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Homekill beef - two small beef cattle for added complexity

Every year for the last seven years we have raised and killed a steer for beef.  I know this because I can count off the names of each of them, Trevor, Murray, Bruce, Bratwurst, Frankfurter, Romeo... and this year it was Monty's turn, but he was a bit small (being a jersey cross dexter), so we also killed a young heifer recently acquired (we named her Fatty, because she had been in the good paddock, she's a mini hereford cross lowline maybe).  Our butcher doesn't like to come out for animals under 200 kg, so we wanted to be sure it was worth his travel.

eight acres: homekill beef gets easier
Little Fatty heifer

eight acres: homekill beef gets easier
Monty the jersey/dexter steer - a bit small maybe

Having two animals killed on the same day was a challenge and took some planning.  First we had to dig an extra large hole for the inedible bits (head, hooves and guts).  And then we had to figure out how to keep the second animal calm while the butcher was working on the first one.  He likes to shoot one, process it, and then do the second one, that way the meat gets into the cold room as quickly as possible.  It takes him about an hour from shot to cold room, with very little help from us, this guy is a hard worker!

We set up a pen made from portable cattle panels, and enticed both animals into the pen.  Then we put a divider of panels to split the pen in half.  We put up a large tarpaulin across the front of the pen, so that neither animal could see what was happening.  When the butcher arrived, we showed him our set up and he told us to let the first animal out.  Monty came out and started calmly eating some grain from a dish, so he was a very easy shot for the butcher.

eight acres: homekill beef gets easier
one large hole


Fatty the heifer couldn't see what was going on, so she was quite happy in her pen with some hay until the butcher was ready for her.  He shot her in the pen and we dismantled it around her body.  We are pretty confident that neither animal was unduly stressed by this arrangement, which is our main aim.  Stress causes adrenaline to be released, and this can ruin the meat (causing dark cutters), so its entirely selfish, but also nice to know that Monty was born on our property, never left apart from some time on neighbour's paddocks, and died here without a care in the world, aged 2 and a bit.

Pete and I are becoming far less squeemish around this process.  I wasn't even upset when Monty was shot, just standing there admiring the butcher's perfect clean shot.  Then we looked in the severed head to count the number of teeth because I always wonder what that means.  The butcher cut open the stomachs so that we could scoop out all the half-digested grass and not fill up our hole too quickly and Pete and I were checking out the inside of the stomach and how it absorbs nutrients.  Our butcher said that some people just go inside and leave him to it, meanwhile here is both me and Pete asking him a million questions, poor guy!

eight acres: homekill beef gets easier
kidney fat for rendering to make more tallow soap

I think the first time you have a homekill done its very stressful and can be upsetting seeing the animal shot and cut up.  After a few experiences, you get used to it, you know what to expect, and how to prepare so that the butcher can just get on with his job.  It definitely gets easier, and you can focus on all that lovely meat!  I recommend having a good talk to your butcher before he comes out to find out how he would like you to prepare the animals.  Usually a pen away from the house and neighbours, but easy to get to by vehicle.  And don't keep the animals in there for too long (we had one in there overnight when we didn't know what we were doing, and he was STRESSED), timing is everything and it really helps to have tame cattle that will follow you for hay or grain.

We are looking forward to comparing the meat.  Our first ever steer, Trevor, was a jersey-cross, and his meat has been the best so far, so we wonder if Monty will be similar.  And Fatty just looked so tasty, and was on good green grass, surely her meat will be nice too.  She's also the first female we've had butchered.

eight acres: homekill beef gets easier
first carcass ready for the cold room

Have you had a home butcher?  Do you butcher your own?  Any tips?  Questions?


Other posts about homekill butchering:

Eight Acres: Home butcher vs meatworks

Eight Acres: Homekill beef - is it worth it?

Eight Acres: Rendering tallow in a slow cooker


Comments

  1. we've been 'eating our own' for generations (I've been a vegetarian for decades so its been a while since I've tasted any of them!)

    I must say --- I'm always intrigued by the breed choices --- I'm unsure about the viability of the mini breeds (dexter/mini hereford etc) for home kill (market results clearly indicate that they are not desirable in a sale yard...) --- and your experience here indicates why -- you have double the work (in raising/killing/processing... or what not) for half (if that) the product.... so I'm left unsure what the perceived benefits (apart for biodiversity and an interesting hobby) of these mini-breeds really are?**

    ps we have found from many many years of growing and eating our own that a nice young and tender heifer is the best pick for home --- heifers generally sell for less than steers (yet they are tastier! go figure!) so its also a good economic choice to eat the gals and sell the boys --- oh and our kids have always been around the whole process -- I remember when our daughter was still in preschool she would look at all the lovely calves and decide which one looked the most delicious ---- our girl-child is a hyper carnivore


    ** this is not meant to sound disparaging - I'm genuinely interested in the reasons why people choose mini breeds - I'm obviously missing a vital bit of information!

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    1. Hi Ronnie, thanks for your comment. Yes we were surprised to find less meat that we were expecting after all the butchering was done, actually less than some of the single steers that we have processed. I think the main benefit of the smaller breeds is that they are easier to handle. I would much rather deal with a dexter bull than an angus or limo! They are also easier to transport, they eat less, you could potentially butcher one and have 6 months of meat instead of 12 months (but we had to do two for out butcher's minimum call out weight). So far the heifer is nicer meat...

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    2. hmmmm - I'll actually go over a bit of that info based on some of our experience and research

      I'm not too sure about the idea of ease of management/handling of dexters (or alternative mini breed) v/s 'standard' size animal -- first problem is that yards are designed to support a specific size of animal --- smaller animals don't really fit and thus its more dangerous to try to handle them in standard yards (meaning custom yards/crush are required for safe handling -- for both wo(man) and beast)

      second hassle with diminutive size is transport - professional drivers/handlers will tell you its much harder (not easier) to transport small breeds as, like yards, trucks are designed for a different scaled animal -- in our region truck drivers usually need to charge more for small animals as they cannot be co-tranported with larger animals as this a/ may result in injury to the mini beast b/ can unbalance the truckload - perhaps with specialised or modified truck/trailer this would be avoided - but again the solution requires customisation (and anything custom means $$$$)

      any animal, regards their size, can be very dangerous (or relatively safe) --- and any bull irrespective of breed can have a propensity to aggression - so selecting for temperament might be a better/safer approach than simply size (I'd rather handle a big quiet limo than a badass scottish highland with big pointy horns!)

      I haven't been able to find out much information about the idea that mini beasts eat less - it sounds logical - but the only info that is readily available about this is on mini beast promo websites rather than scientific trials

      and the whole issue of 6 months of meat v/s 12months being an advantage or disadvantage is up in the air (as we've already figured out that this way means the meat costs almost double a 'standard' beast.... that's a heck of a premium price to pay!)

      thanks for having the chat liz (I trust that you have the same spirit of enquiry as me --- I like to think about alternative perspectives on things and find chats like this really valuable) -- enjoy the juicy heifer!

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    3. Thanks Ronnie :) Sure if you already have full-size yards the small animals are a pain, but if you're on a small farm and only built a small yard from portable panels (like us) and use your ute with a crate on the back and a portable ramp to move them, they suit a small farm better I think, we only ever want to move one or two for our own purposes.

      Our Dexter bull was only 1 m tall, and our current lowline cross is a similar height, I agree they still need respect, but do not scare me as much as the Braford bull, even though he was docile, he was as tall as me and I never trusted him :) I do agree that there is a danger that one could assume that a small animal is completely safe, I just mean relatively safer, and it also depends on temperament and experience of the handler too. I've been kicked by a 6 month-old heifer, I know that even the small ones can do damage. I find that the smaller animals are less likely to turn on you and take you on as they see you as a bigger animal. That's just my experience so far (and comparing so some particularly ornery Braford cows that never wanted to go up the race).

      Reducing the amount of meat can save you on freezer space, we have three freezers running at the moment, and would only need two if we had butchered one animal. For that reason I think smaller animals, even chickens and lambs are a good option, as they don't take up so much space, less capital investment in keeping the meat, less electricity, easier to work with if you butcher your own. We are even considering long-term selling quarter or half a small beast in the city as most people don't have chest freezers, so 50-100 kg is a good size.

      Maybe this should be the subject of a longer blog post :) Keep the discussion going though, I'd like to know I've addressed everything you can think of!

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    4. its good to have a chat - often for the benefit of others who don't have much of an opportunity to give solid thought to what animals they might like to stock --- and why --- and what the repercussions of their choice may be -- and after throwing a bit more information into the ring it appears that we agree on pretty much everything anyway :D - so here's what I think we have nutted out together:

      small breeds are fine - particularly if you don't have a huge amount of space/grass (as they may eat less) or limited freezer space --- always buy/breed for temperament as the small size alone won't guarantee ease of handling --- be prepared to customise most of the items commonly used in cattle handling (yards/crushes/transport). small size doesn't change set costs such as processing (home of abattoir), gov regulatory fees (NLS tags) or saleyard fees but expect lower sale prices if taking the animal through the commercial beef market. does that cover it?

      ps a girlfriend who just purchased a couple of acres once asked my advice about scottish highlands (she thought they looked just sooooooooo cute) --- I told her I didn't mind scottish highlands... if they stayed in the highlands... of scotland :P (poor creatures -- australia must be a living hell for them!)

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  2. terrific post and great work! i'm kind of surprised that most folks just go in the house. but i know that everyone has their limits. after going thru this several times do you think you could do it yourself? or do you need the butcher's equipment - for instance, for hanging the carcass? we find that when we are butchering more than one animal at a time the other have absolutely no interest in their fallen comrade. and yes, once you've been thru it then it is much easier on everyone. great job!

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    1. I think we could do it, but it would be slow.... and Pete could definitely make the tri-pod that the butcher uses, and he has a battery powered winch to lift the carcass, its all very clever. We find that the other animals don't notice at first, but they do smell the blood and that's when they start to get worried. Its best to have most of them out of the way in the back paddock where they can't cause a fuss.

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  3. Our butcher killed both steers at once and made quick work of them as he has a meat cutting chain saw that he uses to quarter them and was very quick with his skinning knives. The chain saw was spectacular to say the least and you don't want to stand too close. Our ground was too hard to dig at that time so I put the extras out for the buzzards and coyotes to recycle and they made quick work of it as well. It is amazing at how much grass is in the first stomach, almost a bale of hay in size.
    It was real work but the meat is so much different and makes the store bought grain fed beef seem almost bland. Our steers are all milk breeds so are good size but still have a lot of meat.

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    1. That would be another solution, to kill both at once, as long as they bleed out quickly, it would help if the weather was cool as well. Grass fed meat is definitely taster! Also the animals are probably a bit older than the grain fed steers, so you get more flavour that way too :) We are always worried about attracting predators, but I guess they are out there anyway....

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  4. We recently used an "On Farm" butcher to perform two home kills (one for us and one for the owner). The butcher shot both in the paddock one after the other. The herd didn't display any uneasiness and went into a fresh paddock as soon as the kills were done. They had a quick sniff of the fallen. Both the kills had not been weaned purposely but may have not been feeding on much milk at 10 months. These were pure Poll Herefords and both came in at 180-200 KG after dressing. A few things we noted.

    1. This was the the most humane and stress-less method of processing a home kill but it was by far the most expensive dollar wise and we also did the packaging while the butcher cut.

    2. We had the option to hang as long as we preferred but at an additional cost choosing the standard 7 days.

    3. Working with the butcher meant we could dictate cuts, sizes and quantity per pack and no mix ups.

    4. 180- 200 Kg was a lot of meat and half an animal would have been better and more efficient freezer wise. Hence a smaller animal would have been ideal.

    5. The two steers were purpose raised with their mothers and had as much green feed and silage as they wanted to ensure a steady plane of growth. However in a blind tasting their T-bones did not rate as highly as a previous home kill which went to the abattoir in the then standard process. The difference was in the breed. The previous home kill was a Murray Grey Limousine cross. Imagine how tender it would have been if it had benefited from on farm butchery. Our on farm butcher makes a taste test of all his work and has verified that breed makes a big difference to taste. And yes a Jersey cross may not look beefy but will produce the best quality eating meat. As a rule of thumb something with a dairy background will perform well (benefiting from the higher quantity of milk I'm assuming). There are other breeds that pass the taste test such as Angus and Belgian Blue. I could be wrong but I vaguely remember that in the small breeds the Belted Galloway rated extremely highly when it came to meat quality. Something about the way it's meat marbles.

    There is a lot to know in this topic and it bifurcates when you look at commercial production or home use.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! Very interesting to know the difference between breeds, I think you would have to taste a lot of meat to be sure as there are variations between individual animals as well.

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