Getting the best from homekill meat

by Farmer Liz
Romeo was our fifth steer to be butchered on our property by a mobile butcher.  I've written posts before about tips for homekill butchering and last year I calculated the value of the meat and determined that it was worth raising steers for meat.  It may sound strange, but this was the first year that we really thought about meat quality rather than meat quantity!    Here's what we found out:

Cheryl checks the meat quality
Prior to slaughter
  • Ensure the animal has good nutrition and access to clean water in the lead up to slaughter.  Green grass is ideal (but not always easy to organise).  (More information here)
  • Handle the animal gently with minimum of stress.  If you need to move it to another paddock for the butcher, move it a few days early, with at least one companion, so that the animal is not stressed.  
  • Try to find an experienced butcher.  In some areas there's not much choice, but if you can, find out which butchers are most recommended.  If you call a butcher and they can fit you in right away, wonder why they aren't busy (our butcher is usually booked out 6 weeks in advance).  A good homekill butcher needs to be skilled at shooting, slaughter and butchering.   In Australia, there is no regulation of homekill butchers, so its up to you to find someone who is going to do a good job.  If you can wait for a good butcher to be available, don't take the risk with an unknown butcher as they could ruin all your meat.
On slaughter day
  • Find out when the butcher is expecting to arrive and have the animal ready.  We move the animal into our top paddock near our front gate, with a companion animal, and feed some grain so that when the butcher arrives he just has to get out of his car, load his gun and dispatch our animal quickly with minimum stress.
  • Your butcher should bleed out the animal as quickly as possible and begin the process of skinning, gutting and splitting the animal into quarters.  The aim is to chill the meat as quickly as possible to minimise microbial growth, but not too quickly as that can affect meat tenderness.  We are lucky that our butcher uses electrical stimulation to speed the process of rigour mortis.  Most homekill butchers will provide a mobile coldroom to chill the meat for a few days.

On butcher day
  • Your butcher will return after a few days to finish butchering the meat.  Our butcher is very busy and only has four cold rooms, so he typically only leaves the meat to hang for 4-5 days. 
  • You need to be ready to pack the meat (unless your butcher does this too) and pack it in your freezer(s).  We use a vacuum sealer to pack most of our meat, and put a small amount in freezer bags (because freezer bags are cheaper, but vacuum packed meat lasts longer).

  • If you want anything special, warn your butcher and be prepared so you don't hold him up.  Our butcher usually has another job to get to in the afternoon, so he doesn't appreciate me running inside to make up special stuffing mixes!  Now I know what to expect, I make up a stuffing for the rolled roast, and he is now used to use coming out with natural hog casings and special organic sausage mixes (and declining the crumbed steak and the BBQ marinade!).

After butcher day
  • We vacuum pack all the good cuts of meat (eye fillet, rib filet, sirloin) and wet age them in our fridge for several weeks.  It would be wonderful to have access to clean cool room to dry age our meat for weeks, but wet aging is the next best thing.  
  • Over the next few days you need to rearrange the meat in the freezer so that it freezes evenly.

 Any other thoughts on meat quality?  Do you use a homekill butcher?

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