Brief history: I grew up in farming country. When we fell on hard times, a friend of my grandfather's brought us home-grown and home-butchered meat, which was delicious (but tough: this was during the '50s drought and the cattle that survived in the brush country had been living on brush and cactus, not good grass.)
So the concept of home-grown meat, and the way it got from critter to table, was familiar to me.
A few years ago, the friend whose ranch my cattle live on found one of his heifers with a broken leg. The only humane thing to do was shoot her--but then why waste the meat? At the time, he didn't have a place to butcher her, so he brought her to our place, where we hung her up in the carport, over a tarp, and I had my first full-scale experience of home butchery. It was August, and over 100 degrees, and our carport isn't really tall enough, but we got Nameless (of course I named her) skinned and cut up into edible chunks and she was delicious.
We still continued to haul our not-quite-yearly calf to the small slaughter facility, where they have all the good equipment and give you back hard-frozen packages neatly labeled. But then that slaughter facility closed, as many independents are doing. As more urban types move out to the country, they find they don't like the country, especially not the things that make it country (like, for instance, roosters crowing, cattle lowing, and small independent slaughterhouses.)
Then came the first lamb. This was a show lamb my farrier had helped someone with (his kid shows lambs) but this lamb didn't win. Anything. I had been wanting some fresh, non-frozen lamb but the supermarket prices were out of range, so....for a modest exhange of goods, Little Lamb was delivered to the ranch, which by this time had a tall barn and a tractor with a bucket on the front. On that cold winter day (a good day for such deeds) we took possession of LL, who was a gentle lamb, but not very little and show-fat, and for the first time I did the slaughter as well as helping with the butchery. My goal in the process is that the animal (whatever it is) not suffer, including not panicking. LL was perfectly calm; we petted him and positioned him and--the first shot stunned him but didn't kill; the second killed. Error of placement (a sheep's brain isn't exactly where I thought it was.)
Once you kill whatever, you have to skin it, clean it, and cut it up. This took awhile with LL, despite the presence of one extremely experienced and two not-so people working on him. But we got it done; hung the carcass overnight, and the next day commenced with the cutting up. Let me just say not that dividing a sheep's backbone with a reciprocating saw is...not that easy. I wasn't holding the saw (well, except once); I was mostly hanging on a foreleg to try to reduce the jiggling.
This year's lamb was a different critter altogether. Not a placid, calm, friendly lamb, but a lamb who'd already broken a gate by crashing into it several months ago. True to his nature, NL (Naughty Lamb), who had been standing calmly in the trailer for quite awhile as we found all the hose sections we needed to run from the pumphouse to the south end of the barn, decided when the two men involved entered the trailer that yes, he had a chance...but he didn't. John straddled him and fashioned a halter out of a length of rope, R- helped move him along and position him at the trailer gate. Then, with everyone in position, and NL's head held firmly around the trailer stanchion by the halter rope, I moved in, the Black Widow with her pistol. This time, knowing exactly where to place the shot, I got it right. One was enough and he went down . R-cut his throat and we let it bleed. The rest also went more smoothly, as NL, though older than LL, was smaller. Instead of a reciprocating saw to cut down the spine, the guys used a cleaver and mallet, which was faster and less messy.
Stuff you may not think of: to do it right, you want it clean. This involves bleach solution and clean rinsewater for the work tables (for instance) and bleach on the tools used (one of my minor tasks is cleaning up knives and so on as they're used, so they're clean each time they're picked up.) Handwashing occurs multiple times: the fleece is filthy and if you've touched the fleece you don't touch the meat underneath until you wash again. The animal's hung from the hind legs, and the skin "reversed" inside out as it's freed from the tissues underneath, so it's inside out with as little contamination of the meat surface as possible. There are online guides (even videos, for those who want pictures in motion.) Reviewing these (either diagrams or pictures) will help the novice do a serviceable, if not elegant, job of "fabrication" (that's what one website called it.) Sheep fat is heavy and hands get slippery, so that's something to watch for--knives slipping from a hand that's applying pressure on them fly where you don't want them to.
In hot weather (esp. humid hot water, as we're having) and in the absence of a meat locker, hanging isn't a great idea, so instead we're using freezers to chill the halves enough to make it easier to cut up later. Hanging produces the best quality meat, but it's not always possible. John has a meat saw now (a band saw designed for cutting up meat, with a grinder attachment) so the dividing into packages should be easier. Since it'll be stored in the freezer, we have a quantity of gallon, two-gallon, and 2.5 gallon plastic freezer bags (the halves are cooling in big garbage bags.)
With the closing of so many independent slaughterhouses, we're looking at home-butchering of the next calves, as well...and maybe the joint purchase of a young pig. Long hauls to slaughter stress livestock, physically and emotionally. Actually doing the slaughter and butchering is stressful for the humans--strenuous, even--but there's the knowledge that the animal didn't suffer unnecessarily, and a connection to the meat that supermarket meat just does not provide.
Not for everyone. But right for us.