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Meat Harvesting and Processing

Fall brings yet another chore for the homestead: meat processing. As the weather turns cold, and the final harvest from the garden is complete, we turn our attention to stocking up on the meat we will need for the following year. Just like canning green beans, carrots, potatoes, and pickled cucumbers, we become very busy stocking our pantry with jar after jar of canned meat and broth. This keeps us from purchasing processed food at the stores.

Items sold today in the markets are full of commercial meat from animals fed a diet of GMO corn and soy products.  They are pumped full of growth hormones and chemical cocktail medicines and de-wormers. We are trying our best to raise healthy happy animals without the crowded and unhealthy conditions of commercial meat farming. From start to finish, the animals raised on our homestead are fed a healthy diet and given lots of room to live and play. We are directly involved in their lives all the way up to and including the processing of that animal. There is no question in our minds that this ensures a healthy product for our families to consume.

hanging deer

From start to finish, the animals raised on our homestead are fed a healthy diet and given lots of room to live and play.

Today, this post is going to be about processing those animals. I never understood why deer hunters would pay a small fee for their yearly deer tags and then once they harvested a deer, pay a huge fee for someone else to process that same deer. How do they know what they are getting? How can they be sure they are even getting the same deer back after processing? In what conditions was the deer processed? All these questions do not apply here because we process all of our own animals. I am happy to say that I have never paid to have a deer processed that I harvested.

deer processingWe just finished processing one of our 8 month old lambs. After the lamb was dispatched in the morning, the whole family got to work on getting the meat canned and the hide saved for fleshing later so that it can be tanned and sold.

Processing meat is really a simple task. I think people are intimidated for a number of reasons.

  • People think the process is going to be a bloody mess. This is not true. The animal loses most of its blood when it dies. That is because the heart is pumping it out of where the wound is. After the animal expires, the blood is mostly all on the ground and the wound stops bleeding. Most of our animals are dispatched with a .22 caliber to the head, but we cut the throat artery immediately after to quicken the process. The animal never feels any pain and expires within seconds. It’s lights on one moment, and lights out the next.
  • People don’t know how to process the animal. 21st century Americans are used to getting most of their food in the drive thru or at the buffet line at a restaurant. It’s already cooked and in a convenient serving size ready to consume. If they do cook at home, they buy their food at the store in neat little Styrofoam and plastic packaging. The meat is pre-cut and ready to go on the grill or in the oven. They have no idea how it got in the little package at all or what part of the animal it came from.
  • People are lazy. Is this hitting below the belt? Maybe. But seriously, people just want everything done for them. I find great value in my family taking part in putting up our own food. It makes the food we eat important and it’s building family memories. By taking something as simple as eating a meal and being involved in 100% of the process, you can begin to understand the satisfaction of really providing for yourself and being thankful for what you have. America has lost touch with that understanding.

Now, I’m not saying that butchering and processing an animal is super easy. It takes some skill but anyone can learn and be good at it with just a little practice.

legendAlmost all game animals and livestock are built the same. Given that fact, during processing they all basically come apart the same. Once you get how they are put together, you can easily take one apart. It’s at this point you begin to more easily recognize the cuts of meat you are buying at your local market. In addition, it’s also at this point that you begin to realize that by butchering your own animal, you are able to eat the cuts of meat that are very expensive in a market. Being able to process your own meat opens up a world of excellent dining opportunities that might not have existed before.

During our processing, I (Zac) will do the initial butchering and quartering of the animal. I will cut up the carcass into all of the major parts. Some of these parts are set aside for different purposes. For instance, backstraps are way too tender a cut of meat to pressure can and put on a shelf. They are great for making into chops or medallions for the grill. Deer or lamb ribs are also another grill favorite on the homestead. The shoulder and hind quarters can be used for roasts or steaks. We don’t have the refrigeration for long term storage, so instead they are destined for the pressure canner.

Animals we process on the homestead:

  • Deer
  • Lamb
  • Chickens

These animals along with our produce from the garden really do provide the majority of the food we consume. Do we still go to the store and buy some products there? Yes, at times we do. But those times are becoming less and less because of the steps we are taking in food production. It’s very rare to come home from the store with a meat product these days because we have so much canned meat and stock in the pantry. Our chickens are happily producing lots of eggs too and so that is one more thing off the list to buy. In fact, this spring we may be selling some or giving them away to friends who don’t have any.

meatcuts

Meat processing really isn’t a hard process. It just takes time and everyone pitches in tohelp get it done. At the end of the day, it’s a great feeling to look at all the pressure canned meat on the shelf and know that what you have just done is stored up healthy wholesome food that you had 100% involvement in from beginning to end. There is no price you can put on that food. It’s priceless.

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About Zachary Bauer

Zachary lives with his wife, two sons and his wife's parents on An American Homestead deep in the mountains of the American Ozarks. They all moved there together in July of 2013 where they began to build the homestead. They are off-grid with the exception of a phone line.

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One comment

  1. Great post! There is much to be gained by processing your own meat. Even more so when you’ve raised the animal yourself. It’s a great comfort to have several months of meat canned and ready whenever you need it.

    Keep up the great, informative posts!

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