On our farm, preparing meat to eat begins outside of the kitchen. For many years our home meat supply has come from animals we’ve raised and processed ourselves. Thus, this post tells the story of the goat kid who will be featured in this tongue-to-tail cooking series (introductory post here).
In 2008, after many years of avoiding meat, I started eating just enough meat to maintain a vegetarian diet; that was the year we started raising chickens for eggs and goats for milk. Meat is a byproduct of egg and milk production. Hens don’t lay forever, and replacement birds hatch with an approximately 50:50 male to female ratio. Goats don’t lactate unless they produce kids on an annual basis. Most goat pregnancies result in twins. Do the math; you can’t keep ’em all.
Thus, raising dairy animals also means killing animals. I love eggs & dairy products; to produce those on farm, I’d have to eat meat. And so we started butchering chickens & kids. This isn’t an activity that I look forward to; actually, I always kind of dread it. But the anticipation is worse than the activity itself, and the biology lesson that comes with seeing the inside of an animal is one that I find fascinating time and again.
Crystal, daughter of Garlic, was born April 4, 2014 along with her sister Georgia. She was the first born of the year’s kids, and also the friendliest. (Georgian Crystal is a type of garlic that we grow, and the namesake of these kiddos.) Her dad was a Boer, a meat breed, who had visited our farm from his home at Goatsbeard Farm about five months prior.
Crystal spent the summer with the herd living on and rotating through various pastures, gaining access to fresh ground as often as we could manage (every 1-3 days), and growing fat on a generous amount of milk (consumed during the day; we milked in the morning so kids were kept away from mom at night). She never tasted grain. Two frustrating factors mean that she’d never pass as organic (a word we have never claimed for our animals, though a concept we strive for–and this year miserably failed–to achieve for the goats):
- A crop duster sprayed the conventional ag fields to our north, and the fungicide drifted onto our land, including pastures that the goats grazed. The Missouri Department of Agriculture detected the fungicide in a sample taken about 2 weeks after the incident. The plants the goats graze/browse take up the fungicide, so the goats definitely ingested it.
- The herd had a parasite problem this year (different from those encountered in the past), almost certainly due to overabundant deer, which put us in a difficult situation. We ended up treating the entire goat herd with a chemical dewormer, in spite of a strict rotational scheme that has for years kept us from needing to resort to such measures.
In spite of these less-than-ideal circumstances, Crystal & companions were poster
children kids for ethical meat. They led good lives, with full opportunity to express their goatness, as Joel Salatin might say.
Slaughter day was December 23, putting Crystal’s age at a little under 9 months, the upper end of what constitutes “kid” by some definitions. The weather was perfect, low around freezing and high in the 40s (ºF): warm enough to work comfortably, but cool enough to not worry about spoiling the meat. Two kids met the knife that day, as doing two is more efficient than one, once all the equipment is set up.
We do all the butchering ourselves, on the farm. This is far less traumatic for the kids than being hauled away in a vehicle to die in an unfamiliar location. Also, I have strong feelings about wanting to know how my meat was handled, and so I rarely eat meat unless I knew the animal in life and took part in the process of death.
Left: To ensure a clean kill, we use a home-built contraption to lock a kid’s head in place (not that different from the stanchion used for milking). A pile of locust pods provides a final snack. Center: During the bleed out, we collect the blood in a bucket to use later as a soil amendment. Right: Skinning the carcass; this is usually Eric’s job, but I took my time and managed to remove the hide without even putting a hole in it.
This bullet point summary of slaughtering uses more bullets than the actual slaughter (which only requires one, preferably non-lead):
- Kill the goat; Eric has the skill and practice to put a bullet through the brain, ensuring that the kid will drop instantly. Thus, I left this key step to him. He uses a .22 rifle.
- Put the gun in a safe place, grab the blood bucket, & slit the throat.
- Collect the blood in the blood bucket, and breathe a sigh of relief. The animal lived a good life and died a quick and clean death. Now to make sure all is put to good use.
- Slit the hocks & hang the animal. We use a singletree with pulley hanging from a stout limb of the walnut in front of the house.
- Take off the head & remove the tongue.
- Skin the animal.
- Loosen the gullet, loosen the bung (& tie off with a string).
- Gut the animal, collect guts in a some form of tub.
- From the gut/internal organ collection: extract the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs, any fat that is reasonably easy to separate out.
- Clean out and collect the stomach. I had read that the honeycomb tripe is the most commonly eaten in the U.S., so I decided to save that piece for us to eat; the rest of the stomach would be cleaned out for the chickens. It is also possible to clean the small intestines for sausage casings (which we do with our hogs), but we don’t have a sausage stuffer attachment small enough to work with goat casings.
Left: Removing the tongue, a true delicacy! I do this by skinning the lower jaw, then running the knife around the jawbone, pulling the tongue through, and cutting at the back end. I usually leave the bony parts behind, though I found some references in cookbooks that say it is customary to bring those bones along to the kitchen. Right: Removing the organs & other bits that are edible (by either us or the chickens) from the collection of freshly removed innards. These two jobs are always mine anyway, so this was an easy part.
Seeing inside an animal is a really fascinating biology lesson. Over time, we’ve learned to notice differences among individuals–the raw material of evolution. If there’s time available (or someone new around with an interest in biology), I like to pull an eye out of the head and dissect it out of sheer fascination. The eye is a much tougher construct than I used to imagine. When cutting it open, the lens comes out just as a textbook shows…a biological marvel to hold in one’s hand. I’m sure there are cultures and cuisines with the knowledge of how to prepare an eye to eat…though we haven’t gone there yet.
These photos show the lining of different parts of the stomach (from a kid butchered earlier in the year). The honeycomb of the second photo is the part we saved for us to eat; it is beautiful! The section of stomach in the 3rd photo especially has a huge amount of internal surface area that can’t truly be appreciated short of handling the real thing in all of its three-dimensional glory.
Generally, by lunch time we have two clean carcasses skinned, gutted, and rinsed. Other activities that need to be done on slaughter day include:
- Hang the carcasses to age for a few days: We used the walk-in cooler, which was officially done holding produce. (When that’s not available, the animal gets cut up & frozen the same day.)
- Get the organ meat into the refrigerator promptly. Organ meats are especially perishable, so these will be some of the first to make it to the table.
- Move the blood to a safe location so neighborhood dogs/coyotes won’t carry it away. We’ll eventually dry the blood, our preferred method being over an outdoor fire with frequent stirring. Later, it will be added to potting mix to give a good start to our transplants.
- Boil the chicken-edible bits in a big pot: Chickens are omnivores, and in the winter when insect activity is limited, they benefit from having an opportunity to eat various animal scraps as an alternative protein supplement. We cook up the pieces that we’re not quite up to eating: lungs, spleen, really tough scraps (such as the diaphragm), and so forth.
- Render fat: Sadly, goat fat isn’t culinarily delightful to us. Sometimes we just feed it to the chickens, but we’ve read that too much fat can interfere with their laying. This year we have fewer live chickens, and more goats to butcher, so we’re rendering the fat to make it stable…and brainstorming uses for it.
- Remove flesh from the hide.
- Deal with the “waste” products–head, stomach contents, remaining digestive tract, feet. These need to be buried in such a way that wild critters, dogs, etc., won’t get into them.
- Clean up any other stuff: Drain the hose; wash tables, knives, & tools; sprinkle sawdust over blood to avoid attracting critters.
Left: Chickens investigating a piece of boiled tripe. They loved it! Good thing, too, because if chickens refused to eat it, I’d really wonder if we were going to be able to handle the bits we saved for us to eat. Right: A pan of fatty scraps that have been rendering in the oven. The liquid part is ready to strain through cheese cloth into a jar for some future use. The remnants go to the chickens (in not-too-big doses).
There’s an intense exhaustion that sets in by the end of a slaughter day. It results from a certain emotional intensity, a constant bustling of activity, and lengthy sessions of alertness associated with the use of knives in ways that are out of our ordinary daily habit. For me, this is what it takes to be an omnivore, and it adds to the appreciation and enjoyment that come with eating meat.
Next up: Liver two ways