View Full Version : Newbie saying hello, with Questions on Home butchering

10-03-2013, 06:58 PM
I'm new to the forum. I joined because my Big Brother says that this is a great community of very knowledgeable people, and is a great place to learn and to share. This sounds perfect to me, and I certainly have much to learn!

We are preparing for the home butchering of a small cow, maybe 700 pounds, and I am researching to figure out what we will need and how much extra help we should round up. I have done a deer, (all by myself :happymug:), but never anything as big as a cow. Any advice would be most welcome!

What knives and/or saws should we have on hand?
Is this a job that two or three middle-aged people could do in a day if they were reasonably fit, or would we need to bring in a couple of strapping young lads? This is assuming that our task for day one is to get the beast gutted, skinned, quartered and hung for aging.
What does one use for a gut bucket?
Is it reasonable to think that we can move the beast with a tractor bucket (on a gambrel) and then hoist it up and hang it from a stout tree limb to work on it?
How long would you age a six-year-old cow, and would you turn it all into hamburger?
Is this too many questions? :)

Thanks so much. I am looking forward to being part of this community!
Baby Sister

10-03-2013, 07:26 PM
Welcome to the Knut house! I have no answers for you butt you should fit in here quite well!

Dave Martell
10-03-2013, 07:50 PM
Welcome BS! :)

Dream Burls
10-03-2013, 08:49 PM
Welcome aboard Babysitter. Mooooo!

10-03-2013, 08:50 PM
Welcome. No answers but holy cow those are some good questions!!

Keith Neal
10-04-2013, 04:40 AM
Hey, guys, this is my Baby Sister, who I encouraged to come here when she asked me questions that were beyond my experience. She has been running her own farm for some decades. She has the best eggs, honey, milk and cheese I have ever tasted, plus some spectacular horses. She also home schooled two kids who got full college scholarships at the age of 16, and are now brilliant artists. (The husband is a full partner in this, but is usually off in some remote corner working on nuclear power plants.)

But I do go on. Anyway, I am sure the usual KKF welcome and expertise will be forthcoming.

Welcome Baby Sister!

10-04-2013, 05:08 AM
Hi & welcome!

10-04-2013, 06:23 AM
Thank you for the welcome!!

And thanks for the intro, Brother! ... although I'm afraid you do exaggerate, just a tad, except on one point: the horses really are spectacular!:biggrin:

In honor of this upcoming project, we have now in the house (compliments of guess who?) a really beautiful King Deluxe Stone 1000, so the (steep!) learning curve on knife sharpening now begins in earnest. Rumor has it that working with a really sharp knife changes everything.

As to gear, we will be investigating, among other things, skinning and boning knives...


Baby Huey
10-04-2013, 06:34 AM
Welcome to KKF. Good luck in your quest for knowledge and red meat.

10-04-2013, 07:25 AM

I also have no answers for you either.

10-06-2013, 06:01 AM
Welcome! Some might say the answers are in the wind...I have yet to do a cow so cant be helpful.

Brad Gibson
10-06-2013, 07:30 AM
pierre recently did an awesome filet knife.... as for a boning knife maybe as jon. his expertise in knives in unimaginable. i am sure he could steer you in the right direction for breaking down an animal of any size and shape! Good luck on your search and welcome to the forum!

10-06-2013, 06:40 PM
Welcome aboard!

I assume there is a very limited set of members that can answer you questions, but hopefully you get what you are seeking. I am curious on what it will take, even though I will never be in the situation to do it myself.

Good luck!

10-07-2013, 12:34 AM
Greetings babysister, no help here either, but thought you may enjoy this video (http://vimeo.com/32367993) about butchering (I believe there are a few others in the series if you find it worth your time). They definitely have the right tools for the job.

Keith Neal nice to see you posting--hope things are going well.


10-07-2013, 01:14 AM
I would check out some videos on youtube about butchering whole cattle, I doubt that's something any of the restaurant folks around here do. Pigs are another story, but whole cow is not a restaurant norm hehe. Aging beef is something you should look into, you should age your ribeyes and strips. Turning a whole cow into burger would be a waste. You should research a little how to use each part and how you should go about distributing / preparing / freezing all of it. You could age alot of the steaks, so they would keep fine. Stew all of the shanks, could turn all of the flank type meat into fajita beef and it would be okay vacuum packed frozen.

I would grind all the leftovers and fatty bits after I got all of the primals divided out, I am curious to see how this goes. A cow is a lot of food and lots of possibilities to do cool things with the tasty bits. You will have plenty of scrap for burger don't worry. Remember don't toss your fat. Also, making burgers with trim from aged steaks is a beautiful thing. Mmmm tasty possibilities. Nice to have you around Babysister, you can tell how proud Keith is, you must show some pics of your animals, eggs and other farming goodies! We like that sort of stuff around here even more than knives.

10-07-2013, 12:48 PM
Welcome! I was just thinking about something similar this weekend...but with rabbits. My neighbor raises them and would be happy to have me prepare something with some of them. Maybe I'll get some answers in this thread too!

10-07-2013, 02:15 PM
I'll take a stab at this one.
Bolt pistol to the head or a small cal. bullet.
slice jugular as soon as possible to bleed out while heart is still pumping.
If you can hoist it in the bucket, then I would suspend it there if at all possible. I.e up by the legs and go to town just like you would on a deer(in the garage/shade, etc). There really is no difference in four legged beasts except for the weight (some glands in wild animals to avoid). IF no choice, do it flat.
Six years old is still ok in my book, but it won't be real tender, even the loins. But I think there is better flavor!
Hang time is a tough one. Temp is a biggie. but over the years I hate to admit it, but I don't see much difference in butchering direct or waiting. Hell, I've even been forced to butcher in the summer! Just make sure no flies.
I'd go for big cuts and keep the butchering simple.
Have a trash can at the ready.
Knives, I use a small skinning blade for 80% of the job. A saw is good to get out the ribs, but nowadays I leave all of the spine intact and just fillet out the neck and loins, etc. Makes for easier freezer storage.
I keep a stainless tray for the small bits that you'll end up with and that becomes the burgers. Everything else gets a better treatment in the kitchen.
Remember, covered, low and slow is your friend in the oven.
Grass fed? Damn, it's the best. Have fun.

10-09-2013, 03:04 PM
Welcome. You could ask member ChucktheButcher, he may have some hints and suggestions.

10-09-2013, 03:21 PM
This thread (http://www.kitchenknifeforums.com/showthread.php/3445-books-on-butchery) from a while back had some recommendations on butchery books.

10-14-2013, 03:59 PM
Thanks for the video link. That is a really good video! I liked the aesthetic of it. Some of the videos I have found on animal processing are waaayyy less classy.

Thanks for your advice on the knives. I will check into that.

A friend said that Outdoor Edge has decent knives, so I think we will check on that, too. Don't know if those are any good, but from what I have seen so far, they are reasonably priced.

Thanks for your thoughts on the meat cutting. They give us much to look into. One friend had advised us to turn it all into hamburger, but I don't think we will do that, as it sounds like there might be some pretty good eating in the whole cuts, even off of this older animal. We can always grind it up later, too, if we find the cuts too tough.

There is an outfit in Missouri called askthemeatman.com, and we are looking into some of their videos. Will check online first, to see if this is needed, or is already covered on youtube. They also offer a set of knives.

Wow! Thanks for taking time with this! We will use a bucket to move the beast to the cut-up zone, and have a gambrel with come-along to raise it, where it will be strung up at the base of a stout limb of a tree in the shade. We mean to do this in fairly chilly weather, so no flies.

Very interesting to read your comments on hang time and on going for larger cuts... hmmm, that sounds brilliant, actually. As a cook (just a kitchen cook), I do prefer meat on the bone, and this may help us get a direction together on how to proceed. The trash can is a good idea... is that for actual cuts, or just for the scraps? Maybe we should have two trash cans. Or maybe three, to include one for the hide.

It is interesting that you use a skinning blade for most of the job. We are looking into the uses of a skinning knife, a boning knife, a big heavy butcher knife, a bone saw, and a cleaver.

Stainless steel tray, check!

Covered, low and slow in the oven... my favorite! May be a good enough reason to buy this:

I have a friend who swears by it.

Yep, grassfed is the best. It is the bomb!

Thank you! I will check in with ChucktheButcher.

Thanks! I will check on the books. Books are good.:happymug:

My brother was right about this forum!


10-15-2013, 12:30 AM
I would check out this book. http://www.amazon.com/The-Beef-Cutting-Professionals-Merchandising/dp/1118029577

In the past buying whole cows for restaurants I kept the tenderloin, ribeye and NY strip and everything else went for grind. But I sold a ton of burgers. Short rib and brisket really help the flavor of the grind. If you do it this way you can grind the liver in without it tasting too strongly of liver. You will also need the fat from these cuts as this is probably a fairly lean animal.

I do think you should save some chuck for stew meat and maybe some inside round for roasts. Your idea of saving larger cuts with the option of grinding later is a good one but keep it in the back of your mind that you may have to add fat from a different source at that point to get the proportions in line for most recipes.

I would go into it with a couple of Forschner 6" curved semi stiff boning knives, a breaking knife and a cleaver w/ a mallet. But I have never done it before. A reciprocating saw could be very helpful if you start losing light and have to get bones apart quickly. Just beware that bone dust will speed up spoilage so be sure to wipe it off well.

Is this cow to feed you and yours or do have other plans for it?

Also, cool project and welcome. Great way to get started here!

10-15-2013, 01:33 AM
Ahoy There! welcome to the jungle! :viking:

Im more of a Hog guy (Ive done a number of whole ones for smoking)... you should be able to pull this off... alas you need a butchers input, but ere are a couple of items for your list from past experience...

- Two words "butcher knife" those are some bad A@@ tools that can help with that kind of work... CCK has a real animal of a knife!... I call mine THE HOGINATOR! and a meat cleaver... I like my Shun (Yes... I know, I know!)
- You need a knife with a lot of grip on the handle... or gloves or both (There is usually a lot of slipping).
- Maybe even a mesh glove, whatever you do don't put both hands in there at the same time in the same place when you are slicing unless you know what you are doing. :eek2:
- Diagram of parts so you can find your way around.. maybe even look at some videos. Why not visit your local butcher so he can help you out and get some tips.
- A good apron (Mine is plastic and is full body).

Hope this helps! :thumbsup:

Just a suggestion!

10-26-2013, 01:44 PM
Thanks, Chuckles. Good ideas you have, and I am looking into the book. Thanks for the welcome, and for the advice on knives. This is to feed me and mine, which brings up a big question.

I have a couple of guys who would be willing to come and help, and who want meat in exchange. I am wondering what and how much meat would be a reasonable exchange to offer them for their help. Any thoughts on this? A quarter will be maybe 100 pounds hanging weight. Not sure how much of that would be meat. If they took away, say, a front quarter to split between them, would that be too much of an exchange?

Thanks for your thoughts. I saw a hog in a kill room just the other day, during my research, and that sucker was enormous! I had no idea... I would have thought it was a beef, by the size of it.

I did get a mesh glove, but will definitely not be putting my paws in the path of a blade. I have seen the hook that some processors use... I may look into getting one of those.

Anybody who wants to put in a thought on how much meat is proper to give in exchange for help with the slaughter, I would really appreciate some advice on this point.

Thanks so much to all... research continues. I have found a butcher who might be able to let me see some of the work involved in processing... maybe.


10-31-2013, 09:41 AM
This is one of my favorite cookbooks, and talks at some length about dry-aging and using older dairy cows, which the chef favors over younger animals:


11-05-2013, 01:42 AM
Hello and welcome!

I'm far from an expert, but we did a few half steers that were cut into 6 chunks for transport to our kitchen. Still quite bulky and still quite a challenge.

I do think a reciprocating saw would be worth it, they can be had for a reasonable price, especially since your animal will be whole. Much easier to get things into recognizable cuts and manageable sizes. Handsaws get old pretty quick, IMO, if you're cutting thru the chine bone and through the ribs on either side.

Regarding knives, I personally use inexpensive knives like many butchers use (I like Dexter). You'll be banging around bones and whatnot, so no need for anything fancy. They'll stay plenty sharp enough if they've been sharpened properly. And actually, I'd keep another one around that wasn't so crazy sharp for skinning and frenching bones, etc.

Besides burger, there will be all kinds of bits and bones for the stockpot. If you don't have a BIG pot, they sell those turkey fryer kits for cheap around this time of year - burner, big pot, turkey rack, and thermometer. That pot will probably be 26 quarts, and it'll probably fill up pretty quick. But real beef stock is worth the effort.

Good luck!


11-06-2013, 12:31 PM
Welcome welcome welcome to KKF! One of the newest books I bought is called -In the Charcuterie- it is written by the owners of the Fatted Calf. The book is amazing, it does not go super deep into butchering, yet some. It does talk a lot about using the whole animal and bits and pieces in a modern language. Good luck here!

Sent from my iPhone using Kitchen Knife Forum

11-06-2013, 01:50 PM
If you have not yet, I would recommend finding The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making, available at your local Barnes & Noble or from amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Butchering-Smoking-Curing-Sausage/dp/0760337829). It's an efficient source for all the nitty gritty, and takes you through the process step-by-step.

For an older animal, longer hanging times are preferable. The larger the cut you can keep for hanging, the better, as you will lose less to desiccation. If nothing else, save the loins for aging, for eventual steaks. This really depends on your cooling space. Hanging for 14 days as a whole side would be preferable, and then another 14 for the loins. I would say temperature should be between 34-38* F with 50-60% humidity and a stiff fan blowing on it. That is just a rough guideline.

An older animal doesn't necessarily mean unpalatable meat. The French actually prefer their beef cattle to have at least 3 years of age, up to about 6. Try and make sure that she will be gaining weight for a few months prior to slaughter. This will provide nicer marbling, and a decent exterior fat cap.

As to tools, unless you are employing old-school lumberjacks, going down a chine bone with a hand saw is no easy matter. However, the length of the blade (3"-4") on most reciprocating saws designed for carpentry will be a major hindrance. You can find "reciprocating breaking saws" usually with 8" (pork) or 16" (beef) blades. They are not cheap though. If you'll be doing this a few times, or have neighbors who could share the cost, it might be a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, you might just want an 22" handsaw, and take turns.

What is your plan for chilling the carcass? Getting the meat below 40* as fast as possible should be a primary goal. You said fairly chilly weather, and as a southerner, to me that means anything under 55*.

If you want a more cooking centric, whole-animal cookbook, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book is a classic butcher's favorite.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

11-10-2013, 10:30 PM
I usually break down 2.5 cows a week, and 20 half pigs. i can help ya out, bit i need a little more info on that type of cow, and their diet. (the diet doesnt matter much, but the higher fat contents usually have more sinew than others)

11-17-2013, 08:33 PM
Well life is nothing if not interesting. In the eleventh hour, a cattle friend decided to take this cow in exchange for a younger beef steer. Said steer will come to me already processed, so that is that. A nice thing, in a way, since with this arrangement, I don't have to eat anybody I know personally. :)

Still, this has been a great conversation and a great introduction to KKF.

Thanks to all for the great advice and all the help.

Faviken looks interesting, so thanks for that recommendation, perneto.

Tad, I'm asking for all of the bones of the steer that is being processed for me... I love having them for stock! You are right: real beef stock is worth the effort. I'm going to get the hide, too. To make some leather, to make something nice... in my mythical "spare time".

In the Charcuterie looks interesting, too... thanks for that recommendation, quantumcloud509, and thanks for the welcome!

Thanks, DWells, for the book recommendations. The River Cottage Meat Book looks very interesting. May have to get that to add to the kitchen book shelf.

Ohbewon, you do 2.5 cows a week? Wow, you know the drill then! This cow, the one that I am now delivering to another farm instead of into my freezer, is a Dexter, for what it's worth, maybe 700 pounds, six years old, grass-fed. She is in good condition but I expect the meat would have been pretty lean. It is interesting that you say the higher fat-content animals have more sinew. Never thought of that.

I'm going to take all of this advice and pack it away for future reference.

Now it is turkey time! For anybody on the hunt for a great roast turkey recipe, I recommend the "Judy Bird". http://www.latimes.com/features/food/thanksgiving/la-fo-saltedturkey,0,5687234.story#axzz2kx74aS4J
It is a dry-brined bird, and completely delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!