Raising your own meat to provide food for your family is a truly rewarding experience…
More and more people are questioning where their food is coming from (which is awesome) and trying to be more self-sufficient by providing what they can themselves. This has included growing gardens, cooking from scratch, raising animals, and butchering at home.
We made the choice years ago to butcher our own meat animals whenever possible (we still get our grassfed beef butchered somewhere else since we don’t currently have space for that much beef at our homestead). We jumped in feet first (as I like to do) and learned what works best for us. I understand that not everyone can or wants to butcher their own meat, but for those interested, I have compiled a few tips to help you start butchering at home.
10 Tips For Butchering at Home
1. What Animals Can You Raise and Butcher at Home?
It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need to do is determine what animals you can raise and butcher at home. Not everyone has the space to keep large animals but there are a lot of different options for the smaller homestead as well. In this post about Raising Meat on a Small Homestead, we share lots of tips on some livestock options you can raise on a smaller homestead.
Note: Space isn’t the only thing that might be a problem when you are trying to add livestock to your homestead. You will want to make sure that you are allowed to raise your meat animals in your area. Learn more about which livestock to add to your homestead in this article.
2. Do Your Homework and Understand the Butchering Process
There are different ways to butcher at home depending on what animals you are planning to butcher. Poultry butchering has different steps than other small or large animal butchering. You will want to watch videos, and also read articles and books to help you understand the process.
Helpful Posts & Videos:
Home butchering can seem like an overwhelming task, but don’t let all the information stop you from taking action. The best way to learn how to butcher at home is to try it yourself. Many people start by understanding the basics and then figuring out a process that works best for their situation.
3. Use the Right Equipment for Home Butchering
The equipment you will need really depends on what you will be butchering at home. Butchering poultry is different than butchering large livestock such as lambs, pigs, or cows.
Poultry Butchering Equipment:
- A Killing Cone
- A Water Source (to rinse workspace and birds)
- Poultry Shears (to remove head)
- A turkey fryer (to scald the birds and make plucking easier)
- Easy-to-sanitize Tables/Surface
- Freezer Packaging (we use heat shrink bags to reduce freezer burn and they give you a professional end result)
- A Large Cooler Filled with Ice (to cool the birds before you bag them)
- Plucking Machine (optional)
Large Animal Butchering Equipment:
- An Easy to Sanitize Large Surface
- Cool/Cold Place to Hang Animal
- Gambrel (this is what you use to hang large animals)
- Meat Saw
- Cutting Boards
- Freezer Packaging
- Butcher Steel (check out Lehman’s for a great option)
- Meat Hook (Optional)
One thing you will need no matter what you are butchering at home is a good set of sharp knives. You can buy butchering sets (Lehman’s has a great 10-Piece Game Processing Knife Set Butchering Supplies Kit) or individual knives based on the type of butchering you are doing. (For example, you won’t need a saw for poultry butchering)
4. Understand the Basic Anatomy for Butchering at Home
Understanding the basic anatomy of the animals you will be butchering will help you determine where certain cuts come from and help figure out where to cut to form smaller pieces. This is especially helpful with larger animals and also if you plan on cutting your poultry into pieces.
Learn how to cut up a whole chicken in my Prairie Homestead Cookbook.
5. Know the Different Cuts of Meat Before Butchering at Home
When you are butchering larger animals at home, you will want to know the different cuts of meat and how the animal is broken down. A large animal is usually divided into primal cuts first, for example, primal cuts of beef include the chuck, loin, rib, and round. After your primal cuts are divided you can divide them again into sub-primal cuts.
I’ve been slowly teaching how to cook different cuts of beef in my Cooking Through the Cow Series, so if you’re curious about the different cuts of beef, check out these posts:
6. Start with a Clean, Organized Work Area
The day before your butchering day, clean the work area and organize all your equipment. Starting with a clean work area will help keep things moving smoothly. Organizing equipment ahead of time will help you see what you have and ensure you don’t start butchering day with missing equipment. You want your home butchering to go as smoothly as possible especially if you are working with others.
7. Make Home Butchering a Community Project
Ask friends or family members to give you a hand when you are butchering at home. You don’t need the entire community on board, but a few extra people can help save some time. We set up a sort of assembly line, where everyone has a job. You will want to make sure that everyone participating knows how to do their jobs.
If you are new to your community or are having a hard time finding like-minded homesteaders to help, learn how you can Cultivate Community While Homesteading. Being a part of a community while homesteading can help with a lot of aspects of homesteading not just with home butchering.
8. Make Sure You Have Freezer Space Before Butchering at Home
The day you have been waiting for is finally here, the animals you have raised are big enough to butcher and feed your family. But, before you begin you will want to make sure you have enough freezer space to hold your freshly butchered meat. This can be a shop refrigerator, a home freezer, or a family member’s freezer. You don’t want to butcher your animals and then later realize you don’t have the space you need.
Check out my video (link above) to see what happened when we did NOT have enough space (we were in the process of making a new walk-in freezer and had some delays).
9. Look into Different Packaging Before Butchering at Home
There are many different ways to package your meat once the butchering is done. You will want to compare them and decide what you believe will work for your operation. You can use freezer paper, heat shrink bags (we use these for our poultry), vacuum-sealed bags (you will need a vacuum sealer for this), or a combination of methods.
10. Consider the Emotional Side of Butchering at Home
Getting emotional about butchering the animals you have cared for is nothing to be ashamed of. It means that you are aware that the meat is coming from something living. This feeling is something that almost everyone goes through, read about my first emotional experience when butchering our first steer.
When you are feeling sad keep in mind that homegrown meat animals usually have a better life than those on commercial feed lots and that you know where your food is coming from.
Extra Benefits of Butchering at Home
Home butchering provides you with fresh meat but there are also some other benefits to butchering at home. Butchering at home also allows you to use different parts of the animal that may be thrown away otherwise. It is a great way for you and your family to live a little more sustainable no-waste lifestyle.
A few parts include:
- Chicken Feet – These are great to use when making homemade chicken broth
- Bones – these are also used to make broth like beef broth or pork broth
- Beef and Pork Fat – When rendered, these make beef tallow and pork lard.
Are You Ready to Start Butchering at Home?
Butchering your own meat animals can be emotional, but also a very rewarding experience. It can seem like a very overwhelming task but with the right equipment and information, it doesn’t have to be. Use these 10 tips to help you start the process of butchering at home. Do you already butcher at home?
More About Homesteading Animals:
- How to Pick the Best Livestock for Your Homestead
- The Homesteader’s Guide to Preserving Meat (podcast episode)
- Raising Meat Chickens: Our First Year
- Save Time by Using Chicken Power on Your Homestead