Homekill meat - some tips for beginners

by Farmer Liz
Our local mobile butcher came out to do Bruce last week.  This is our second time (first steer was Murray), as I have discussed previously, so I now feel qualified to write some tips for first-timers!  The process for dealing with all the meat is the same whether the animal was killed on your property or at the meatworks, and the same if you have just bought a large amount of meat like a side or quarter.

We use a vacuum packing machine as it takes a year to eat all the meat
Firstly, we use a vacuum packing machine, because it takes us nearly a year to eat a whole steer.  Different cuts/types of meat last for different time periods (see this link, although they say its just for quality, I'm sure I've seen somewhere that its actually unsafe), so if you think you can eat it all in time, then you can just use freezer bags.  If not, I recommend buying a decent vacuum packer.  We only use ours a few times a year, mostly for meat, but you can also freeze sauces and meals in the bags and then seal, so that can be handy if you're travelling, and we now use it to store hard cheeses.

Bruce was 320 kg (hung weight), so we had to buy another freezer!
You're also going to need a large freezer.  Murray weighed 280 kg (dressed) and we just fitted everything into about a 250 L chest freezer (plus the freezer on our fridge/freezer was stuffed full), it was a tight squeeze, so when the butcher told us that Bruce was 320 kg, we went out and bought another 125 L freezer as we already had an entire small pig in the freezer, so there was no way it was all going to fit!   The advantage of having a couple of small freezers, rather than one huge one, is we can turn one off when its empty, rather than running a huge one half full.

RIP Bruce's head and intestines.  The mango tree will enjoy the fertility :)
The main disadvantage of the home kill is that you need to dispose of the entire animal on your property.  That includes all the bones, the skin and the intestines.  We try to use as much of the animal as possible.  The dogs get the bones and all the offal (we don't like it).  We try to tan the hide.  There's not much you can do with the head and the intestines except dig a large hole or burn them.  We like to dig a hole, because at least we're adding some fertility to the soil.  My husband dug a hole about 2x1 m and 1-2 m deep.  Luckily we've had some rain, so the soil was quite soft, but it looked like hard work (I helped a bit!). 

What to do if you want to use a mobile butcher
When you think your animal is nearly ready to be killed, call your local mobile butcher(s).  If you have a few options in your area, have a chat to each butcher about prices etc.  We were happy with our last butcher, so just rang him and booked in.  They are often quite busy, we had to wait 6 weeks.  He charges $1.60/kg, which seems to be pretty standard.  Our butcher arranges to come one day in the afternoon for the kill, and comes back 3-4 days later, first thing in the morning, to butcher the meat (and then off to the next kill).  In the meantime he leaves a mobile cold room on our property.
The butcher leaves the meat to age for a few days in a mobile cold room.
You will need to prepare a suitable area to kill the animal.  Discuss this with the butcher if you're not sure.  He will probably need to get his vehicle close into the area so that the animal can be cut into quarters and packed into the cold room (especially if its large, might be easier for a small animal).  

The wrong way: For Murray we made a temporary pen in the house yard and left him in there over night.  This was wrong for two reasons.  Fristly, he was totally stressed by the time the butcher turned up, and this came out in the meat, as adrenalin tends to make the meat tough.  We had to buy a slow cooker to get through Murray as he was virtually inedible as steak!  Also the house yard is NOT where you want heaps of blood and guts on the grass.

A better way: We do learn from our mistakes!  This time Bruce was grazing happily in his paddock until just before the butcher was to come.  We lead him and Rocket up to our front paddock, and gave them some grain in their food dish in an area where the butcher could easily park his ute.  The butcher turned up, we told him to shoot the black one, I turned around (couldn't watch), and back again to see Bruce on the ground.  We lead Rocket back to another paddock (he didn't seem worried at that stage, just thought Bruce was having a lie down, but did call out for him most of the afternoon after he'd finished eating the grain).  I then had a little teary moment, but didn't want to get my husband started, so managed to get under control.  

Anyway, the summary is, don't pen the animal, try to find an area where you can have them eating happily with one or two mates when the butcher turns up so they don't expect anything.  The meat has come out lovely and tender (and all the mess is up in the front paddock, so no smells in the house yard!), so this have proved to be the better method.

Things to have ready on the butchering day
  • Plenty of clean and tidy bench or table space for packing
  • The freezer turned on the night before so its nice and cold
  • At least 4 large clean tubs/containers for the butcher to stack the chopped up meat so you can bring it to your meat packing area
  • Lots of bags - either vacuum pack or freezer bags, or a mix of both
  • Labels and a permanent marker so you can record the cut of meat and date (as they all start to look the same when frozen!)
  • Some method to dispose of the excess fat (we render it for soap-making)
  • Two fat dogs to help clean up
Sooooo worn out from "helping"
ohhhh begging is hard work
I hope that covers most aspects, please ask if I've missed anything (even if you're looking at this ages after I post)!  Do you get anything butchered at home?

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