Friday, November 15, 2013

Crazy Life

I'm going to warn you up front. If you can't handle knowing how the beef on your table gets there, don't look at this post. After this week, I have a lot more appreciation for my Dad, for butchers, and for the cows we enjoy. 

I'll start from the beginning of this week, to give you an opportunity to stop reading. This was kind of a crazy week. I had a three day weekend due to Veterans Day and we had a couple projects planned. The cow was an unexpected third project that surfaced late in the weekend. The Hubs talked to his sister this weekend and she asked "Don't you guys ever slow down?" Well, no. I have a hard time laying on the couch and relaxing when there is so much that can be done outside. 

Last weekend, we started working on the retaining wall planter beds that will surround the house. The Hubs helped me start the wall - the leveling of the bottom course is the hardest part - and then I spent a lot of time on my knees leveling, stacking, etc. The dirt was surprisingly easy to dig through - we've had a lot of rain lately. Last weekend's weather was really nice for outdoor work. In fact, this was not even a project on the list last weekend. We were supposed to be inside finishing the island so it is more presentable for Thanksgiving dinner, but then decided we couldn't let such a beautiful weekend go to waste. 
The planned project for the weekend was pouring concrete on Monday. My Dad and one of his coworkers came over (my Dad is a concreter), and my brother helped, too. I stood at the end of the driveway and flagged down the concrete trucks. We live 20 minutes out of town, and I had to tell them to back in our driveway, which I'm sure the drivers loved, since we have a hilly driveway. 

Before the concrete, Dad and my brother went out to check on a cow. She had in been in the barnlot for several days because she was slow getting around. One of her legs was hurting her and she was laying down a lot. When they checked on her, she had rolled down the hill, under a barbed wire fence (breaking the lower wire in the process) and was laying down in the main pasture. After we finished concrete, I went to the farm with them to check on the cow. She was still laying down. We tried to help her up, and even tried using the tractor to help her stand and/or move her back into the barnlot. It wasn't working. The cow was in pain; she was scared and nervous. She was old and probably had arthritis.

Dad called around to several processors and they all said the same thing: We can't take a cow after she's been skinned, gutted and quartered. The cow has to walk off the trailer when she arrives. 

We were left with two options: 
1. Let the cow die in pain, and lose all the meat because we have to bury her. 
2. Kill the cow and process her ourselves, so that we don't lose the meat. 

Luckily, the Hubs recently purchased several pieces of equipment because we are processing our own deer this year. Also luckily - the weather was forecasted to be pretty chilly for a few days this week, so the cow could hang and "age" in the shed instead of in a processor's freezer.

After watching several YouTube videos on the subject, we decided we were ready. My Dad got a thermometer from the Vet and her temperature was within the safe range where we didn't need to be concerned about getting sick from eating her. (Keep in mind the biggest thing I'd butchered to this point was roosters. And my Dad had not helped with butchering a cow since he was in elementary school - over 40 years ago.) I must say I have immense respect for the decision my Dad made - I'm not sure I could have made the same decision in his shoes. Taking a life is not an easy choice, not a decision to be made quickly or lightly. This cow had been alive for over a decade and had birthed many calves which were sold over the years. She lived a peaceful life compared to cows in feedlots. She experienced open pastures and had a pretty awesome farmer as her caretaker. 
The Hubs and the Awesome Farmer

I don't know the live-weight of this cow, but it was a lot. Here's a photo of the cow after she was skinned, gutted and be-headed. She hung upside down in the barn from Monday evening until Thursday morning. 
Yes, that is the same tractor that I rode in my wedding.
Even Grandma helped 
We started around 9am on Thursday and finished around 12 hours later. 

I am grateful for the butchers that can mentally do this every day. I could not. This is heartbreaking work, and dangerous tools are required to complete the job - a gun, knives, a meat grinder. (In fact, about 20 minutes into the butchering yesterday, I sliced off a chunk of the knuckle from my left middle finger, about the size of my pinky nail. I spent the rest of the day with my finger wrapped in gauze and one-handedly operating the meat grinder. No, there was no point in going to the ER as there was nothing to sew back on/together.)

I am grateful that we were capable of doing this and that this cow will continue to provide for us for many months.

After this experience, I have a lot more appreciation for how this meat gets from a farmer's field to my freezer. I am convinced that if everyone had to do this, we would have a lot more vegetarians in our world. 

We were not very experienced in butchering, and our tools were not as professional-grade as what you'd find at a meat processors. We only got about 200 pounds of meat from this cow. (And a lot of skin, bones, sinew.) I have a lot more confidence now that if we were required to be self-sufficient, we could be. 

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