Meat for you
Personal comments from a small farmer:
We started with our local butcher. In our case, we had to take the sheep to the local sale yard on Sunday
night, and it was collected and taken to the closest abattoirs from there. We had to collect any offal (liver etc) we wanted from the butcher soon afterwards, and the butcher
hung the meat and cut it up to our direction for collection a few days later. We weren't sure that we got our own meat back (local gossip says not likely), and it was more
expensive than we expected.
We checked out a travelling slaughter butcher, but the minimum of six sheep was too much. So we decided to
try slaughtering our own. This is legal where we live, but you can't sell the meat or take it off-farm.
Advice is needed for the faint-hearted. Don't name any animal you may slaughter - eating Fluffy is distressing.
The best method we have heard to keep children happy is to send the lamb up the road to join the farmer's flock when it grows up. They don't need to know that it will come
back as chops. Freezing the meat after you have butchered it provides a decent memory interval between animal and food. We shoot the animal in the paddock, so that it ends
in peace without knowing what happened. It's an easier death than many of us face. If the body twitches, touch the eye-ball - if there is no blink, the animal is dead and
out of pain. Cut its throat straight away to bleed it, which is essential for meat quality. If you kill it by cutting its throat to save a bullet, cut around to a nerve up
at the back of the jaw to give it a quick brain death. Otherwise it just bleeds to death.
After that, we know of two ways to go. The first is a full slaughter. We bring the sheep from the paddock
with a tractor. You need to winch the body up to a hanging position (we have a good tree to hang from), cut or punch the skin off quickly before it cools, and slit the belly
to let the guts fall into a bucket. It's hard physical work. Try to watch or get help to start with. There are books of instructions, but practical help is better. For the
first you do by yourself, it's easier to start on a smaller lamb. Don't aim to produce the result for admiring relatives until you get some experience.
The second way is what we call a partial slaughter. We think we get 80% of the meat for 30% of the work. It's
particularly good for a low value animal like an unsaleable ram.
H(usband) shoots the sheep and cuts its throat, and then does the rest in the paddock with the sheep lying on
its side. He doesn't skin it completely or gut it - it's more like filleting a fish. On the side facing upwards, he cuts the skin along the spine and peels it back for four to
six inches (ten to fifteen centimetres) from the spine. Try not to let the skin curl inwards.
Next he cuts off the skin from the inside and outside of the front and back legs on the side of the sheep
that faces up. The skinned front leg can now be removed by cutting underneath the shoulder blade. The bone is not attached to the spine, and comes away easily.
Next he cuts out the back strip of meat from the back bone. Start at the shoulder where the skin is peeled
back, and run a knife right down the edge of the spine as far as the back legs. There are lots of knobbly bones to dodge. Make the cut as deep as possible. Then move about
three inches (eight centimetres) out from the spine, and make a diagonal cut back along the ribs down towards the first cut along the spine. Deepen the cuts until you can
take out a strip of meat which is roughly triangular in section and nearly as long as the spine.
That leaves the back leg. This is tricky to remove, but it does get easier with practice. The back leg is
attached to the spine, so you need to cut the joint between the leg and the spine. H says that sometimes he picks the right spot to cut first time, but he might need to
prod around and cut off some meat before the leg comes off. He uses a hatchet to trim the feet off the legs.
Once that's done, he rolls the carcass over and repeats the procedure on the other side. H says that he
normally cuts the skin away from the carcass when doing a partial slaughter rather than trying to 'punch' it away.
At the end of it all we end up with two front legs, two back legs, two long strips of meat, and the odd
chunk to dice.