Life, love and butchery on the farm

Life, love and butchery on the farm

Life, love and butchery on the farm 1500 986 Table Under a Tree

Three Paddocks Farm might be small, but it keeps us busy in so many ways.

Winter on the farm is the time to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into things. You might think it would be a time for hunkering down; of cosying up by a fireplace with a glass of red to wait out the cold. But in our part of the world, the dry months of winter are the time to get jobs done. Sometimes those jobs are easy and sometimes they fall into the category of necessary but not-for-the-faint-of-heart.

[Please note, this post briefly describes the killing and butchering of animals. If you are sensitive to this process, please do not read on.]

This winter had always loomed as a big one for us. We’ve been addressing fencing issues, building a new enclosure for the guinea fowl and juggling the litany of flocks of chickens that the daughter keeps hatching. Cheeps a-plenty!

It was also the season we’d earmarked to stock the freezer.

We had booked in 30 June as the date we would butcher our two steers as well as one of our goats, Nardi, a wether we can’t breed from. Long-time readers will know about Cheeses and Butterball, the two jersey calves we happily procured from Debbie and Jim Allard’s dairy (also home to Debbie’s cheese factory Cheeses Loves You). You can read more about the boys, and why Debbie and Jim re-home male calves born on the farm on our earlier post, but safe to say, we had always intended these beasts for the freezer. After eighteen months of a very happy life, we knew they were at an optimal age for butchering. I’d done a lot of reading on the right age to process jerseys, given their notoriously slower growth and reputation for tough meat. But I’d also found a lot of information about the marbling of jersey beef, its flavour and its quality so we were keen to see how all three animals would turn out.

We chose to work with Mitch from Mitchell’s Bush Butcher again. Mitch, who is a delightful character, had been to the farm before, processing our pigs for us. For a man whose life revolves around taking lives, he is completely caring and gentle. It will always be important to us that any animal we kill on the farm is dispatched in the most humane way possible. Mitch does this with a skill that is profound. Each of the animals was dropped by a single shot, in the paddock, with no stress and no fear. I was with them and had absolutely no qualms about the process. It was instant. Challenging for sure, but it was the best way we could respect the lives being taken so that we can have high quality meat.

It was, in many ways, the simplest part.

The processing of the carcasses is a labour intensive multi-day haul. While much of that burden fell to Mitch and his nephew, plenty of it rested with us. From the digging of a massive hole to bury the viscera; to salting the hides being sent off for tanning; to the hauling, bagging and packing of around 260kg of meat, bones and offal. It’s lucky we’ve got the freezer space!

Of course, I’d been researching everything from cuts and hang-methods to sausage flavours. I loved bouncing ideas off Mitch – and learning to read when he was just humouring my suggestions versus when he thought I was actually onto a good plan! He showed me how to cut a piece of the rib eye off the carcass after the first two days of hanging so we could test the quality of the beef before deciding how to butcher it. If it was tough, we were headed for a lot of mince and snags; but if it was tender, well, bring on the steaks and roasts! When we sat down to eat that first piece at home, we were all a little nervous, but we needn’t have been. It was great and had real flavour with texture. We gave a vote of thanks to the steers for their lives, and happily instructed Mitch the next day to give us the prime cuts! We now have a freezer full of amazing meat – everything from fillets and topside roasts; to osso bucco and hanger steak; to old-fashioned corned beef. We did two flavours of sausages (one inspired by chorizo; and one riffing off Ethiopian spice mixes).

I got Mitch to give me the belly pieces so I could try this beef bacon. It’s a work in progress.

I’ve even given Matthew Evans’ recipe for bresaola a try, with the pieces wrapped in muslin curing in the fridge still. One more week to go.

We’ve already enjoyed beef tongue, and I’ve got the hearts there ready to cook up in due course. None of the offal was wasted.

And the goat is predictably fantastic. Tender and with that beautiful gentle flavour you’d expect from a younger animal.

Would we do it again? Yes and no. Yes to raising our own stock; and a heck-yes to Mitch being the person we’ll bring back to help us when we need to butcher; but no to doing beef again. We’ve found the goats much more practical for us to manage on a property of our size, without the need to invest in cattle yards and other major infrastructure. We intend to breed up a small herd so we can reach commercial scale. The two original girls, Tilly and Bev, are both in kid after visiting with a buck down the road, and should give birth next month. We’re excited to see what that brings and yes, I have become a crazy goat lady!

Are we ready for spring? Not quite. We still haven’t made much progress on the fencing; the guinea fowl won’t be moved until this weekend (which should be hilarious); and there are a few too many roosters in the flock, which means I have some culling to do. There’s a little room left in the freezer, so I can see coq au vin in our future.

Oh well, there’s always next winter!



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