Monday, November 22, 2010

Raising Turkins

Back in August, we decided to order some turkeys from McMurry Hatchery. Much to my surprise, you have to order at least 15 turkeys per order. Since we only wanted one for our own use, I decide to order the smallest quantity, raise them and sell what we did not want. Good idea, right?  By the time I got my act together, most of the turkey choices were gone and we were stuck with some fancy turkeys at $10 per chick. I had raised turkeys in the past, but had bought the birds when they where already four weeks old. This time we were getting chicks. Well, turkeys are finicky and like to die off in a quick way. At $10 a pop, that was a big concern for me. True to form, those little peeps put me through the ringer and four of them died within a week of arrival. All I could do was see the dollars jumping out of my wallet. The rest of the birds did settle in and I was able to move the eleven remaining ones out to the turkey yard. There they roamed, doing what turkeys do, which is not much. My past turkeys had been fed a  "game" bird feed, that allowed the birds to achieve good weight. Those birds  reached arm aching weights of over twenty-five pounds per turkey. I fed these turkeys the same type of feed.  We lost another turkey at week six.  Some animal came underneath their wooden slated hutch and killed and ate the turkey through the slat spaces. I found the turkey carcass, still inside the chicken wired run.  Now that is a predator! About three weeks ago, we advertised the turkeys, giving approximate weights. It is REALLY hard to  judge the weight of a turkey. I had eye balled  the turkey's and they seemed a little light in the feathers. Big mistake eye balling a turkey. You need to grab a turkey, lift it up and gain a true sense of its weight. Anyway, we had orders placed on all ten and went  about processing the  birds. Turkey's are pretty much the same as chickens when processing, except for a few very important differences. First, they have huge wing spans(when compared to a chicken) and can really hurt you if one of their wings catch you in the eye. I always use safety glasses when killing turkey's. Second, they can get pretty dang big, which requires a large enough scalding pot. Third, when pulling out the guts of a turkey, be very careful with their gall bladder. The green sack has a very nasty habit of breaking open. Not nice! So we went about processing our eleven turkey's and as we went along, we could not help but notice how small our birds looked. I would not allow myself to give it too much thought. Never a good idea to get really pissed off why working a boning knife with turkey fat all over your hands. When the processing was finished, we then set about weighing the birds. This is when deep turkey depression hit. There on the digital scale sat the weight of 7 pounds on our largest bird. How could this be? These were to be Thanksgiving Turkey's. The proud center piece of a festive table. How would it look having this little  runt of a bird sitting center stage? I could just imagine the shear embarrassment of the cook. Not to worry, everyone that ordered our little turkins(chickens pretending to be turkeys)  went out and bought a real turkey. They were  kind enough to also buy ours with the promise that they would cook them at a less important occasion. We either went wrong with they type of feed(too low a protein percent) or the bird we got were just slow growers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tribute To Marie

The beauty of having your own blog, is the fact that you can write whatever you want. This post is an example of that. The purpose of my blog is to document my adventures with butchering and all things that are meat, hopefully helping others learn from my experiences. I will take a detour with this post and thank a very special person, Marie. This young women from France showed up at our home through the World Wide Organic Farmers Organization. Marie is on a year long journey around the word, spending some of her time working on peoples farms. She showed up at ours and we were better people after Maries three week stay. Marie is a computer whiz, creating and motivating me to start this blog. She also is one of the most creative people behind a camera. You will notice the quality of all the pictures on my blog up until this post entry. Marie departed our home today. She will be missed more then she will ever know. During her time with us, she participated in sheep slaughtering, sheep butchering and meat wrapping, chicken processing, cleaning chicken and rabbit coops. Those are all dirty and nasty jobs. Marie did each and every one of them with a smile and a commitment to perfection. I am a better person for having worked along side her and being able to get to know her. So Marie, wherever you are...thanks for the blog, wonderful pictures and improving our families life!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Loving Lard

 One of the benefits to butchering your own animals is you get all the hard to find secondary bye products from the animals. One such product is the fat from the  pig or the lard(which is rendered pork fat). Rendering is the slow heating of pork fat and allowing that fat to go into a liquid state, separating itself from any muscle tissue and skin.
Porky pig is not made up of a single type of fat. Oh no! In fact, those little rascals have several very different types of fat. First and foremost is the leaf lard fat. This is the most sought after of all the pork fats. Leaf lard is found on the inside of the body cavity, surrounding the pigs kidney's. Leaf lard is a very brittle type of fat, when compared to the more common back fat, which is a solid smoother type of fat. Leaf lard is used in every kind of baking and it is the single most important ingredient to achieving perfect pie crust.  Then there is the caul fat, also found on the inside of the hog, surrounding the intestins. This fat looks like the fine lace on a wedding dress and is almost transparent. Caul fat is used to wrap very lean cuts of meat, such as venison for added flavor enhancement and moisture improvement.
While butchering my two hogs, I was careful in collecting all the leaf lard and caul fat.  I also had two five gallon buckets of back fat. The caul fat is not rendered but the leaf lard and back fat are. To render those two types of fat(which should be rendered separately), I took an out door burner, one which is often used in Cajun boils. I use my burner for Italian tomato sauce making events. The burner was placed outside, away from any type of object. I then put a large pot on the burner and poured a half cup of water in the pot and lit the flame. The water is there to prevent the fat from burning as it renders down. It is best to cut the fat into small pieces before dropping it into the pot. Also, be very careful as you drop cold fat into a pot of rendering fat. The rendered liquid will "climb" up the sides of the pot and make a huge mess not to mention be quite dangerous around an open flame. Once the fat has melted into a liquid, set up another pot with cheese cloth strung over it and carefully pour the rendered pork fat into and through the cheese cloth. Once done, place the new pot into a bucket of iced water,  bringing the temperature of the lard down as quickly as possible, which improves the final color of the lard. You now have rendered pork fat. If you are not exhausted by this point, you might as well make some crackling's. Crackling's are slow deep fried pork skin, that has been allowed to cook in rendering pork fat, until it gains a deep brown color. The cooked "skin" is then put in a lard press and squeezed to extract as much of the fat liquid as possible . Many people within the south loveeee thems crackling's and put them in their corn bread!
 I love all bakery products with a good douse of leaf lard. Which is why I  do what I do. What is the use of killing all these animals, if I can't use everything the animal has to offer. So today  I made southern style buttermilk biscuits, using my leaf lard. Take a look at them and you be the judge. Hot out of the oven with a dollop of sour cherry or strawberry jam! Now that is living! Fat rules!!!!! Below I have provided a great book on country cured ham, which has the biscuit recipe in it, along with the recipe itself. Enjoy!
The title of the premier country ham book is,"The Utimate Guide to Country Ham An American Delicacy", by Dr. Norman G. Marriott and Dr. Herbert W. Ockerman. 


Buttermilk Biscuits
2.5 cups all purpose flour
quarter teaspoon baking soda
half teaspoon salt
2.5 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 cups leaf lard
1.5 cups buttermilk

1. Mix all dry ingredient's.
2. Scoop lard into dry mixture. Lard should be cold and mixed to the point of looking like small peas.
3. Pour in buttermilk and mix just until sticky
4. Scoop out dough onto a floured surface and cut with biscuit cutter.
5. Place into a oven  preheat to 425 and cook until brown 10-12 minutes.

Sheep Killing

After months of taking care of a set of sheep triplets, from a Katadin mother and Dorset father, the now large sheep where ready to go into the cooler. Sheep are a real pain to take care of. They are very high maintenance. The get out of their pens(all the time) and are very skidish. They are also exceptionally vocal whenever they see you and want food. But then again, I get pretty testy when I am hungry and that is why they are leaving the farm today. The weather has gotten colder, so the flys have departed and the conditions are more favorable for outside slaughtering.
The first order of business was to place the sheep in a pen the sits along side the slaughtering enclosure. I  don't think the sheep realize this fact. Then 36 hours out from the actual killing time, I stop feeding them. They are provided all the fresh water desired. This is done to clean out the intenstins and make the job of gutting the animals a whole lot cleaner and easier. Remember what was said about hungry sheep! Those 36 hours our hell every time you walk by the sheep and they all start looking at you with those big hungry oh so sad eyes and the baying starts. Just look away and keep on trucking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Historic Butchering

What does a man do when he has no animals of his own to butcher? He visits a historic farm and watches their hog butchering demonstration. Today was The Howell Living Farm, located in central New Jersey, annual hog event. A family from Pennsylvania arrived with three scaleded hogs and butcherd the hogs throughout the day. Besides cutting up the hogs, they ground pork meat, made sausage, scrapple and rendered pork fat. All of the techniques where done by methods used in the early 1920's of American farming. Spectators can get right up on the action, ask questions and even taste some scrapple. Scrapple is a eastern Pennsylvania product, using corn meal and a bunch of spices. It is commonly  eaten during the morning meal, pan fried and dribbled with maple syrup. Everything is improved with a good douse of maple syrup.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Loads of Lamb

As the sun began to appear, I was already well on my way to getting prepared for the sheep killing. The hoist was hooked up and all the tools assembled. The sheep had been off food for over thirty hours and the morning had a wonderful crisp feel to it. I walked out to the sheep yard and scooped up a pile of grain. The sheep reacted as predicted and followed me to their small house. Once they stepped inside, I slammed the gate shut. Sheep are a real pain to try and catch and I wanted to be able to kill them in a very calm and efficient manner. By locking them all in the small enclosure, it allowed me the opportunity to catch them with minimal effort. I loaded the 22 rifle and placed it on the ground next to a 6 inch boning knife. I then walked back to the sheep house and slipped a rope around the smallest of the sheep. I walked/dragged the sheep to the slaughtering area and tied it to a tree. Then in a very fluid set of steps I grabbed the 22 and placed it two inches behind the sheep's head, just in front of its ears. The 22 knocked it down and the boning knife bled it out. The now dead sheep was hoisted up on the gambrel and allowed to bleed out. The skinning was different then the many deer I had done. A sheep's wool is filled with  oils and your hands get covered in the stuff. There should also be great care taken when cutting the head off. The esophagus is filled with nasty vile and needs to be tied off, after the head is cut off. Then the process is pretty much the same as a deer. I have provided complete details of the sheep killing process in the category"A Guide to Butchering Sheep". The three sheep took me from 9am until 2:30 pm to finish. That included a nice lunch.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Behind The Knife

This blog is a written and pictorial account of my journey through small scale animal butchering. Many have wondered why such a thing would be of interest to me. Besides that fact that butchering is a ancient skill,  it is also becoming a lost modern day skill. My Italian grandfather butchered all his own animals. I was too young to learn from him. So I have set out on my own to master as best I can the skills behind the art of butchering. I am not satisfied with learning on whole cuts of animal muscle, supplied from a slaughter house or grocery store. Nor do I want to purchase live animals from some farm, bring them home and butcher them.  I will raise each and every animal I intend to butcher. I will be responsible for that animals entire life. The animals will be raised in the best of conditions in order to achieve the highest quality of meat. Then the animal will be butchered in such a fashion to insure every part of it, is put to good use. That is the goal and this will be the account of such a journey.