we have.
So after they had gutted and removed the head and legs they brought him into the garage and that is when the kids and I returned to help with the butchering. We brought with us several bags of ice and we packed the ice (still in the bags) into the carcass and around the meat as we worked to keep everything cooling during the hours it would take to process it. It was probably a pretty funny sight to a veteran farmer. We had two different books propped up, telling us what cuts to do to get which kinds of steaks and roasts.
We have butchered many many deer and elk. But with those we make much of it into ground meat and take very few specialty cuts and roasts. So this was a whole new experience for us. We wanted to get the most out of it as possible, and we wanted to get plenty of specialty cuts since we don’t usually get that.
We kept joking that we were totally butchering the butchering process. And we were! But we are learning and trying and that is just what happens sometimes. 🙂
So as we butchered and packaged the meat I labeled everything very clearly with what cut it was (or really, what cut we were attempting to make) so that as we eat it we can learn what we like and don’t like and what cooks well in what cooking method. We attempted pretty much every cut you can get, so we have a lot of variety to try. We also saved all the leg bones for making beef stock (I’ve made a lot of chicken, rabbit, and turkey stock over the years, but never beef). And anything extra that wasn’t “suitable” for human consumption went into individual serving bags to be fed to the dog. And we are sending the hide to be made into leather that we can use for many different things.
We really wanted to not waste any of him. There were two things we didn’t use. First, the books said we could take the cheek meat and the tongue. And honestly, we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t handle cutting up his face. I’m sure veteran farmers think we are silly. But I’m just being honest here. The second thing we didn’t use was the organ meat. We have never liked liver and are a bit squeamish about the thought of eating the organs. We probably should have used it for dog food, but this time we decided to just let it go with the gut pile. The scavengers will get it. Maybe as we do this more and more we will venture into those areas.
So, in the end, off of our 8 month old Jersey steer, we got the following:
- 110 lbs of meat (steaks, roast, ground, and stew meat)
- 34 lbs of soup bones for beef stock
- 22 lbs of dog food
We did it! We raised our own home-grown, grass-fed, organic, medication-free beef for our family. What a huge step for our little homestead.