Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our First Steer

WARNING!  If you're sensitive to what happens to animals raised for dinner, you probably shouldn't read this.

Jasper was born January 24th, 2010 to the first heifer we've ever owned.

Wasn't he cute?  And look at that gorgeous rusty coat! 

Here he is at about 6 months.

This one is middle of summer 2011.  I think this is the last picture I have of him.  He's the one on the left.  His coat isn't as rusty as when he was born, but more so than what this picture shows.  He's been rapidly growing on a mix of grasses on our pasture, free to roam and do as he pleases.  We thought he'd get to about 1050 pounds and were surprised yesterday at butcher time when the 1300 pound rated wench could barely lift him.  Our guesstimate is he was about 1275.

My husband is gallant enough to do the hard work and not require my presence.  Goober Gus and I arrived in time to see this:

We're very grateful to these friends from church for helping out!  None of us have ever done this and I'm happy to report that despite it taking longer than they thought, no one got hurt and things went quite well.  I was there to gather parts that won't be aged and start prepping the hide.

As much as I felt I had researched and learned what to do when this day came, I was still woefully unprepared.  I knew which organs I wanted for human consumption and the parts I wanted for the pig and chickens.  I thought we had enough buckets.  If you've never done this-take more than you think you need!  Take plenty of everything.  I saved the tongue, liver and heart for us.  I kept the brain because one of the tanning methods I read about uses the brain.  We needed a bucket for the scraps of meat that were being trimmed during hide removal and quartering.  I was going to take my rubber gloves and don't know why I chose not to at the last moment.  I wanted to keep the kidneys, but to our untrained eyes, we couldn't find them.  There was a bucket for the fat that I plan to render into tallow.

I had it in my brain that there wasn't much for me to do on butcher day, that all the work I'd be doing would be on processing day after the meat ages.  Wrong.  All those decisions to make about what to keep and how to package/store it were up to me. 

The guys told me the wench pulling him up is rated for 1300 pounds and it struggled to get him off the ground.  When the hide was removed, it took 2 of them to carry it outside for me to clean.  When they gutted it, again they were amazed at the weight of all the internal organs.  Once the quartering was done it was a little easier to estimate weight.  Even the smaller sections were at least 150 pounds.  Tony can usually lift that alone, but it took 2 to get each hindquarter to the truck to transport to the meat locker.  The front sections required a 2 wheeled cart.  When there was just one left hanging on the hook, Timothy (the one in the red shirt) tried to counter balance it by hanging on the other arm.  He couldn't do it-he was raised off the ground!  Even the guy that owns the meat locker said the pieces looked big.  Our conservative estimate is 800 pounds dressed.  Using national averages, we'll get 500 pounds of meat.  Since we plan to use the bones for stock and the fat for tallow, our total yield will probably be greater.  So you really can raise a hefty steer on nothing but grass!

My goal yesterday was to get the hide skinned and salted.  That part didn't even start until about 530PM!  Tony worked with me and at 8 there was still about half the hide needing to be skinned.  5 hours of manpower and we were only halfway done!  We stopped at that point (Goober Gus was getting hungry and we still needed to get parts for the hot water handle in the shower that broke the night before-good timing huh?) and decided to go ahead and salt it down and see what happens.  We're hoping the salt will dry the remaining fat well enough to make it easier to remove.  My hands were so cramped from gripping slippery fat in one and trying to trim it with the other!  My back was stiff and for some reason so was the rest of me.  Prior to the skinning tasks, it doesn't seem that I did that much, so being so sore afterwards was confusing.  I understand now why professional tanners get $500 per hide!

The irony of the whole day was eating at McDonald's at 9PM on the day we'd been working toward for 2 years-the processing of our own homegrown, grass fed steer, so that we didn't have to eat industrially raised beef anymore.  Another reason to be better prepared with a meal plan!  I think the plan from now on will include yummy, healthy beef several times a week-at a fraction of the cost!  My best estimate (if we yield 500 pounds) is about $1.70/pound.  The inexpensive cuts from the local ranchers are over $4 per pound.  The savings are worth the crazy day we had yesterday.  Even if I am still sore and tired!