Sunday, February 28, 2010

Harvest Day

Life and death are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. For us, nurturing the lives of our cattle ultimately ends in slaughter. We don't have animals as a hobby. Instead, we're dedicated to raising the best beef for people who want to eat healthy and appreciate the most humane treatment for food animals.

This blog post describes the slaughtering process that takes place at our ranch. We don't sell USDA inspected beef because that would require shipping our animals to a slaughtering plant where they would be handled and killed outside our supervision. We also simply don't approve of the way animals and carcasses are handled in a USDA facility. It's noteworthy that all meat recalls reported in the US are USDA-inspected meat. Instead, we want to ensure that our animals are treated humanely even at slaughter. This means we keep them at home in familiar surroundings and do nothing to cause them stress. When customers order beef, we pick out the mature animals to be slaughtered. We only slaughter animals that are sold. So, each customer gets the freshest beef from our ranch to their table.

WARNING: Please don't read this blog if you'll be offended by graphic pictures. These photos are true to the actual process of slaughter. They aren't selected to be particularly gruesome, but they are graphic.

We walked these steers from the pasture into the corral the evening before slaughter.

Dale is our local, mobile slaughterer. He travels around the area visiting ranches with his mobile abattoir. It's equipped with a generator to power tools, winches, and the cooler. It also has its own water tank. When he arrives, he pulls out barrels for skins and innards and sharpens his knives.

Dale is sharpening his knife before he begins.

Once Dale is ready to start work, the first step is killing the steers. We move them close to the gate so it's easier to move the carcasses to the abattoir. Dale uses a .22 rifle. He is amazingly fast and efficient. He carefully, but quickly, shoots each animal once in the head. Death is instantaneous.

 Dale shoots the second steer.

Dale must immediately cut their throats in order to drain the blood as quickly as possible before butchering the carcasses.

Dale is draining the blood from the carcasses.

Dale prepares the carcass for skinning by placing it on its back and putting wedges under the sides. This ensures that the carcass doesn't roll while he's working. It's very important to keep the exposed flesh clean. Dale removes the legs and puts them in the barrel. Dale sells all the spare body parts to a renderer, so nothing is wasted. Dale is constantly sharpening his knife on the steele as he works.

Dale has removed the front legs.

Once Dale has removed the legs, he starts to skin the carcass. He's very careful not to let the hair side of the skin touch the exposed flesh of the carcass. As he works, he regularly washes his hands and the carcass.

Dale washing his hands with water stored in the abattoir.

Dale works quickly to get the skin off the belly and legs. He'll have to hoist the carcass with a winch and get it totally off the ground before he removes the skin from the back. The skin all comes off in one piece. This keeps the carcass very clean.

Skinning from the chest to the back.

Dale works very fast. Today, he is butchering steers and hogs for us. He has already slaughtered a number of cows for other folks and still has one cow to go when he leaves our ranch.

Washing the carcass.

Once the belly has been skinned, Dale cuts through the breast bone. This makes it easy to remove the innards when the carcass is hoisted. Notice that he never cuts into the abdominal area while the guts are intact.

Sawing through the breastbone.

Dale attaches the power hoist to the carcass via the back legs. The carcass won't flip as it's raised because of the wedges that are still in place holding it in position.

The hoist is attached.

Dale raises the carcass a little at a time, skinning as he goes.

Dale is skinning from the rump down.

Once the carcass is completely skinned and hanging vertically, Dale makes the final cut through the chest releasing the innards. They just slide out without force. (In a slaughter house, the innards are forcefully ripped out of the carcass by a machine which can cause them to rupture.) This ensures that there are no tears or punctures of the gut that will release bacteria to contaminate the carcass. All animals have bacteria in their guts and some of those bacteria, like certain strains of e-coli, are dangerous to humans. Healthy, grass-fed cows rarely have dangerous e-coli strains in their guts although it is common in grain-fed beef. This is also why we will never sell or butcher a sick animal.

The innards.

Dale will cut the carcass in half with a special saw and then put labels on the carcass identifying the customers who have purchased this meat. To satisfy USDA requirements for non-inspected beef, our beef is sold "on the hoof" by the quarter, half, or whole. That means that it is sold before it is actually slaughtered. We cannot sell individual cuts.

Sawing the carcass in half.

The carcass is now basically ready to go to the butcher. Dale will wash it thoroughly before sliding it on the rail into the abattoir.

Washing the finished carcass.

Once the carcass is washed, it's ready to hang in the abattoir. It will be kept refrigerated on its trip to the meat cutter. Note how lean these carcasses are. Our grass-fed meat is not grown to produce fat but to produce muscle.

Ready for the trip to the meat cutter.

At the meat cutter, the beef will hang for several weeks to age before it's cut and wrapped. The finished meat has a unique flavor associated with grass-fed meat. Unlike grain-fed meat, the flavor doesn't come from the fat, but it's just as tender.

All of our beef at R&A Paradise Ranch meets the USDA grade for "naturally-raised" beef. That means that it's pastured, never kept in feed lots, and fed only grass and legumes, never grain.

This meat will go directly to the customers who ordered it. We're sure they're going to love it.

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed. Thank you for sharing this process. I had hog farmers for grandparents, and their pigs were always free range and treated well with whole food feeds and lots of room to play inside and out. I am not happy with our over population which is driving factory farming, and believe the only way to get it right again is to do what you are doing. And quit having so many babies, but I can't control that. I got your name from friends who know you in Redmond...and I think I will be coming to you to get my meat. You are also living my dream lady! Thanks for being a role model on how to do it! Carol