"Butchering a Cow" might sound like a step-by-step tutorial, but I really just want to share with you how we butchered our steer Brisket (while encouraging you to also branch out beyond your comfort zone).
We purchased Brisket when he was a few days old from a local dairy (and steer-ified him soon thereafter). As his name implies, we considered him not as a pet but future meat for our table. Last week, that happened - Brisket was re-located to our freezer.
Now, before I go too far, I want you to know that I took lots of photos and had trouble deciding which ones to show you! Those selected will hopefully help you get an idea of the actual process we went through. The described event is not something we dream about nor relish, but our farm life has become very practical, very real and a million miles away from the Douglas's and Green Acres. We have taught our children to realize that not all animals are pets and there is a cost for everything. They know that most cows are raised for milk and meat - hamburger tastes delicious, but it is because the cow is no more! It is important to be reminded, in our society of instant gratification, that there is more to our food than the sanitized, FDA approved packages on the shelf at the local grocery store.
When we butchered our first steer, I had purchased the book from my affiliate partner, Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game as a resource. Then, it proved to be a life saver (not the cow's though). So, we used it again. Last week was our first real freeze here (it got down to 23° F) and hovered in the 50's during the day. Besides being good for curing the meat, those temperatures killed off most of the flies and then kept the survivors away while we were butchering. We set aside two days for the whole process and as it turned out, each day was about 4 hours of work - this is half the time it took us the first time!
My job the first day was to keep up with where we were in the book and direct. Someone has to do it ;) To begin with, Brisket was shot in the head, suffering apparently no pain. Not only is a quick death important from the humane sense but also for meat quality. If the animal suffers or is fearful, adrenaline is released causing an unpleasant taste in the meat. Once we were certain Brisket was dead (who wants to tango with a 1000+ lbs cow?), his neck was cut to allow the blood to drain while he was transported by backhoe to our work spot.
In case you are wondering, up to this point, the other cows were kept in the cow palace (aka milking parlor) and fed grain to keep them calm. Especially Emme, who had been so emotional about selling Buttercup!
The process of hanging such a large carcass is quite a feat. Speaking of feet, the boys kidded about skinning off and tanning Brisket's tube socks! In order to raise the carcass completely, the hind legs were skinned and the hoofs cut off. No tube socks this time.
You can see the hook we used as a singletree skewered through "below" the ankle. As the carcass is re-raised, the hide is skinned off.
Cleanliness is very important and you don't want the skinned meat to touch the ground. We did this part over a tarp.
Also, as the carcass is raised, the entrails must be dealt with. After the killing, this is probably the most stressful part. Besides all the normal guts, a cow has a rumen. This is where the cow ferments its food - this is one fermentation you don't want to smell either. So care must be taken not to puncture the rumen or intestines. Actually, the rumen sack is much tougher than I imply, but the thoughts of it popping and spewing its contents all over you and the meat - well, NASTY!
You can see the sack which includes the rumen bulging out, and it kept bulging and bulging because...
A farmer neighbor had given us some peanut hay which the cows absolutely loved! We realized that even after Brisket was dead, the hay kept fermenting in his rumen because the natural bacteria therein were not dead too. We got nervous that it might explode, but thankfully it didn't. Once completely loosened, the innards literally rolled onto the ground in a nice sack.
Next, to dissect the organ meats. You can see below the lungs still attached inside - to the left of John's hand and the liver below and to the right of his hand.
We gave the lungs to the dogs but we did eat the heart - Heart Kebobs are delicious!
The heart weighed about 6 pounds and the liver was 14 pounds!
Once the carcass was completely skinned, it was wrapped in plastic and allowed to hang overnight. As you can see, the fat really turned yellow as it dried out.
John moved the backhoe (on which Brisket hung) next to the house. We then surrounded it with hog panels (tough, portable fencing) to prevent the dogs from getting to it. But, to be honest, at this point, I think they had had their fill!
The next day everyone got involved. Tables of plywood on sawhorses were set up right outside the kitchen door. Since we just wanted a few roasts and the rest ground beef, getting started was not too difficult. The boys outside cut the meat into slabs.
With all this cutting, we only had two surface slices and the corner tip of one thumb chopped! All are healing nicely!
The meat was carried inside and further cut down into chunks that would fit into the meat grinder. We had purchased the commercial grade meat grinder for less than the local butcher shop would have charged us to process our first cow!
Then came wrapping the portions in plastic and paper. We weighed and labelled the roast packages but all the ground beef was packaged at four pounds.
As the carcass was stripped, the boys cleaned it right down to the bones - much better than last time.
So, at the end of Day 2, we ended up with 551.5 lbs. of meat! That includes 85.5 lbs of roast and 452 lbs of ground beef plus the liver, pancreas and heart.
Oh, the intestines? Since nobody wanted to make bologna or hotdogs they were buried in a deep pit.