Years ago we made a plan for meat. Like many homesteader’s, we desired to get to the place where we were no longer dependent on grocery stores to put meat on the table. Raising animals for your own meat is certainly enjoyable, creates satisfying work, is frugal, and causes an reverent attitude for the gift of provision and life. A connection we certainly never knew when we were loading the cart with heat shrink wrapped meat each week at the supermarket. We were eating meat anyway, now we’re just being more mindful of our consumption and actually eat less than before.
The goal of the plan was to get into a system where we could ensure that at any point in the year we would have the meat we needed for this year in the freezer with a plan to replace it when we ran out. For beef, that took a lot of planning and forethought, but we’re finally getting to a place where we don’t have to eat only chicken for days on end. There is a nice variety to our plates.
But what a lot of homesteader’s don’t do is participate in butchering their own meat. They send the livestock they’ve had in their care for months or years off to “Freezer Camp.” There are many reasons why they don’t participate in the final step of raising meat and today I’m hoping to give you some food for thought and perhaps convince you to learn a new skill.
A note to vegetarians & vegans: I understand and respect your right to choose not to eat meat and appreciate you respecting my decision to nourish my family’s bodies with meat. If reading this is going to make you angry, I would encourage you to click that little X up there the corner. The stress and negativity isn’t good for either of us. That isn’t the nature of this discussion and off-topic comments will be respectfully deleted.
If you’d like to make pork butter with me along with many other amazing prepared and cured pork recipes including prosciutto, capicola, bacon, guanciale, pate, rillettes, and more join us December 8-9 for our Homestead Hog Butchering Workshop in Brinkhaven, Ohio!
Here are 7 reasons to butcher your own meat:
Less Stress on the Animal
We’re all going to die. It’s a simple fact of life. And I’m sure most of us hope that we go in our sleep or at least instantly. No one likes the idea of suffering for ourselves or our loved ones. We should want to avoid that for our livestock as well. Death is part of the cycle of life, and that fact surely is evident when you live on a farm. Taking your animals from the comfort and security of the only home they’ve ever known, chasing them around trying to load them on a trailer, a bumpy back road country drive to the butcher, where they are unloaded and left without food for untold hours until it’s their turn. It’s stressful. And it not only negates one of the reasons for raising your own meat in the first place, to make sure that animals were mindfully cared for and raised in a way that respects the way they were created, but it also affects the quality of the meat.
The energy required for muscle activity in the live animal is obtained from sugars (glycogen) in the muscle. In the healthy and well-rested animal, the glycogen content of the muscle is high. After the animal has been slaughtered, the glycogen in the muscle is converted into lactic acid, and the muscle and carcass becomes firm (rigor mortis). This lactic acid is necessary to produce meat, which is tasteful and tender, of good keeping quality and good colour. If the animal is stressed before and during slaughter, the glycogen is used up, and the lactic acid level that develops in the meat after slaughter is reduced. This will have serious adverse effects on meat quality. –Source
Get the Most Out of Your Meat
When you take your livestock to the butcher, it is very rare that you’re going to get every usable part of the animal back when you go to pick it up. How many of you thought to ask for the jowls back? Trotters? Skin? Notice that I said “usable”, not even eatable. Even the inedible parts make excellent pet food, further adding to the value of your investment into growing out the animal. Nose to tail eating is most easily done when you DIY your butchering.
Expand Your Choices (and Palette)
Any butcher shop that you take your animal to is going to have a limited variety to the ways that they will prepare your meat. Nothing too fancy, nothing special. And of course it has to be that way. It’s a business and in order for it to run efficiently, they need standard procedures for most of the meat they’ll process. But if you have any interest in experimenting with unusual cuts, charcuterie, or nose to tail recipes then learning the skill of home butchery is a good idea.
Increases Your Respect & Appreciation for the Gift of Their Lives
Raising your own meat to fill the bellies of your family is not an easy decision. It’s one that many can not make. Some folks can’t bring themselves to know where their meat came from. It’s simply not how most of us were raised and to put a face on our steak is a disconcerting thought. For those who are able to take that next step, it is anything but an easy undertaking to stand with nothing between you and the animal whose ears you’ve scratched for months (maybe years) except a gun. I’ve still not been able to do it, and many times I find I can’t even be there for the death, but thankfully, Bill has taken the responsibility to be steady enough to pull the trigger. And has learned the hard way what a grave responsibility standing in that position can be. When you see that happen, and experience the transformation of seeing the beast go from live, moving and breathing creature, to being lifeless, and then slowly become meat, you experience the gift of life more intensely and are filled with gratitude both to the sacrifice of the animal for your family and to God for His provision.
Prepares You for an Emergency
Even if you decide that it’s best for your family to take your animals to the butcher most years, I still would encourage you to learn to do it yourself.
A few weeks ago while we were out working in the yard, we noticed that the neighbor’s pig was out of it’s pen. It was still safe inside of fencing so we laughed watching it enjoy it’s new found freedom.
Then things turned ugly.
The horses in the pasture decided they were not feeling particularly hospitable in sharing their land with the unwelcome visitor. Ears laid back, necks outstretched long and low they began making passes back and forth trampling and biting the pig. Bill sprinted over to alert our neighbor while I was screaming his name. It was only a matter of time until it was crushed.
Our neighbor made it out, stopped his horses, and got the pig safely back into his pen (and this time reinforced it).
Thankfully, it was only cut and bleeding in several places, but what if that had happened and no one had noticed? It could have been fatal for the young pig.
If you were in that situation (or any multitude of unforeseeable incidents that could happen to an otherwise healthy animal) and didn’t know how to butcher or know someone who could, there is little you could to redeem the meat. When butchers are only allowed to take live animals, knowing how to butcher would give you opportunity to put meat in your freezer when tragedy strikes.
Gives You a Valuable Skills Set While Decreasing Your Dependency
If you’ve already raised your own animal for meat, you have experienced the satisfaction that comes with decreasing your dependency on others. You know that you can do this and that you can directly provide the food to put on your table. But if you’re still dependent on someone else to butcher your meat (and probably someone else’s trailer to transport it there), you are still dependent. That meat won’t put itself in the freezer. Why not take it a step further and try home butchery? It’s a valuable skill set that may not only serve your family, but perhaps one day serve your proverbial neighbor as well, increasing your sense of connectedness and community. We’ve helped several neighbors and friends butcher hogs, chicken, and deer. These rich and valuable experiences create opportunities for fellowship and labor and tool exchange.
Saves You Money (in the Long Run)
With the acquisition of any new skills set, there is an initial investment in materials to do the job efficiently and effectively, but after that input, outside of packaging supplies (which you pay for one way or the other), there is little cost in butchering at home. This saves us several hundred dollars in butchering costs every year!
Even though we were saving so much already, last year we learned some hard and shocking lessons.
Over the winter, we had 2 sets of friends both learning to butcher their hogs for the first time. Because we’ve done our own hog butchering for many years, we offered to help them if they wanted. Both families went on to tell us they already had help. We were still welcome to join them, but they had friends at Hand Hewn Farm who had learned at the table of the Traditional Home Hog Butchery Master, Brandon Sheard of Farmstead Meatsmith himself. Our friends were in very good hands. And we were thrilled to be able to be a part of their experience and went with open minds, perhaps learning something new.
What we didn’t expect to learn was exactly how much of the pig we were wasting! Honestly, we were always kind of impressed with our frugality, filling a 33-gallon trash can on slaughtering day and maybe ¼ of that on butchering day. Their waste? A 5-gallon bucket on slaughtering day and maybe ¼ of that on butchering day…. And even that went on to be dog-food. There was virtually no-waste using these traditional methods!
It was a hard truth to learn, but we are are grateful that going forward we can be more conservative.
We also realized that butchering day had become just another thing on our homestead to-do list. It was a mechanical, hurried, get-it-knocked-out-and-done job and we were through till next year. The joy and excitement we used to know, the fun of experimenting with new cuts and cures and mixes was forgotten. We had a routine, we had our preferences, and we stuck to them. At Hand Hewn Farm’s workshops, when we saw the beginnings of prosciutto, guanciale, rillettes, pork butter, pork rinds, and more- all wonderful things to be done with the pork and we had never even tried them, it was jarring to realize that we had lost the adventure, enjoyment, and part of the whole purpose somewhere along the way.
We left, vowing that the farmer-educators from Hand Hewn Farm would hold one of their workshops in our home next winter.
And so I am beyond thrilled to tell you that the plans are all in place and YOU are invited to our home for our 2016 with Hand Hewn Farm!! Are you coming?
In this knife-in-hand 3-day workshop, you will learn:
• How to harvest a hog,
• Knife sharpening and handling,
• How to use the “odd bits” including the liver, kidney, tongue, and more,
• What are the various options for each cut of meat,
• How to cure several cuts of meat including bacon, prosciutto, pancetta, capitol, and guanciale,
• How to package the cuts,
• How to render lard,
• How to make sausage,
(Space is VERY limited)
Have you learned to butcher your own meat? What areas do you think you need more improvement?