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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Book Review Butchering

Book Reviews: Butchering: Beef and Butchering: Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork by Adam Danforth

by Lynn Miller

Since just after World War II, self reliant folk have looked on aghast as the main populace has rushed, Lemming-like, towards paper-thin convenience-oriented lifestyles that have stripped society of any and all direct skills for living and for the earned understanding of life forces. In the mid-sixties, having grown up in the suburbs of southern California, I came to the realization that I had zero comprehension of what constituted meat; where it came from, what was traded for it’s ready availability, what it meant to human sustenance, the historical significance, its glory, the destruction it comes out of, and the impact. At eighteen years old I passed through supermarket meat sections trying to imagine the form of the animal the meat came from and the whole butchering process. I had lived to that ripe young age and never even cleaned a fish! I made a pact with myself; I would not eat meat until and unless I was prepared to raise the animal and butcher it myself. I kept that promise for five years and became a connoisseur of adzuki beans and brussel sprouts. When I finally found myself on a farm, raising sheep, cattle, horses, chickens and geese I decided I was ready and I butchered a goose – cut its head off on the firewood chopping block and hung it to bleed out. We ate that goose for Thanksgiving. It was a big moment for me. Then I raised a bottle lamb, named her Cecile. She became a pet. We were very poor and quite hungry. It took a couple of days but I got up my courage(?) and cut fat Cecile’s throat and bled her out to dress for meat. I could not sleep for weeks after and my life changed in that experience.

In retrospect, as time educated me to process, I realized many times over how lucky(?) I had been with both of my first butchering experiences. I had nowhere to go for information. And there are so many things that could have gone terribly wrong. All of this abbreviated personal narrative is offered to background my critique of Adam Danforth’s new book series BUTCHERING (published with amazing sensitivity and intelligence by Storey Books).

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming. Split into two volumes, “Beef” and “Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork”, here are 800 plus pages and thousands of photographs and charts detailing every aspect of humane slaughtering and butchering of all farm animal categories.

Book Review Butchering

Fifty years have passed for me since that pact I made with myself about meat, and with those years have come myriad experiences with raising my own, hunting for meat and hides, commercial fishing where I came closest to feeling myself the hunted as a seven foot long blue shark rose from the ocean to strip me of my Salmon catch, to spending 7 hours in my farm kitchen grinding hamburger and carving cuts from a 2,000 pound bull’s carcass which had hung for 10 days, wrapped in an old sheet, in the rafters of my barn. The sticky odors of drying blood, the attacking flies, the coagulation of my spirit all assured me over and over again that this was a scene out of Dostoyevsky or Joseph Conrad not a chapter from a pretty cookbook. What I learned I learned from doing, sometimes right often wrong. Occasionally someone would step up and offer that I try it another way. Appropriately I thrill now to think what Danforth’s volumes might mean to young people coming up through the ranks of right livelihood, so much to be gained by having the head start this information offers. Wow. And Adam offers the best sort of information, a coupling of perfect illustrative photography combined with simple directions and perhaps most important a plain-spoken explanation of the whys – all of this coming from someone who cares deeply.

We raise beef cattle. We work with custom cutting houses and sell grass-fed all natural beef direct to our own growing list of customers. We have our own unique approach to this process that has given us excellent results but there is always room for improvement. Danforth’s exceptional writings on the subject give valuable depth to the reasons behind how animals are slaughtered (including Adam’s ever present admirable humanity), how and where the carcass is hung, temperatures and duration of hanging, refrigeration concerns, freezing elements, cutting and cuts, etc. Coming to the subject with some experience it is immediately apparent how comprehensive Danforth’s presentation is. That said, there are myriad variables that do not appear in this writing, things such as the tenderizing effects on molecular structure of meats caused by careful calibrated long-term thawing. Even so, the absence of such elements of fine tuning does not in any way diminish this volume, to the contrary BUTCHERING provides a most excellent and solid foundation to move forward from.

Immediately upon receiving Danforth’s volumes we decided to add these books to the SFJ Book Service and Kristi and I ordered two copies for our personal library at the ranch. These books are essential. Thank you Mr. Danforth for your expansive work.

What follows are excerpts from the Danforth Butchering books.

Aging in the Open

All aged meat will increase in tenderness, but there are other beneficial repercussions, depending on airflow and the ambient humidity of where the meat is stored. In one method, called dry-aging, water evaporates from the meat, sometimes reducing the original weight by as much as 20 percent. With the water gone, the muscle fibers shrink, and so does the overall size of the meat. This also concentrates the tasty, water-soluble protein fragments, strengthening the flavor of the meat.

During the dry-aging process, meat is kept at the proper temperatures while humidity and air flow are controlled. Humidity is held at 70 to 80 percent, allowing the meat to dry out gradually. If the humidity is too low, the meat will lose moisture too quickly, resulting in dried, unpalatable meat; if the humidity is too high, moisture remains on the meat surface, promoting rancidity and microbial development. Air circulation is also critical to maintaining humidity equilibrium and promoting evaporation. To allow air access to all parts of the meat, meat processors usually hang carcasses from rails and place cuts on perforated shelves, while high-velocity fans work to keep the currents continuous.

A dry-aged carcass or primal cut will have a hardened, blackened exterior that is very likely to be dotted with patches of white mold. All mold patches must be removed and discarded, exposing the underlying nutty, aromatic meat. Between the loss of meat from trimming and the loss of weight through evaporation, the edible portion of a dry-aged primal may be 70 percent of its original weight. This makes dry-aging an expensive process: it requires equipment, ample space, and lots of time for hanging and trimming, and it ends with a considerable loss of salable weight. Yet the result, with its unique taste, will fetch high prices and yield flavorful results, making up for the product loss.

Aging in a Bag

These days, dry-aging is rarely done within the commercial meatpacking industry. Carcasses are typically hung for the minimum amount of time to allow rigor mortis to resolve, after which they are broken down into primal cuts. Primals are then vacuum-packed and shipped to customers within refrigerated containers.

While the meat is bagged and in transit, the enzymes do the work of dismantling proteins and tenderizing muscle. Upon arrival to a customer, bagged primals can continue to be sorted and aged further or butchered into cuts. This approach is called wet-aging, and the results in tenderness are pretty much the same as in dry-aging. In wet-aging, the meat is aged within a hermetically sealed environment, staving off microbes and preventing any oxidation or moisture loss from the product. There is no need for controlled humidity or airflow, just temperature, so equipment and space costs are lower. Furthermore, there is minimal loss of product, thus maximizing salable weight. For these reasons, the adoption of wet-aging has been widespread within the commercial industries.

The downside is the resulting lack of flavor enhancement or development. The meat ages in a bag, spending days or weeks sitting in a collection of its own juices and blood. It picks up the flavors of these juices and blood: serumy, metallic, and irony are all adjectives used to describe the profile of wet-aged meat. Despite this, the benefits of minimal weight loss and convenient handling have made wet-aging the standard in modern meatpacking, an industry focused on speed and volume.

Book Review Butchering

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

Stories of Ranch Life

Stories of Ranch Life

Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.”

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

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An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

An Introduction To Grasslands Farming

From Dusty Shelves: A World War II era article on grassland farming.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 3

What goes with the sale? What does not? Do not assume the irrigation pipe and portable hen houses are selling. Find out if they go with the deal, and in writing.

Training Workhorses Training Teamsters Driving Junipers Training

Driving: Juniper’s Training

A final sneak peak at the Second Edition of Lynn R. Miller’s “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters.” Today’s excerpt, “Driving: Juniper’s Training,” is from Chapter 11, “Starting and Training Older Horses.”

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

Book Review Butchering

Two New Butchering Volumes

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

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The Small-Scale Dairy

What kind of milk animal would best suit your needs? For barnyard matchmaking to be a success, you need to address several concerns.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT