This weekend we said goodbye to Meathead, and hello to beef. It was a huge amount of work – far more than we had anticipated and we are all sore and exhausted. I have pictures from the harvest (slaughter?) day following, just a caution in case you are sensitive…
Meathead was Geranium’s baby, born and raised on our farm. He was a good steer, a little deficient in brains sometimes, like the way it took him two years to figure out how to follow the herd. Geranium had been supposedly bred to calve in April when we bought her, and after May we had given up hope. On July 4th Ethan went out to do the chores and discovered that Meathead had been born. He was named Sebastian at first, until we realized what a brick he was. Meathead just stuck. I always affectionately called him Meaty. We let him grow for three and a half years on grass and hay. The longer time allows for more marbling, and because we didn’t use grain or growth hormones, he took longer to grow. He had a good, peaceful life.
The day we slaughtered him, we separated him and gave him some nice hay to munch on. Mirin was very sorry to say goodbye, and ended up scaring him trying to feed him some hay as a parting gift. He was never extremely friendly or tame. I kept the kids at a safe distance while Ethan stunned him with the .22. Then I went to help with catching the blood and stirring it until it cooled. We made blood pudding from it (really nourishing and tasty). I always cry when the animals are dying, and I shed some tears as I was thanking him for feeding us. We’ve had him for so long, we were all attached to him and were sorry to see him go. Later the work/food aspect kicked in and I felt mostly grateful and busy.
Mirin and Ethan started out skinning. We thought this would be really easy peasy compared to scalding and scraping a hog. Clothilde was clinging to me while I was still stirring the blood, so I couldn’t help at first (she has been very clingy lately – teething?).
As sorry as he was to see Meathead go, Mirin really jumped in and helped a lot this time. The hide was extremely big and beautiful, and we took a lot of care skinning so we can save it. The best we can do with what Meathead offered us is to use as much as possible.
After a while the blood cooled enough, so I grabbed my favorite carbon steel knife and also got to work. It turned out that I was WAY faster at skinning than either of the boys….
I had let Ethan kind of be in charge because he was reading right beforehand about how to do all this, but I am usually the one who does all the cleaning for the pigs. He struggled mightily with the bulging organs. It was extra difficult because Meathead had not gone down under the tree we thought he would, so we had to move the block-and-tackle to hoist him up. It was a smaller branch and I kept worrying it was going to break. Every time we raised or lowered the carcass, the branch creaked ominously. After watching Ethan struggling with the billowing rumen and cursing, I handed Clothilde off into the dubious care of the big kids and came to help. It was tough. In the moment you don’t quite realize how intimate you are with the organs of a dead animal. It occurred to me at one point that my face was practically inside the stomach cavity, and I was shoulder deep trying to get the guts out. Finally we were almost done!! There was just quartering the carcass left. It was almost time for the butcher to close.
We made desperate, tearful (on my part) attempts to hack down the spine with saws and then an axe. It was taking too long. We called the butcher and asked if we could just bring him whole, but they said they wouldn’t be able to move the carcass otherwise, so it had to be quartered. There was an awful moment when we realized we wouldn’t make it, and we would have to hang him in a tree overnight (it was very cold, though).
So after that we made ready to hang it up wrapped in plastic and stuffed with ice. Mirin and I went about preparing the organs, fat and other bits to take home. I saved kidneys, heart, liver, head. Mirin sawed the horns off, and we will retrieve the tongue and brains (to tan the hide) and make a big pot of stock from the head, once the bullets are removed.
The piggies got the rumen. They LOVED it. The next morning there were vultures crowded around that spot, which was completely cleared of anything edible by the pigs.
Once at home we packaged everything up for the freezer, saving out the blood for pudding and some caul fat. The cavity fat is rendering into snowy white tallow. The organs were HUGE. The size of his heart amazed me, and while slicing up the enormous liver into useable chunks for many months’ supply of liver pate, I realized just how crazy expensive organic beef liver is at the store.
Our darn cat Teasel, seeing how busy we were, decided to drink some blood out of the waiting-to-be-cleaned blood catching bowl and vomited bloody cat kibbles all over the kitchen. She was escorted outside after that.
I’ve been busy processing all these wonderful, nutritious organs into food. In addition to the blood pudding and tallow, we’ve also been enjoying oxtail soup. The next day Ethan quartered the carcass and brought it to the butcher. It weighed 434 pounds! He looked so small next to Matilda and Geranium. No wonder it was so much work! Each quarter of beef weighed as much as a whole hog dressed out!