Warning: This post contains images and descriptions of home butchery. Please do not continue reading if this will disturb you. I do not provide detailed descriptions and photographs of every stage, however I wish to provide enough information to reflect what is involved for those who are truly interested in providing their own meat and how it can be stored.
Over this past week our home grown heifer, Grace, was home killed and home butchered. She had a stress free life and was well looked after. She also had a stress free death in the paddock where she was eating grass, which was swift and immediate. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked our mobile butcher to provide a better death and I am so thankful for this. As meat eaters, we want to be comfortable with the ethics and environmental implications of what we eat, so given we have the ability to grow and process our own meat, this means of feeding ourselves suits us. And, seeing the killing and butchering process up close makes us more accountable and responsible for the meat and other resources provided by the animal.
What is the process?
Immediately following death by gunshot to the head from a reasonable distance, processing begins in the paddock until the animal is reduced to a dressed carcass. This involves the removal of the head, feet, hide and internal organs but still includes bones and cartilage. The carcass is then quartered, weighed and hung in a mobile refrigerator which stays with you until the butcher returns to continue processing the carcass. We had a dressed weight of 310kg which hung for seven days. This first part of the process took a couple of hours.
We were asked if we wanted any of the organs so we took the heart, tongue and cheeks for our dog and the rest was packed in bags to go to our friend who has many dogs. We didn’t take more for our own purposes because we were concerned about freezer storage capacity. I later realised I could manage this somewhat by cutting and drying the organs to make dried dog treats, which I’ve now done and stored in glass jars.
Given we wanted to make the most of the resources provided by Grace, my son and I discussed the possibility of tanning the hide with our butcher. He actually advised us against it as it is a big job and he doesn’t know many people who have done it successfully. We decided to take a small piece to learn with. It has been very difficult to find good, thorough information on the internet and from anyone in real life. This is still a work in progress.
After seven days it was time for the two-person mobile butcher team to return and finish the cut up. It was our responsibility to pack and store the meat. The whole family got involved and we learnt about cuts we had never heard of before or tasted. The day started at 7.30am and we were cleaned up and done by midday. Our freezer is now full of plain sausages, chorizo sausages, mince, spare ribs, soup bones, stewing steak, brisket, osso bucco, gravy beef, BBQ steak, oyster blade, scotch, blade roast, topside roast, schnitzel, eye fillet, rump steak, porterhouse, girello, and silverside which will supply our family of four and any guests we have for over 12months. One of the great benefits of producing and packing your own meat is that you can portion it in ways that suit the way your family consumes meat, for example, 9 sausages instead of prepacked options of 8 or 12.
How do we pack and store the meat?
One question that I have been asked often over the years is if I know of a plastic free way to store bulk meat after the slaughter of an animal. I haven’t been able to provide a solution in the past but have been keenly watching this space until we finally seem to have an improvement. This time round we packed all our meat with 4 litre compostable freezer bags plus about five 6 litre bags made by Biobags. A carton of 18 boxes which contain 25 bags each costs about $100 but we used about half of this.
These bags are great because if you don’t want to use the plastic bag-tie, they feature a split at the top of the opening to make it easy to knot the bag. Just make sure there are no air gaps when you do it. They also have white colour blocks on the bags to write your labels on if you don’t use stickers.
Previously, compostable bags have not been made in a way that makes them suitable for freezer use or suitable for meat. The bags were too breathable resulting in things like freezer burn, slimy meat when defrosting, and tearing easily when they get stuck together in the freezer. I imagine leaking blood could have been an issue too. I had the confidence to use these bags on a large scale because I tested them over several months with smaller amounts of meat and didn’t encounter any problems. On this packing day however, we did have a couple of bags tear slightly, but it was no big deal and might have happened with any other bag. Normally the mobile butcher will supply standard plastic bags as part of the service but he didn’t have an issue with us using our own bags. He is interested to know how they perform over time because he has other customers who he thinks will be interested in this option.
When you’re finished using a BioBag, you could reuse it to collect food scraps, then put it in your compost bin or council green bin. Please note that the freezer bags are certified compostable for industrial to AS4736 and they will also break down in a home compost bin but are not certified to AS5810. This means they will break down eventually at home without leaving any microplastics or toxic residues but not in the timeframe to meet the standard.
Some other things I have done to make the most of what we have been provided is collect the suet and fat (currently in the freezer) which will allow me to have a go at soap making from tallow, and our butcher tells me I can use it in traditional Christmas pudding recipes. One thing is for certain, I am learning a lot.
Also, I saved as many bones as I could for the dog (they’re in the freezer) and have used as many as I could fit into pots to make bone broth. After cooking the broth for 24 hours I borrowed my sisters pressure canner (it was my first time using a pressure canner) and canned the liquid so it is shelf stable for many months. I have found it very frustrating to defrost stock before using it, so I think this option will work really well for me.
I could delve deeper into many aspects of this blog post but I really just wanted to provide an overview of home butchery and let you know that it is something we have moved towards over the years, and of course, share how we are packing and storing our meat given I’ve had questions about this specific situation since I started blogging. I am more than happy to answer any questions you have or discuss aspects further, just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.
Finally, a big shout out to Brad and Shannon for a job well done, answering all our questions, letting me take videos and photos, and letting us try the bags.
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