Why We use a Butcher (sometimes)

I am a homesteader.  I do wierd things like mill wheat berries, pluck ducks and tap maple trees.

I often write about “processing” (killing, butchering, slaughtering) my own meat.  I personally want to know how to do many of these bizarre things…… but I also realize that not everyone does.

Ick.  There was a day and time when I didn’t even like handling a raw chicken that came out of a package from a store.  Now I kill & gut live chickens myself.  With my hands.  Crazy.

If you are like me 20 years ago, and you don’t like to handle raw chicken.  I can see how you may not want to handle a warm, raw, still quivering because it was alive 5 minutes ago chicken.

I have good news!

You can be a homesteader.  You can raise your own meat.  And you don’t have to get your hands bloody.

Really, you don’t.
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You don’t have to kill.  It’s perfectly OK to raise some meat and let someone else do the dirty work.  If you want to raise some meat to eat & hand it off to someone else to do the butchering, I think you are a rockstar.  Really, I want to applaud you and encourage you and get behind your decision.

None of us can do it all.

We can strive to be more responsible and self-sufficient, but in the end we are always going to depend on others.  Unless you want to start building computers, making pencils, sewing your clothes, making shoes, furniture, cookware… good grief.  Let’s hear it for industrialism!  I’m so thankful for all my modern conveniences and equipment (stoves, fridge, washers, computers, milkers, lights, running water, etc).  Yay!

I want to be able to do some self-sufficient stuff – but I’m also very thankful (and aware) of all the things I’m not doing.

Many homesteaders are die-hard committed to not only raising their own food, but killing and processing it as well.  They never use processors.  They always kill on their farms.  They feel strongly about the animal finding it’s end where it spent it’s life.

Why Butchering Your Own Meat is Awesome:

  1. The animals die where they lived – which is cool.
  2. You will have life skills and knowledge that is certainly applicable and helpful.
  3. You will spend WAAAAAAY less on your meat since you won’t be paying a processor to butcher it.
  4. You won’t need to find, borrow or buy a trailer to move animals.
  5. You will know exactly how the animal died, how the meat was handled and have closure on the entire process.

I think that is superfly.  I am down with that plan.  I am excited for all those who are butchering their own meat & I want them to keep doing it!

I, on the other hand, do not plan to process my own cows any time soon.

Of course, there is an excellent chance I will be eating those words in the next couple of years.  There are all sorts of things that I do now that I would have NEVER dreamed of doing in my past.  Things change & always will.

For now, we use a processor for our pigs and beef cows.

You may have seen my post on Why Would Someone Want to Kill Their Own Meat.  If you think I am schizophrenic or confused or an oxymoron or I need to stay out of the booze – you are not seeing things.  We are HUGE proponents for killing our own meat.  We are passionate about having the knowledge and skill-set to do these homesteady things ourselves on our own farm.

BUT…

I still use a processor sometimes.  And I’m cool with that.

On our farm we always process our own:  chickens, ducks, rabbits and deer.  Pigs and cows fall in the “I want to know how but don’t want to do it” department.  If I had to process my own hog (or cow), I could, but if I don’t have to – I’m gonna let the experts do it.

Here’s 7 Reasons Why We Use a Processor

Reason ONE to Use a Processor – USDA Approval

You are probably not USDA approved.  If you are interested in marketing and selling your farm raised meat to the public, it is a good thing if you have the USDA seal of approval on your packaging.  Whether I think this makes a difference doesn’t matter.  Many consumers and all establishments (stores & markets) in my area require this qualification before they will consider buying your product.

Reason TWO to Use a Processor – Size

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I do not want to quarter a 1,000 pound cow.  It would take gambles and pulleys and strong men and a serious amount of time, space and cold weather to make this happen successfully.  Could we come up with the props to make this happen…… probably.  Do I want to?  No.  My processor charges somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 cents a pound to do anything I want done to my beef.  Steaks, burgers, london broil, roasts, ribs, round steak, standing rib roast, filet mignon, ribeyes, etc.  Anything. Shrink-wrapped. Flash frozen. In cute little packages loaded in cardboard boxes. Done. Please and thank you. I’ll take that. The time, energy, effort and sanity it will save me is worth 25 cents a pound. This means if your cow weighted 1,000 pounds you are only paying $250 bucks to have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pounds of meat perfectly killed, quartered, hung (for a month if you want), butchered, sliced, diced, and shrink-wrapped – did I mention, “to order.”

I have little to no cost in the raising of my beef.  We let our cows raise our calves.  This means they are on “milk and meadow” until they load up and go to the processor.

The mama cows give birth to the calves, so they’re free.  They drink milk from their mama, so it’s free.  The grass comes from God, so that’s free.  We do buy hay bales from our nextdoor neighbor to get through the winter months.

The only cost I have in my beef steer at the time of processing is the hay we purchased.  I am happy to pay a couple hundred dollars to have it processed by an expert.

Reason THREE to Use a Processor – Time

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We are a busy family with 4 children and a business.  Our free time is limited.  Sending some animals to be processed by someone else allows us to do other things. I’m gonna say that the professionals have this death and packaging thing down to a science. It is equally fair to say that I do not. Not only will the product I end up cramming into zipper-top, storage bags be inferior, it will most likely take me 100 times as long to get the meat into the package. Poor me.

I just don’t have the desire to learn how to process a cow. I have other things to do.

Reason FOUR to Use a Processor – It’s Sad

Just because someone knows HOW (or wants to know how) to butcher their own animals doesn’t mean they want to be the one to do it every time.

I won’t make you feel guilty or bad if you just want to raise George the Cow, send him off, wish him well, blow him a kiss and pick him up a couple of weeks later….. in small, shrink-wrapped, flash-frozen packages.

If this is the route that works for you…  If this is the way you need to end things so you can stomach all that healthy food you just poured your year, or half a year into – do it.

My processor has people dropping off their livestock in tears.  Tears.  It happens all the time.  He’s even had people NEVER show back up to pick up their animals.  Or they’ll call and say they aren’t coming back.  He can keep the cow.  This is what keeps his storefront in business.

I do not have this problem.  I have dropped off numerous animals with tears in my eyes but I always go back and get them…… and eat them.  I love my animals, but I love eating them too.  🙂

Reason FIVE to Use a Processor – Expertise

Knowledge, flavor, experience.  My processor has been doing this for 41 years.  The guy knows what he’s doing.  He’s going to be faster, better and more efficient that I am.

I have the most fabulous processor who I use for my pigs.  I have used him for 4 years.  I have taken the man a lot of pigs (last year he processed 8 for me).  He charges a reasonable flat fee per hog.  You get your pig processed any way you want, in as many shrink wrapped bags as you want, with as much sausage, cuts, ground, patties, hams, steaks, roasts, brats, etc., etc., etc. as you want.  He smokes my hams and bacon with SMOKE (yes, some processors just use a brine with smoke flavoring).  He makes all my hams, sausage, bacon and brats without nitrates or MSG.  Not to mention his products are the best I’ve ever eaten.

He’s been doing this for 41 years and he’s the bomb.  I can’t compete with this man’s work & don’t want to.  🙂

Reason SIX to Use a Processor – Facility & Equipment

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My processor has a kill floor.  He has refrigerated rooms.  He has giant meat grinders.  He has burger makers.  He has the space and ability to let my meat “hang” and “age” for weeks at the perfect temperature.  He has employees and equipment and packaging supplies.  He has racks and huge sinks and everything needed to properly process an animal at the right temperature so nothing ventures near spoilage or contamination.

I do not have this at my farm.

When it comes to processing smaller animals like ducks, chickens and rabbits I can manage.  There isn’t any special equipment that is necessary and the process is so fast that spoilage is very unlikely.

When it comes to processing deer – it is usually cold enough outside that we can hang and process our venison without too much concern.

Pigs and cows are a different story.  I don’t feel equipped nor qualified.

Reason SEVEN to Use a Processor – I Don’t Want to Do It

Yes, some people process their own pork…. on their own farms.  I follow LOTS of blogs that process their own hogs.  I love to read their articles and posts and think it’s great.

I am not one of those people.  I just don’t want to process my own pigs (or cows).    I don’t have a scalder or a smoke house.

Not to mention, hog processing time is in winter here is Kentucky.  If you don’t have the indoor facility to do it, you must wait until the outdoors are the temperature of a freezer….. so all your pork doesn’t go bad while you are chopping it all up.

This means that I must keep my pigs alive until kill season (around January).  I don’t want to raise pigs until January.  I don’t want to feed pigs until January.  I don’t want to water pigs until January.  Someday, I may get a wild hair and change my mind.  But today, I do not want to be raising pigs until things freeze, and then slicing and dicing my own pork in the dead of winter on a miserable January day.  I want to be inside my house in front of a fire, frying bacon.

It doesn’t bother me that someone is making my bacon.  As long as it’s MSG & nitrate free, I’m happy.

So, if I want to be pig-free by November 1 (Yes, Please!) then I’m going to load ’em up and move ’em out.

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Reason EIGHT to Use a Processor – Moving is OK

It’s OK to load your animals in a trailer and move them.

I’m gonna say that again.

It’s OK to load your animals in a trailer and move them.

I have read articles that discuss that animals should end their life on the farm where they lived.  That it is a sad, stressful, traumatic ending to a fabulous life if you take your animal to a processor.  Really.  There are people who think it is traumatizing to an animal to put them on a trailer and take them off the farm for their final departure.

Let me be the first to say that they are wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

People are nuts.

If it is abusive, unkind or somehow inhumane to deliver your animal to a processor then every person who has taken their horse, pig, chicken, cow, sheep, goat, etc. anywhere is abusive.

Think about it.  There are so many reasons to shove animals in trailers and relocate them:

  • Horses to go to horse shows.
  • Animals go to county and state fairs.
  • Animals have to be moved to a new pasture (on our farm, this means a short ride in a trailer).
  • Cows go to Ag-Day to meet the children.
  • Chickens go to livestock swaps.
  • Animals go to the vet (we had to take a calf who had pneumonia to our vet’s office a couple of weeks ago).
  • If you buy or sell an animal it will need to be moved.
  • Sale barns, auctions, competitive events and more.

I do not think loading animals into a trailer and taking them somewhere is a bad thing.

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I have animals who LOVE to jump in the trailer & go for rides.  I never once thought that I was abusing them.  Sheesh.

So, if you don’t want to kill your own animal, you have my permission to load them into a trailer and take them to a local processor.  I don’t think it’s mean or unkind.  For me, it is probably the better choice.

Speaking of loading…

If you have decided to take your pigs (or cows) somewhere to have them processed you are going to have to get them there (usually).  I have heard of processors who will come to your farm and pick up the animal.  Some even kill and quarter it on your property (probably because it’s a lot easier to load a dead animal than a live one).  I do not have a processor like that.  Mine requires that I take the animal to him, “on the hoof” or alive.  There have been times when I have called him and begged him to let me shoot the stupid pigs and bring their dead carcasses to his place.  Nope, they have to arrive alive.  Good times.

Loading animals is an adventure.  Loading animals is tricky.  Loading animals is entertaining.  And it usually always rains.

Here’s some of my articles about loading animals:

The bottom line is that loading animals, especially if they were raised by you, is not usually hard.

There was one year that we really struggled to get the pigs on the trailer.  It was the year I had 17 pigs.  When you are working with this number of animals you are waaaaaaaay outnumbered.  Not to mention they weighed 2-3 times as much as we did.  That was a difficult load.  BUT most of the time it is a pretty simple process.

I am pig mommy & cow mommy.  If I grab a bucket of their favorite treat (grain, feed, milk, etc) and walk into the trailer – they almost always follow me.  That’s it.  It’s not horrifying.  It’s not cruel.  It’s not mean.  It’s not bad.

I can load my milk cows (and calves) with 1 child helping me.  I just need the child to close the door behind the cows.  I don’t need men.  I don’t need DH.  I don’t need 2 X 4’s.  I don’t need a taser, whip or electric cattle prod.  Just a small child to close the trailer doors behind the cows.

We loaded 3 pigs last week.  I grabbed a 5 gallon bucket of milk & walked into the trailer.  All 3 pigs followed me in.  It was an uneventful, anticlimactic, 15 minutes of my day.  When you have animals you have hand-raised, they are usually easy to work with.

Reason NINE to Use a Processor – It’s not Auschwitz

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Speaking of processors…

Around here, our processors like to “receive” animals the evening before their scheduled process date.  If my pigs are on the books for Thursday processing – I bring them to the facility in the evening on Wednesday (the night before).  This means that the animal will be spending the night at the processor before “D” day.  First thing the next morning the animals are killed, scalded, skinned and hung (or whatever else they do).

What does the sleepover look like?

I use 2 processors.  Both of them have holding corals.  They have many pens so they can keep animals separated.  All the pens are clean and under roof.  One of them provides food and water for the animals while they are being held.  The other one I use doesn’t provide food and water, but is happy to let me bring some goodies for my animals to munch while in holding.

The processor closest to my house has an impeccable facility that looks more like an “animal spa” than a butcher.  Everyone has comfy pens under-roof.  The livestock are given hay and water while they are being held.  The facility is roomy, clean and brand spankin’ new.  It’s amazing.

I use this place for my beef.

I use a different (ancient) processor for my hogs.  Why?

The owner of the new animal “spa” is our friend and we love his place.  The problem is that he uses MSG in his sausage & nitrates in his ham & bacon.  I worked too long and hard to raise pastured, organic, healthy meat.  There is no way I’m going to let someone throw chemicals in there at processing.  No, thank you.  He said he has other customers like me, who don’t want these additives in their food.  He is working on getting these choices, but is not quite there yet.

Therefore, I must use a processor who can smoke hams & bacon the old fashioned way & not put any funny stuff in my food.

The old facility is not shiny and new, but it’s tried and true.  I love the owner.  I love that they let me bring food for my piggies to snack on while they are being held.  I love the end product this man creates.  He is a master at his craft.  And….. he’s affordable.

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I think we can all agree on the bottom line:  we want to put good foods into our bodies.  We want to feed ourselves the healthiest meat we can afford.  This may mean purchasing pastured meats from markets or stores.  It may mean you raise and butcher your own animals.  Or you may raise them and leave the butchering to someone else.

Either way, the end result is good.

Stay Healthy Everyone!

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XO,

Candi

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