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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 PST

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: Livestock

Shoeing Stocks

An article from the out-of-print Winter 1982 Issue of SFJ.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

The Big Hitch

The Big Hitch

In 1925 Slim Moorehouse drove a hitch of 36 Percheron Horses pulling 10 grain wagons loaded with 1477 bushesl of wheat through the Calgary Stampede Parade. It is out intention to honor a man who was a great horseman and a world record holder. The hitch, horses and wagons, was 350 feet in length and he was the only driver.

Livestock and Predators No Easy Answers

Livestock and Predators: No Easy Answers

by:
from issue:

Since we’ve raised sheep commercially, we’ve been committed to trying to live with the predators in our environment. Over the years, we’ve lost just a handful of sheep — several to coyotes, at least one each to mountain lions and rattlesnakes, and four in one night to a neighbor’s dog. Mostly, though, our commitment to nonlethal predator protection tools has worked. A combination of electric fencing, livestock guardian dogs, sheep selection and grazing management has allowed us to co-exist with the predators in our environment.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Camel Power in Georgia

Camel Power in Georgia

by:
from issue:

Last spring we got the bright idea to plow some corn with one of the camels, so we went to the shed and drug out the “Planet Jr. one camel cultivating plow”. My 86 year old Grandfather said “Son, don’t worry about thinning that corn, those camels are going to do a fine job of it, for you!” We plowed corn and I have some video to prove it, and as soon as I quit running over the corn and learned how to “drive the plow” we didn’t lose any more corn!

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

by:
from issue:

Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

by:
from issue:

I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Happs Plowing A Chance to Share

Happ’s Plowing: A Chance to Share

by:
from issue:

Dinnertime rolled around before we could get people and horses off the field so that results of judging could be announced. I learned a lot that day, one thing being that people were there to share; not many took the competition side of the competition very seriously. Don Anderson of Toledo, WA was our judge — with a tough job handed to him. Everyone was helping each other so he had to really stay on his toes to know who had done what on the various plots.

Raising Free Range Turkeys is a Joy!

Raising Free Range Turkeys is a Joy!

by:
from issue:

“Don’t let them out in the rain, they’ll stare up into it and drown…” Our experience with turkeys has been completely the opposite. While most poultry species aren’t exactly bright, we find that turkeys are lovely, personable, and most important for the self sufficient homesteader — extremely efficient converters of grain and forage into delicious meat. In 5 months, a turkey can grow from a few ounces to 20-30+ lbs.

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Besides good, tough iron for the shoe, we need an anvil with a round horn and a small hole at one end, a round-headed turning-hammer, a round sledge, a stamping hammer, a pritchel of good steel, and, if a fullered shoe is to be made, a round fuller. Bodily activity and, above all else, a good eye for measurement are not only desirable, but necessary. A shoe should be made thoughtfully, but yet quickly enough to make the most of the heat.

How Big Should a Draft Horse Be

How Big Should A Draft Horse Be?

from issue:

As evidenced by our letters and the frequent comments of contributors to this magazine, the question of size in draft horses is a hot issue. I suppose we’d all like to think that it’s a contemporary subject, one which did not trouble people back when horses were the norm. The BREEDER’S GAZETTE gathered the opinions of the most respected Draft horsemen of the 1910’s on the subject of how big a draft horse should be and we’ve reprinted them here. As you can see the subject has provided controversy for a long time and I’m sure it will continue.

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

American Milking Devons and the Flack Family Farm

by:
from issue:

On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.

Interpreting Your Horse's Body Language

Interpreting Your Horse’s Body Language

by:
from issue:

The person who works closely with horses usually develops an intuitive feel for their well-being, and is able to sense when one of them is sick, by picking up the subtle clues from the horse’s body language. A good rider can tell when his mount is having an off day, just by small differences in how the horse travels or carries himself, or responds to things happening around him. And when at rest, in stall or pasture, the horse can also give you clues as to his mental and physical state.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

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