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Friday, Saturday... [Nov. 27th, 2010|06:35 pm]
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Friday and Saturday--both gorgeous days with clear deep blue skies, brilliant sunshine, crisp air.   And a hard freeze in between.   Yes, we covered the roses.   Friday was spent largely in residual post-Thanksgiving cleaning up  and eating and taking our son back to his apartment (fighting the Black Friday shopping traffic both ways.)    Then came The Lamb.   (Stop here if discussion of home butchery squicks you.)

This is a lamb that had both behavioral and shape problems as a show lamb (belonging to a friend) and was destined for the freezer.   For both the lamb's sake and that of its owner (who had a lamb show to attend and no companion animal to stay with the unshowable lamb)  the owner wanted it to be "done" this weekend.   So this morning we killed and processed the lamb, much more efficiently than the previous times.  Practice, if it doesn't make perfect, makes better.   The shot to the head, the quick slice of the throat to drain the blood, the hanging up, etc., all went smoothly.  This is the first time we've done it in the particular place we used (more often we slaughter at Rancherfriend's ranch, since his barn has many useful toys, like the meat saw and big meat grinder) but it worked OK.   We have a portable stall out in the north horse lot and used that.

The weather could not have been better for the project: the cold (still a solid freeze when we started) kept the flies away and also chilled the carcass quickly.   But it was warming all the time, and--with no wind initially--quite comfortable working.  We put hay down on the blood, and went to work skinning, cleaning, and then (moving the carcass with a garden cart to the back yard, near a hose bib) washed it well and cut into the pieces we wanted.  I used a new knife I got for the kitchen and was amazed/delighted at how much better it worked than the knife I'd used on other lambs and cattle.   Husband started with an older knife (now approaching 40 years of regular use) and then used the other new one.   He broke a hacksaw blade sawing through the sternum. but had a second hacksaw out and ready.

The discarded portions had to be carted out to the place where we've left other discarded portions, and in the afternoon the black vultures and turkey vultures came to see what was on the menu. But it was chilling fast and they prefer to have thermals to get home on.  So tonight I expect the resident gray fox to be quite happy, but perhaps driven away by the non-resident-but-regularly-visiting coyote.  

As of now, all the equipment (pistol, knives, etc. ) has been cleaned, the clothes we were in have been washed as well,  and though we are stiff and sore (which we were when we started, for that matter)  we have the satisfaction of having done a difficult (for us, anyway) job well.   We're not wimpy old layabouts yet.  We have ideas to make it easier in that location next time (pulleys, for instance.   A new knife sharpener.  Etc.)  but by golly we can still butcher a lamb. 


[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-11-28 03:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks--glad it works for you. One thing I would like to do is reduce the psychological space in which some (not all!) hunters and survivalists trumpet their superiority ("She can field-dress a moose"--big screaming deal, sez I. Most people if taken on enough hunts in their youth, learn to field-dress whatever's hunted, and bigger just means more work.)

Yes, if you're ever in a situation where you desperately need to kill and eat something to survive, prior experience is very helpful. But knowing how is no more "superior" than knowing how to rewire a lamp or write clean code or bake bread. The person who has it is not superior to those who don't except in having one more particular skill. Butchering of livestock sized animals is hard work and skill makes a difference, but it's skill that most people could learn. (Certain physical disabilities would make it extremely hard, but I'm not going to say impossible unless someone's bedfast.) It's possible today to watch videos online and learn some of the tricks (applying them is another thing)--at least get a clear idea of what's first, second, etc., what the anatomy is like, what the critter will look like at various stages.

Interestingly, those with the most experience in home meat processing (farmers who raise their own meat for the most part) are least likely to be over-smug about the slaughter and butchery aspect. At least in my experience, the over-smug are usually hunters with a survivalist bent. Sure and certain that you and I will fall by the wayside when Armageddon comes along and they--with their stashes of extra guns and ammo and ability to load their own ammo and gut a deer--will come through in the end.

But anyway--if reading about it reduces the anxiety level of imagining doing it someday, if need comes, then that's a goal achieved. Personally, I find that learning the old skills of food preparation, from growing a garden to processing meat and on up to the edible final stage, gives me satisfaction...I feel connected to human history and the rest of the world, in a way. This would come in handy in a survival situation, sure, but more than that these are things still commonly done in many places other than American urban/suburban life. I was reading about classes in London teaching foodies how to dissect a carcass, if they buy a lamb direct from the farmer, for instance (the killing and initial work would be done by the farmer, I understand.) A lamb or half a lamb would fit easily in most freezers, once subdivided to the buyer's particular needs. The writer commented that nobody from this series of classes has gone on to become a professional butcher, but that most feel more connected to their food source and also know how to talk with their butcher, not just walk in and buy X because it's already in a package.

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[User Picture]From: danceswthcobras
2010-11-28 04:56 pm (UTC)
For me it's not a smug superiority thing as utter confusion as to why everyone doesn't do it this way. The meat you get alive from the farm is much cheaper (and in the case of cull roosters, often free) than the tasteless stuff you can buy in the supermarket, and infinitely superior in flavor and quality.

I'm something of a hardcore foodie, and I know quality when I see it. An slow grown acorn fed heritage Berkshire hog is *quality*, so I bought one. I see tourists at expensive gourmet stores paying $100/lb for acorn fed Iberico ham, or $8-$20/lb for organic free range grass fed beef. And I can have it for $1/lb on the hoof by putting in a day of work.

I live in the city, in an apartment. I don't live on a farm. I just get to eat like I do, because I buy all of my meat from small local farms, mostly of the backyard variety. Over the years I've found it worthwhile to invest in decent butchering equipment for when I do large animals, but I don't generally bother with any more than a table, my hammer and cleaver and hacksaw and a bucket of Old Hickory knives if I'm going out to take apart something that weighs less than 150 lbs. When the weather is cold I throw a 2mm disposable tarp on my living room floor, put up a portable heavy duty plastic table and butcher inside. Works just fine for an urban lifestyle.

Top level chefs who regularly put out $50 dinner plates have envied the quality of what I get to work with. For not much more than the price of one of their entrees I can buy the entire lamb and do endless gourmet dishes with every part of it. I suppose it's hard not to feel just a little bit smug at that, but the point is that *anyone can do it* if you care enough about the quality of your food to invest the time.
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From: (Anonymous)
2010-11-29 01:29 am (UTC)
I too enjoy these posts, but am looking for a bit more explantion about the "lamb that had both behavioral and shape problems." I get shape problems and why it wouldn't be good to breed a lamb with such. But what types of bahavioral problems do lambs have and in particular this one had that would make it key to butcher and butcher now (as opposed to later)?

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2010-11-29 03:19 am (UTC)
This lamb wasn't a breeding animal--show lambs are all altered males (because as they work their way through the levels of shows, they end up sold for slaughter.) The reason not to take it to shows is that it wasn't going to place, and going to shows is expensive. Even entering for shows is expensive: exhibitors pay a fee to "tag" the lamb (an ear-tag) for the shows it may attend later in the year. So is the lamb, and its feed and the time and effort expended on training and grooming. Keeping a lamb that you know will not place--either because it can't be trained to behave well in the show, or it's not got the structure and muscle the judges look for--worst of all both, as in this one--means increasing your loss. The sooner you get it gone, the better.

Lambs with a good show disposition can learn to lead fairly quickly, learn a routine both at home and at shows--you can lead them to exercise them, handle them to wash and clip them and accustom them to the handling that a judge will give them (as with dogs in dog shows, there are specific things that a judge is feeling for in a lamb.) They need to learn to travel quietly in their pens in a trailer (or a lamb-cage if being hauled in the back of a pickup) without wasting energy and risking injury to themselves or the other lambs by fighting it. They need to stand still for the judge. They should be easy to catch, responding fairly quickly to good handling. Lambs that cannot settle down and accept handling, leading, grooming, etc. without freaking out, fighting the halter, bucking and trying to escape when being touched, kicking, butting, etc. are not good show prospects.

This particular lamb had been unruly from the beginning, never settled down, and had knocked down the kid showing it repeatedly. You can't really tell, at the age when they're weaned and sold as show lambs, what the innate temperament is, because at that age they're all skittish. But some quickly adapt and settle down, and some (a minority if handled well) don't. I know these people; they handle all animals well.

Structurally, this lamb didn't continue growing up--it did not fulfill the promise of its early structure (except in having a really nice long loin)--it was short-legged (out of proportion) and had not developed the larger hindquarter preferred in a meat lamb. It was putting on fat instead of growing--and putting it on in the forequarter, as we found after skinning. A lamb this age should have had less fat, especially as this family exercises their lambs vigorously.

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From: (Anonymous)
2010-11-29 12:58 pm (UTC)
Interesting info. Thanks for taking the time to explain.

Re the Old Hickory knifes mentioned above. I purchased three at the grocery store when I got my first apartment to be my first set of kitchen knives (all I could afford at the time). They are exceptionally good for the price.

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[User Picture]From: filkferengi
2010-12-02 04:10 pm (UTC)
Leslie Fish agrees with you in her song "Better Than Who."

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