Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Butchering Day, Part Two

Man, yesterday was tough.

First off, I have to hand it to the guys that came out with the mobile abbatoir (isn't that a nice sounding word?) from Del Fox Meats. They worked together so seamlessly that it was nearly a dance: beautifully orchestrated, every man having a job to do that overlapped with the others. It was really quite stunning to watch, all things considered. From start to finish, they were done with everything -clean up included- in under 45 minutes. (It takes me about that long to process one rabbit. One! Rabbit!!)

I took a lot of photos while they were working, and some of them are very graphic. The ones I've chosen to use today are still powerful images, but in many cases are more so in their perspective than they are in actual blood. Note that I said in many cases- it was butchering day, after all, so there are a few bloody ones. That being said, I'm relegating most of the photos and this post to "after the jump" status. This way, if you don't want to see and/or read about what happened yesterday, you totally don't have to. I get it. This is not for everyone.

If you want to continue, please click below.

When I got to the pasture, the men were already there. I'd arrived 15 minutes ahead of the "one to one-thirty" window, thinking I'd have time to set up my camera and tripod (I shake when I get upset; not conducive to great photos) and say my farewells before things got down to business. So, I started out off-kilter, which I was desperately trying to avoid.

While they were putting on their overalls, one of the men commented on how friendly the steers were; he said he even got to scratch them on their heads. Apparently that's not the normal reception that they get... go figure.

But then it was time to get to work. Everything moved so fast, I didn't quite know what to do except stand out of the way and take photos. And try not to cry... I teared up after the first shot, and felt like a total ninny for doing so. Thankfully, I had sunglasses on so I don't know if anyone noticed while I worked to get myself under control. If they did, they were kind enough not to say anything about it.

The steers, being used to us, didn't seem phased when the lead opened the gate and walked in. There was a bit of bellowing, however, when they noticed the rifle. I don't know if they had ever seen one before, but they sure as hell knew they didn't like it. Amazing.

Before I knew it, though, he'd dropped both of them with one shot each. It was as fast and efficient as I could have hoped for. I also noticed that there's MUCH less post-mortem kicking and what-not as compared to the rabbits. Thank goodness... I can only imagine how much damage something as large as a steer would do, if they kicked like a rabbit does.

Immediately, everyone else swung into action. Throats were cut, to bleed out the animals as quickly as possible. Any time you process an animal, you want to get the majority of their blood out right away, so it doesn't taint the meat.

Innards were removed. They offered us the tongue, liver and heart- but I didn't have anything with me to take them home in, which is probably just as well. Our other neighbor (who owns the second steer) took his home to make dog food with. Maybe next time, for us. They won't go to waste, though- nothing does.

They were skinned quickly, with some of the sharpest knives I've ever seen. Each man carried three blades on one hip, and a sharpening steel on the other. Once removed, the hides were set aside to be placed in the truck.

A gambrel and winch was used to hoist the carcasses up for the remainder of the butchering. The truck was pretty amazing- it has its own water supply for cleaning, compartments for the hides and offal, and an air compressor for their pneumatic tools. Oh, and the refrigerated compartment in the back, where everything gets hung for transport.

The beef was cut in half longways, and then again in the middle, into quarters. These quarters were then hooked and hung in the truck.

From the looks of things, we may have been the last stop of the day. The truck was already pretty full when it got there, so adding our 8 quarters to their load probably finished things up for them.

After everything was hung in the truck, all that was left was the cleanup. One man emptied the main stomachs and collected the rest of the offal, while the others began hosing off the equipment and their overalls. I had no idea their stomachs were so huge.

When the men were finished, they packed up in preparation to leave just as quickly as they'd arrived and set up. I said thank you and waved, as they drove away; I never did get their names, but I guess that's how it works. They were respectful in every way possible: working in near silence and incredibly efficiently. I couldn't have asked for more.

When they were gone, all that was left in the field were two piles of half-digested grass from the stomachs, and a pool of blood marking where the steers had fallen. I locked up the gate, and tried not to look back as I drove off.

I went home and cried for a while, afterwards. I'm still processing everything I saw, and everything I feel about yesterday's experience. I hope you had a chance to read that essay from Hank Shaw that I referenced yesterday on Facebook- it truly is a paradox, being someone who loves animals dearly yet still chooses to not just eat meat, but to be a part of raising animals for that specific purpose.

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