10 Tips for Butchering at Home
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As a homesteader, there is nothing more satisfying than raising your own food. Are you ready to take the step from raising your own meat to actually butchering and processing your own meat as well? Let me share some things I’ve learned about butchering at home that will help to make your butcher day (especially your first one!) go as smoothly as possible.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
1. Keep in mind, butchering at home may be emotionally difficult.
I’ve been butchering at home for many years, but it was just last year that I could handle being the one who actually dispatched the pigs we raised.
If you’ve never taken the life of an animal you’ve raised, understand that you might have a hard time with it. Also understand that you might think you’re going to react a certain way and then react completely differently.
If you don’t think you’re going to be able to deliver the killing blow, ask someone else to do it. There is nothing wrong with this. Your mind can play tricks on you in the heaviness of the moment and it’s better for everyone involved if the deed is carried out swiftly. Butchering can bring about all sorts of strange emotions. It’s hard to explain how you can be sad and satisfied at the same time.
When all is said and done, it helps to remember your animal had a lifetime of amazing, wonderful days of awesome on your farm…and only one bad day.
2. Butchering at home can also be technically difficult.
If you have someone who can walk you through how to butcher an animal while you’re actually doing it, you’re going to have a much better chance than learning how from a blog post—and I say this is someone who has written blog posts about how to butcher pigs!
Butchering and processing is really something that you have to just get in there and do to understand how it’s done. Trying to explain where to cut is much different than actually getting your knife on the animal and feeling where and how far to cut.
You might be nervous and unsure the first few times you do it, but push on. Research what you need to know, be respectful, and use good judgement, but understand that everyone has cut incorrectly, too deeply, or the wrong thing all together. It’s how we all learn.
3. Butchering at home? Many hands make light work.
Enlist the help of others! Divide jobs according to interest, strength, or experience.
There may be parts of butchering you’re more called to than others. My husband hates skinning hogs. I find it very interesting.
I hate dividing up all the muscle groups into different cuts of meat. My husband could probably do it with his eyes closed.
I dislike catching chickens and pulling their necks through a kill cone. My sons are very fast at it.
When you’re butchering at home, don’t forget the importance of a runner. This is a great job for a kid! When you’re in the middle of your work and your hands are messy, the last thing you want to have to do is run to the house or barn for paper towels, water, a different knife, a band-aid, the hose, or whatever else you forgot.
4. When butchering at home, have sharp knives available. Lots of them.
To get the job done, you need the right tools for the job. Invest in a decent butchering kit—our absolute favorite is the Outdoor Edge processing kit. They are quality knives that sharpen well and the handles are grippy, not smooth—totally important when you’re working with greasy animals like pigs.
We keep our knives sharp using a Chef’s Choice Diamond knife sharpener because a sharp knife is safer and more productive than one that is dull.
5. Don’t forget the soap.
You might think this is obvious. And it totally is.
I mean, who gets into a sloppy project and doesn’t have soap on hand?
Us. The folks at Clucky Dickens Farm, that’s who. The very first time we butchered pigs at home, we didn’t know we were almost out of dish soap. Do you know what it’s like to try and wash knives or hands that are full of pig fat when you’re almost out of dish soap?
Butchering at home is messy. You’re going to be washing lots of stuff lots of times. Make sure you’ve got the goods to get the job done. Our favorites to have on hand are plenty of Dawn dish soap and GoJo Hand Cleaner.
6. When butchering at home, dress appropriately.
Butchering at home can be messy in different ways for different animals, but it’s safe to say there will be blood. Even animals that are relatively “clean and easy” to butcher (like a pheasant) can surprise you with a blood stain on your jeans or shoes.
To be honest, the year I got the messiest during butchering was the time that two other people were in charge of doing “the messy parts”. I was on “camera patrol” (ever the blogger, right?) However, I found myself to be the closest person to a half of a pig that was slipping off its hook and I bear hugged the half pig to keep our meat from hitting the garage floor.
That much blood and pig fat just doesn’t come out of your clothes, and I still have those permanently stained outfit as a reminder to always be prepared.
7. Research your packaging options when butchering at home.
Will you use freezer/butcher paper? A food vacuum sealer system? Ziploc freezer bags? Poultry shrink bags? Wild game bags?
Everyone has their own opinion on what is best to use, and a lot of it has to do with convenience, how much (and what) you’re processing, and what you want to spend. Ask around to hear the pros and cons of each option and make a decision based on your own situation.
Note: I have had many people tell me that they don’t use Ziploc type bags or vacuum sealer systems because they are trying to get away from plastic, and so instead, they use freezer paper. Folks, let’s be clear. Freezer paper is PLASTIC/POLY COATED. It’s why the paper doesn’t stick to the meat.
8. Super important part of butchering at home? Make sure there is room in your freezer(s).
There is nothing more frustrating than having a coop’s worth of birds wrapped and ready for the freezer…and no room in the freezer for them to be stored.
What’s in your freezer right now? Tomatoes you still need to process? A bear hide that’s headed to the taxidermist? Venision from a very productive harvest? A few turkeys and giant pork roasts from last year’s butchering? When getting ready to do your butchering at home, make sure that your freezer can handle the new bounty you’re going to put in it.
If part (or all) of what you’re butchering is meant for other people, make sure they have room in their freezer. Whether it is family, friends, or local customers, inform them of when butcher day is and make it clear when you will need the processed meat picked up by. It’s important that people who will be taking some of that meat off your hands have time to get their freezers in order.
9. Organize areas in the house for the day you’ll be butchering at home.
The day you’ll be butchering at home is hectic enough without having to work around other stuff.
- Straighten things up in the areas you’ll be using.
- No dishes in the sink.
- No piles on the table.
- Clean off the counters.
- Make sure there are plenty of paper towels/washcloths/etc easily accessible.
Back in the days when we used to butcher outside and then rinse/wrap inside the house, there was nothing more frustrating than to come in the house with a tote of meat ready to rinse and wrap…and have a sink full of dishes to move.
10. Pro tip for butchering at home: have snacks and meals ready.
I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to have to figure out on butchering day is what to feed everyone who is helping. My kids have learned that on butchering at home days, there will be (gasp!) store bought doughnuts on the table.
I also plan easy meals for lunch and/or supper. It’s the perfect time to make use of our slow cooker or electric pressure cooker. Our butchering days are usually long so it’s nice to know I have one less thing to worry about. When we’re ready to take a break, the food is right there and waiting.
Even if you’re only butchering a few chickens, go ahead and put a meal in the crockpot. Taking an animal from slaughter to freezer can take longer than you think it will, especially if you’re new to the process.
Bonus! — Celebrate!
There is nothing more satisfying than a homegrown meal, and you can take pride in knowing you’ve worked hard through the entire process of butchering at home to make that homegrown meal a reality for your family.
Take time to celebrate your accomplishment. Well done, homesteader. Well done.
Read my other posts about home butchering:
For the Love (and Butchering) of Animals
Make Your Own Bacon: Pig to Plate in 5 Steps
How to Use Poultry Shrink Bags
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11 thoughts on “10 Tips for Butchering at Home”
Great post…. I am so looking forward to the day when we are out of this military life and in our own place to do these things, even if it’s venison and not our own livestock. Loved the visual of you bear hugging the slippery carcass to save it from the floor!
Great read! Thinking of butchering some chickens this fall and those are all good tips and several I wouldn’t have thought of. As for butchering chickens…do you pluck or skin or is it better to do both so ya have whole birds for roasting and skinless breast or legs?
Depends how you’re going to use them! We have a plucker so we pluck them. 🙂
on processing day we actually dont even gut them ( unless we need chicken stock canned) – guys hack heads, dip and pluck with plucker, then the rest of us row process- one fillets off skinless breast meat, another cuts off feet, legs and thighs, another wings and the youngest pick pin feathers on the keeping parts…. 30 chickens take us 30-40 minutes from first head hacked- it amazes me! then the longest part- packaging and labeling- might do that again in a few weeks-
Such great, basic information, Amy. We actually had to put off butchering our geese and ducks this fall until we took possession of another freezer someone was giving us. No room among all the veggies from the garden, etc. Next butchering day here I’m gonna remember that you said store bought donuts are okay for that day!
Mama Pea! How are you!!!!
Some great reminders for those of us not 100% hands-on yet. When you talked about moving the cleaning into the house brought back memories: For us, the house was off-limits unless you were (Mom) cooking or (kids) fetching for the folks outside. Dad’s brother and sisters went together on the costs for raising enough poulets for each family and the whole bunch spead out around our farm on butcher day. The men killed, dunked and plucked; kids chased down flopping carcasses and fetched ice for the tubs or drinks; aunties gutted,, chilled and packed the birds. It may seem perverse but those are some of the happiest family memories I have.
Another thing: As I said , everyone in our family had a job on the big day but my husband’s family only killed each chicken as needed for a meal; all the labour was Mom’s although his Dad sometimes cooked.
so i read your checklist of things in the freezer…. were u looking in my freezer???? totally there- right down to the bear hide my daughter put there waiting for the taxidermist!!! butchered a pig today (not our first merry-go-round) and look forward (literally and figuratively) to making the bacons with your recipe!
Enjoyed your comments on the subject of Homesteading and Butchering. Some many people just don’t have a clue what it takes to put that Porterhouse on their plate. Somebody has to perform the entire process of farming/ranching or people will be just like the cattle, walking around grazing on whatever. There is another whole process that has to happen BEFORE the animal is raised. that is very hard and REQUIRED. Take Spring calving, at 2am in the morning you may find yourself buried past your elbows buried in a new heifers backside trying to turn a new calf around and pull it before you lose both the calf and the heifer. Or on roundups you cut out all calfs between 6 months and 1.5 years and put them in a pen to have them (if their polled) dehorned, tagged, branded and castrated Believe me there is only one thing that smells worse than burnt hair and hyde, except fresh ammonia soaked chicken poop. And the list goes on and on. People should just be thankful that others are out there to do the job they say “How can you do that?” to.
Now on that same note, I do very strongly believe in humane treatment in the entire process of preparing our food. I just cringe at the thought of herding 30 to 40 hogs in between two steel gates and electrocuting them. Even though some of us are in the “Same” business we treat all our animals kindly. We dispatch quickly and humanely. From my standpoint if I am going to farm, I have the stewardship to treat all God’s creatures as He expects.
Love your Blog, Thanks for the Tips on that set of knives, I have good knives but I liked the way those were boxed. The blades will never hit steel and mess it up. When I order I will give you credit!!
I was reading about the pig, but what to do if you want venison. I would love to hunt for deer meat, but I have no clue what do after I shoot it. Can you help with that?
I should do a post on processing a deer… but that would require it being deer hunting season so I could have something to take pics of. However, once you learn the muscle groups of the larger animals, it’s easy to transfer the skills to most any large animal. I will put a deer processing article on my to-do list!