“This I believe: to eat humanely raised and slaughtered animals is not only ethical, it’s important to our humanity.” – Michael Ruhlman
We slaughter a cow that we raised with dignity and care to provide meat for our family. Nothing tastes as good as eating our own beef that we raised ourselves. We know that we are eating meat that came from a healthy cow who was grass fed and was not injected with growth hormones. The beef is processed in a sanitary environment and cut and packaged to our own specifications and needs. We feel that we are giving our family the healthiest meat possible. We feel self-sufficient in providing for the needs of our family.
Slaughtering the Cow
Here in our corner of the woods in Texas it has been a cold fall and winter. We are getting ready to slaughter a steer during this cold period. This steer is 20 months old. In the past we have slaughtered both steers and heifers, depending on what is available during the slaughter time of the year. As we prepare for this year’s beef butchering, let me share with you last year’s beef butchering process. Last year we slaughtered a cow that was an 18-month heifer. We estimate that she weighed about 900 pounds at slaughter time.
We shot the heifer with a .22 rifle. We then bled the cow by making an incision on her neck with a knife to allow her to bleed out. This is all done quickly and carefully, so that the animal does not have to suffer more than necessary. We hung the cow on the front loader bucket of our tractor. After the cow bled out we removed the hide. We also removed the head and hooves. We removed the cow’s guts and cut the carcass in half. We washed the cow out with water several times throughout the whole process to keep the meat as clean as possible. We cut each half of the cow into three pieces so that we had six pieces in total. The reason we cut the meat into six pieces is that it is easier for us to handle six pieces of meat versus two halves of a cow. If you need to cut it smaller pieces than by all means do what works for you.
We try to slaughter meat on a cold day because it helps in cooling off the meat faster before putting it into the refrigerators to age. This year we will not have any problems slaughtering on a cold day. We have been having a lot of cold days. Unlike last year we slaughtered on a day with a high temperature of 58 degrees F. Therefore in order to cool off the beef adequately before we put it into our refrigerators to age, we laid plastic sheeting in the back of our trailer then laid the 6 cow pieces on top of that and covered the beef with about 200 pounds of ice and another plastic sheet. We drove the trailer into my husband’s workshop so that other animals could not get at it. The beef stayed there all night. The low during the night was 33 degrees F.
The next morning my husband and I cut the six chilled beef pieces into smaller pieces so that they could fit into our two refrigerators. We bought two Frigidaire Convertible Freezer/Refrigerators from Sears. These refrigerators are perfect for us because they are refrigerators and with a flip of a switch they turn into freezers. The beef will age in the refrigerator for two weeks before we cut it up.
Butchering the Cow
After the cow has been aging in the refrigerator for about two weeks it is time to butcher the beef. To make the meat a bit easier to cut, I switch the button from refrigerator to freezer, to firm up the meat; it is easier to cut slightly frozen meat from our experience. That is why we use the convertible freezer/refrigerator.
Once the meat is cold enough to cut, my husband cuts the meat and I package it. I package meat by using two different methods. One method is just placing it inside of zip-locking freezer bags. I use this method for meat that I will eat soon and make sure to place the bagged meat in an easy to reach place in my freezer to remind me to cook this first. The freezer bags can be bought in bulk at a warehouse store and are fairly inexpensive. Also if you plan ahead you can often find a coupon and a sale at the same time, which saves money.
The second method is packaging the meat in vacuumed sealed bags. I have a Food Saver vacuum sealer machine. The food in the vacuumed sealed bags stays fresher longer and do not get freezer burn. Meat that I will consume in more than six months into the future are placed in the vacuum sealed bags. Obviously, the vacuumed sealed bags are more expensive to purchase and do require more handling time to package the meat correctly. I usually package half of the meat in this method because ideally this animal will provide my family with meat for the entire year until next year’s slaughter.
My husband has a meat saw that he purchased second-hand through a local restaurant supply store. This meat saw has been a blessing because it makes the meat cuts look better and it is easier to cut through the bones saving us time. Using a meat saw can be dangerous, so it is imperative to learn how to use a meat saw correctly. There are many online and video resources as well as books that can help you to learn how to use the meat saw. My husband learned how to make his meat cuts using videos from Ask The Meat Man. He ordered videos and watches them before each slaughter and butcher day to refresh his memory. My best advice is to wear protective equipment and to go slowly and take your time in making your cuts. Do not get distracted in what you are doing.
We cut several different types of steaks. We cut top round, bottom round, eye round, sirloin tip, T-bone, porter house, arm steak and rib steak. We also cut roast, fajita meat, brisket, ribs, soup bones, stew meat, tongue and oxtail. As we are cutting the meat, we put aside pieces of meat that need to be deboned as well as other meat that can be used to make ground beef. We make ground beef on a separate day after butchering all of the meat.
Cutting meat, as with anything else, will become easier and better with practice. Every time we cut beef – this is our fifth year – we learn how to make better cuts or different cuts. It takes practice and patience. We are not the experts; we are just sharing our experiences. Remember this slaughtering and butchering is to feed your family. You can’t go wrong in providing food for your family.
Making Ground Beef
After butchering the cow we have lots of meat to debone as well as oddly shaped pieces and leftover pieces from trimming the steaks. These pieces are used to make ground beef. We debone the meat and cut the other pieces of meat into medium size pieces, so that we can put them in the meat grinder to make ground beef.
We have to leave a bit of fat on the meat or the ground beef would be too lean and we would have to add cooking oil to the pan for it to cook properly. We keep our ground beef fairly lean. I believe the ratio is about 90% beef and 10% fat.
We use a 3/4 HP meat grinder. My husband feels that if he could repurchase a meat grinder, he would buy a 1 and 1/2 HP grinder. The larger horse power meat grinder would be able to grind the meat in less time. We use this grinder to make ground beef and pork sausage.
We place the pieces of meat in the grinder and a plastic ground beef sleeve at the end and start filling the bags to our desired amount that we want in each bag. We then take the air out of each bag by ensuring that the ground beef fills out the bag and squeezing out air that accidently gets trapped into the bag, twist the top of the bag and close the bag with wrapping meat packaging tape. Lastly, we wipe the bags down to ensure that they are clean and place in the freezer.
Slaughtering and butchering your own cow is not hard to do, but it does require work. When all is said and done it is a very satisfying job to provide our family with beef for the whole year. I believe it is a smart move for us to raise our own beef cows. We could never afford to purchase organic grassfed beef, but we can raise one. It is not easy, but then again if it was easy than everyone would do it. Being self-reliant means we put forth the extra effort to provide for ourselves, and raising our own beef is well worth it!