Part of life on the farm is the fact that we are raising a percent of our animals each year for food production. Now the reason I say a percent is that I keep back breeding animals on my little peice of land, and its worth noting that is not always the case, there are lots of folks (even those that sell local farm gate sales) that don’t, they buy their chicks or lambs or calfs etc as newborns or day olds and raise them to butcher size.
Having sent 11 of my sheep off to the local butcher that does them, I will certainly be busy curing meat, making sauage and canning meat when I get them back, I had to make the call this morning to confirm that all of them passed inspection, they did, and to date every sheep I have sent has but then again, I only send sheep that appear in peak condition to me so I am certainly hedging the bet on that one.
There is honestly nothing quite as hard as ending the life of a critter that you have known since the moment of its birth, and I fully realize that there is this huge disconnect between most of the humans in many, many countries between the meat got at the meat counter, in a can or at the local Mc D’s vs what it means to see the whole circle of life to death to butcher to table.
I am not going to put up butchering photos etc, but I am going to talk in detail on a few things.. I have read on a number of blogs about them having their first chickens or XXX, this post is for them or anyone thinking of doing their own butchering. This applies to hunting to a point as well.
So the first thing to do is to look at your critter, today we are going to “butcher” a duck together, so I want to look at your duck, move him around, is he moving freely and in a normal duck mannor (no limping etc) does he look healthy, ok Time to catch your duck, good time to use your handy catching board or a net, your choice, once you have picked up your bird carefully and have it tucked into your arm, look at its eyes, are they clean, look at its nostrals, they are clean, no discharge etc, bill the right color, flip a hand over those breast feathers, they feel like good healthy feathers, have a look at the feet, no lumps, bumps or scales right?!
Ok, first inspection passed, does the bird feel heavy compared to size, it should, it should feel solid to you, now you have a couple choices, some folks use a killing cone, some folks slit the throat and some cut off the head.. your choice, the main purpose to end the animals life while ideally bleeding the animal. I personally can’t stand the idea of any of my critters being in pain for even one second longer then required, so I am a head off girl and then either hang to bleed out, with body over a 5 gallon bucket for clean up purposes (I want the blood and feathers for my compost pile)
Ok, so now you have a head, blood in a bucket and a body, the head goes to a second bucket (that is going to go to the pig on my farm), now you can wet pick or dry pick your body, or you can skin it.. your choice and depends on how you want to use it?
I don’t do wings, so I am going to take my handy butchering tree pruning hand clippers and snip off the wings and into the pig bucket they go, personally I skin most of my birds, so taking your skinning knife make a cut and follow it up the body, holding your skin to provide a little bit of pressure so that it is easier to cut and pull away from the body, this works better when the body is still warm, becomes a little more tricky if they cool off first, now back to what this post is really about, I want you to look at that body, is there any bruises on the flesh? Is everything a even clean color?
Now you have cut around the skin flap and you are taking out the guts, it is very important if you are going to home butcher to check everything you can, check the liver, is it normal size, is it healthy looking, should be plump and dark red, check the kidney’s they should look right with a ring of fat on them most likely, Look at the fat in the belly, it should be firm to the touch, compared to store fat.
Use your eyes, your nose, and your sense of touch when you butcher, check the heart and the lungs as you remove them, save the heart and liver for your own use, and the rest goes into the pig bucket, feet are your choice, you can give them a really good scrub and use them to help make stock, or they can go into the pig bucket your choice.
Now you have a cleaned well rinced bird, and whole or cut into parts it should be going into cold salted water to help cool the body down as rapidly as possable and the salt will help pull blood out, and then into a fridge to mellow for at least 12 to 24 hours before use or freezing.
Just one of the reason’s we self -butcher is to control the process, which means that we can be cleaner and do a better job if we are willing to take the time then you can get done at a big factory, but that has to include taking the time to truly look at your bird or critter when you do the process to make sure that everything about it is in tip-top shape and worthy of your table.
The process of the kill should be something that gives you the twinge, I honestly believe that, it does not matter how many times you pull the trigger or swing the ax, you should have a moment of self-looking, and taking from many cultures, taking a moment in respect for the life that is being given. Extend that respect to your butchering process, respect for the meat, respect for the fact that it will feed you and your family, and respect for your ability to process the meat itself. Clean good butchering is a skill, and one that needs to be used to kept up. Its a skill that very few have anymore, have pride in your work and let that show.