As many of you know from my recent Facebook posts, we butchered our steer this past weekend.
First off, let me give you a little background info.
I was a Vet Tech for two years before becoming becoming a homesteader. I’ve helped mercifully end the lives of more animals than I can even recall. I’ve assisted with all manner of surgeries and procedures, from spaying and neutering to bovine C-Sections involving dead baby calves… As a result, it’s nearly impossible to find much of anything animal-related that “grosses me out.”
I enjoy hunting, and have personally shot, gutted, and skinned three antelope.
I gave my hubby the “ok” to put down two of our own horses, one being my very first horse, whom I purchased at the age of 14.
I’m no stranger to blood, guts, and… death.
Yet last Wednesday night when hubby told me that he had locked up our steer so we could shoot him the next day, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness.
It’s not that I had an especially close bond the steer. We had only had him since the summer, and he could be rather rude at times.
But I saw him every day when I went to the barn to do chores, and I had even trained him to stand back and wait while I milked Oakley the Cow. He was a living creature that I “knew.” He had eyes, and a heart, and a personality.
Yet, when the time came, I held the rope as hubby put him down. He went calmly and quietly, with a mouthful of alfalfa hay between his teeth.
I’ve been pondering this all week- on one hand, I was incredibly excited to butcher a beef ourselves for the first time. On the other hand, I felt rather sorry to see him go. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that my conflicting feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.
I don’t ever want to get to the point where I am completely calloused to the cycles of life and death.
Let’s face it– all the meat we eat had eyes, a heart, and a personality at some point– whether you are the one to cut it up and put it in the freezer or someone else does.
In our modern culture, we are so incredibly detached from that concept. To most people, hamburger comes from, well, hamburger. Most definitely NOT from a living, breathing cow. We don’t want to think about that part– That’s just gross.
I think that any person who eats meat should take part in a butchering process at least once. Perhaps we would all be less wasteful and more mindful of what we eat if we had a first-hand role in it’s living AND dying…
For the homesteaders out there who are a little nervous about your first butchering day, let me share a few of the ways I reconcile the process in my mind:
1. Homestead animals generally live a very good life, compared to their industrial counterparts. Our steer had 60 acres of wide open space to graze, run, and play on right up until the very end. He had “cow friends” to hang out with, and he never spent a day in a crowded feedlot.
2. Home-raised meat is usually fed higher quality feed, which results in healthier animals. Our steer was 100% grassfed, which means he ate the way that cows are meant to eat his entire life. He never ate any grain or by-products like most commercial cows do. That equals a healthier cow and better meat for us.
3. Homestead animals generally have more peaceful deaths. Our steer breathed his last breath only about 30 feet from his big round-bale feeder. His end was swift and calm. Animals live in the moment, and Mr. Steer had no idea what was coming next.
4. In the home-butchering process, usually little is wasted. From our steer, friends took most of the internal organs and the horns, I saved a bunch of the fat to render into tallow (post on that coming next week!), and we saved many of the bones to turn into beef stock.
5. If you eat meat, it has to come from somewhere. Why not from sustainably-raised, happy animals? I would rather eat a cow that I know was fed properly and allowed to fully be a cow, than the “mystery meat” from the grocery store.
The other side of my first 100% home butchering experience?
It was incredibly empowering to do it ourselves for the first time. Yes, it was.
I’ve said it before, one of my most favorite parts of homesteading is learning and honing our skills, and this was no exception.
My mouth was watering as we cut up the steaks and roasts. Our little ol’ grassfed Jersey steer gave us some lovely looking meat with plenty of marbling.
So to wrap it all up? There is nothing to be embarassed about if you feel a little sad when you butcher Mr. Steer, or Mr. Pig, or Mr. Chicken for the first time. Acknowledge the feelings, and then enjoy the experience of learning a skill that is fast becoming extinct in our modern culture.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go throw some steaks on the grill.
Please note: This post is not about the vegetarian vs. meat eater debate. We have made the conscious choice to consume meat for various reasons. This post is about our journey of raising our own meat instead of buying it at the store. If you are a vegetarian, I totally respect that. However, I have chosen a different path, so please be respectful of my choices in return.