Saturday, January 8

How to butcher a cow...

A fair warning: if you like your meat shrink wrapped on the market shelf and don't want to think about where it came from, this post is not for you. Also, since this is our (read Sean) first time butchering a cow, don't hold this too tightly as a tutorial. We are still learning as we go.

A farmer friend had a cow he offered us and so Sean decided to have a go at butchering it himself. I wasn't there for the slaughtering but he said it took one shot with a .22 rifle in the top part of the head to kill it. He says she dropped right away, then Sean proceeded to cut the jugular on each side for it to bleed out. This sounds gruesome but the animal is dead immediately. Skinning and gutting took him three long, miserable hours. Sean was by himself so it would have gone much quicker with help.
Our farmer friend let us hang the cow from his skid steer for two days in a clean barn and on New Year's Eve we all headed over for quartering it and bringing it home to hang. Two of Sean's good friends came along to help and here are the photos from that morning.

See how huge this thing is? Chase fits inside.
Therapy down the road for him? "...and then (sob) parents stuck me inside a cow..."
Don't feel to badly for him, he was loving the morning running around the farm, and then burying himself inside my wool coat to hide from the frigid wind. It was COLD.
Andrew was in his glory with the butchering. I know I'll probably get more vegan hate mail for this but we choose to eat meat, find it scripturally acceptable and this is happy, no antibiotic, pesticide free, happy beef. First, they cut the front shoulders off. All the meat went into clean sheets on top of snow in the back of Sean's truck.

I'm not sure what this cut is called - I imagine it does have a name and I'll inquire of Sean. Sean says its the neck area.

At points when the meat saw failed, it took man power to finish the job. Here are Ray and Jerry carrying that shoulder/chest portion to the truck. Heavy?

At this point, the guys decided to bring the skid steer outside so they could lift the meat higher. I apologize to all the folks who drove by at this point.

Sean cut out the flank and tenderloins

In the photo above, the guys are cutting off the flank.
And now working through the ribs. They cut them into two sections.

Here's the cute boy, popped out from inside my long coat for a minute.

Below, the guys are lifting the ribs up a bit to take off the tension, trying to make it easier for Sean to cut through. Though Sean had bought a meat saw at a local restaurant supply store, he found it was lacking.

Here is the backbone portion where a lot of the best steaks come from.

Cutting the back legs apart:

and unhooking them from the skid steer before cutting off the hooves.

Hooves off and they're done. The meat was brought back to our place and hung from beams in the garage, wrapped in cotton sheets. You'll see the running tally of weight we're getting from it on my sidebar as we (read Sean) cut it into steaks, roasts, stew and scrap and I grind, weigh and vacuum seal it all.

Sean used a meat saw similar to the small ones at the top of this page. His omplaint was that the saw part bent too much.
For researching how to butcher a cow, he read this book, which he said was not detailed enough and so he does not recommend it.
He also ordered the DVD from this butcher at Ask the Meatman, which he said was helpful in some areas but not so much for the at-home butcher since the meat-man uses a many thousand dollar meat saw.
The best resource he found was actually free and it was these videos on youtube:


Jessica said...

We live in south Texas where deer meat stocks our freezers every winter. My husband just skinned and cut up our second deer this season in the garage of our house. I too was concerned for all the neighbors passing by.

Anne said...

Though we don't have the space for whole animal butchery, or a family to eat it, being in the restaurant industry and of a slow food mind I would recommend the following two books as good resources.
First for breaking the whole animal down: "Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game" by John J. Mettler JR. Then for what to do with those cuts after (there are so many ways to break down subprimals) "Meat: Identification, Fabrication, Utilization" by Thomas Schneller (via the CIA - he was my chef instructor - brilliant with a cleaver!) Both books available thru Amazon or

Just One said...

Will you render the tallow for your soap? Do you have a KitchenAid (or other) meat grinder? That makes it easy to grind the fat. I usually put it in water and melt it down on the woodstove. The turkeys get the cracklins for protein. I've not actually done beef but that's how I handle deer and sheep who have a surprising amount of fat (considering their non corn diet). I like your goals for 2011. Interesting and doable.

the Stork Nest said...

so jealous :) Mail me a steak, please!

Anonymous said...

a vegetarian so this might sound strange coming from me (of course Im more of the laid back variety), but I think its wonderful that you took on butchering it yourself. Too many Americans consume, consume, consume, but never consider where their food comes from. Myself included. I praise you for letting your kids be a part of the process even if that means he might need therapy. lol

Myra said...

We don't have cows, but we also live in So Texas and friends have shared their butchered meat from cow or deer with us. It's actually better than store-bought.

Maya said...

I'm so glad you aren't afraid to post the butchering of an animal! Your 'how to butcher a chicken' was my guide for butchering my first ever batch of chickens this fall! Thank you! They turned out great! I,too, blogged the experience but thankfully didn't receive any hate mail like you! We hope to butcher our first cow this fall and though we don't plan to do it ourselves this first time its good to know how to do it anyway! I so enjoy your blog!

Unknown said...

read through the whole thing and still laughing about "my parents stuck me inside a cow..."

enjoy the bounty!!!

Me said...

Jessica, we had three deer, a veal calf and the cow hanging in our garage. It was a regular meat locker in there.
Anne, I'll have to have Sean look up that second book, he has the first one.
Brenda, I have been doing the tallow to use in soap and for the grinder I have the kitchen aid attatchment which is great.
Nest Keeper, too bad you can't stop over for one. :)

All THe joy, I too was a vegetarian and never thought I'd be living this life. I still am amazed. Sean corrupted me with good meat. :)

Myra, it tastes amazing!

Maya, we paid to have a cow butchered a year and a half ago or so. Doing it ourselves, it will cost us about sixty cents a pound.

Thanks, Kiley!

Aimee said...

That's so amazing to see! My husband and I read through the entire post. Oh how we wish we had a farm!

I'm still giggling over "My parents stuck me in a cow." haha :D

Aimee said...

That's so amazing to see! My husband and I read through the entire post. Oh how we wish we had a farm!

I'm still giggling over "My parents stuck me in a cow." haha :D

Pamie G. said...

I am incredibly impressed! I know the love you have for your husband and the pride that he does this for your family is fabulous! WOW!! God Bless!

Janel said...

Good for you!

We raised our own beef when I was a kid at home. We sent each to the slaughter house, except for one steer that blatantly refused to get on the truck no matter what we tried. He was so big (1200 lbs dressed out!) that there was no arguing either.

We ended up dropping him in the pasture one fine morning, bleeding him and taking him to the slaughter house for packing on the back of a pickup truck. It was the BEST MEAT EVER! He wasn't hassled with adrenaline and he was happy and loved when he went.

Not for vegans or the faint of heart indeed, but I don't feel guilty about eating meat when I know it's been loved and well cared for. And I haven't been permanently scarred either. Well, at least not from butchering animals. ; )

Mrs. H said...

What a blessing to have free meat, and organic, humanely butchered meat at that!

Unknown said...

We just butchered a bull last month & I really regretted not buying the video you mentioned so I'm glad to know not to waste my $ next time.

My husband was so jealous when I told him that yors got the cow down with just one shot!!! It took him 19 with a plethora of different guns.

We live on a very busy road and I wondered what people thought when our bull was riding around suspended like that!

Love the post :)

Anonymous said...

I think it is neat to see.. I love to learn new things and that is one of the things that I like about your site..
Sue in NJ

Treena said...

Hannah, I'm a vegetarian, animal-rights activits. Please keep reading, I'm not going to attack you :) I've tried to convince my husband to do the same, but he won't. So we do our best to buy all-natural, ethical meat and free-range eggs. I applaud you and your family for doing this as opposed to buying meat from a cow that was not treated as well as this one was. Feed lots are not a happy place for animals to be. I'd rather feed my family something like this, that was treated with more respect and dignity.

Karen said...

I just have one question? Did you eat the organs? The liver would have been delicious and VERY good for you! :)

His girl said...

I think I may need therapy, but you did warn us. :) Reminds me of butchering deer with my dad as a kid. Blessings!

Kevin Sanderson said...

My decision to do my own butchering came after taking a blinded calf {maybe 200 pounds] to the local butcher and got back steaks 7in acrossed and 10 in long. I took them back and inquired how a small calf could produce such large steaks. His excuse was that he cuts all the aged beef and gives us the weight of the beef. I asked for mine and he said he didn’t have them any more.He took them home for his family.
I use a batter powered Saws-All with an 8 in all purpose blade to cut up my meat. Works great

Steve Sides said...

Very helpful. Thank you so much.

But I have a couple questions. How old was the cow when you butchered her? Also, how was the flavor of the meat? Better than the grocery store?

Me said...

Hi everyone, so sorry I've been to slow to answer your comments!
Karen, we didn't eat the organ meats as they aren't as good for you as you might suppose unless they are from a young cow. When we butchered a young bull calf, we did use the organ meat. By the time a cow is a few years old and their organs have been cleaning their blood and systems for several years, they aren't really good for eating.
Kevin, my husband used a sawzall on the last cow we butchered - you can find it in my archives by searching for "butcher a cow" and it did work much better than the meat saw.
Steve, look in my archives for the latest butchering we did, if you're interested. It is much more in depth. I think this most recent cow was four years old (I'm trying to recall off the top of my head) so we thought she'd only be good for ground beef. We were amazed at how tender her steaks still were. Any time you can get fresh, grass fed meat to eat, the taste will be more amazing than anything in the grocery store. Most farmers ship their sick cows to auctions or markets and that, along with feed lot cows (search for that on youtube) will be what you are purchasing from the grocery store or is in your burger from the fast food joint.