Tag Archives: slaughter
I’ve been seeing posts in my social media streams about ‘slaughter trucks’. I have to say, nope. The pictures that are being passed as slaughter trucks are simply not slaughter trucks. They do no killing. In our case theses trucks haul our cattle between our summer and winter ranches. Like a cattle bus. They are also called “bullracks, cattle pots, pot bellies or cattleracks” in the industry.
Yes, these trucks can take cattle to feedlots where the cattle will be fed until they are ‘finished‘ and then slaughtered for our consumption. But no, these are not ‘slaughter trucks’. If a label must be applied to a slaughter truck I would call the truck that comes out to the ranch to do custom exempt slaughter, a “slaughter truck”.
The good news is this misinformation has inspired a lovely movement from the agricultural community. Instead of getting mad and defensive, we started a toy drive. We started sharing more about what these trucks actually do. We opened our barn doors. Great job industry!
I’ve attached a video of cattle being loaded into one of these trucks. As you can see it is not scary for them at all.
I thought this would be a nice time to share a “mess-up” we had on the ranch. This particular cow and her calf have been a “mess-up” for the better part of 8 months. It’s important to share that, just like everyone else, we screw up.
Since I quit my full-time, town job last spring my Parents have been generous with giving me cattle to sell. They do this so I have an income, and I appreciate it greatly. Right now I am finishing some steers to sell as beef, and in the past I’ve sold shares in “hamburger cows“. A ‘hamburger cow’ is a healthy cow that for some reason did not get bred and/or have a calf, so she is “open“. Since she is open, she isn’t doing her “job” for us, therefore she us costing us money. Most people don’t realize, but it takes years for a cow to become profitable for a ranch. If enough cattle don’t do their ‘job’ and raise a calf, it could potentially cost a ranch a lot of money. As a cattleperson, it is one of your many jobs to make sure you don’t have many ‘open’ cows.
Most cattlepeople will just “cull” a cow that is open. Depending on the year, it doesn’t make economical sense to keep a cow a whole year when she isn’t producing and she isn’t guaranteed to have a calf the next year. When we have open cows, I like to turn them into a hamburger cows if I can. It breaks my heart to see a big, healthy cow that we’ve had for a couple years go to the sale yard, even if she isn’t doing her job.
Since I have many, many friends that are on the paleo diet right now, they want lean, grass-finished hamburger. Hamburger cows are exactly that – healthy, lean beef that has had nothing but grass and meadow hay to eat her whole life. By turning our cull cows into hamburger cows, everyone wins. My cow gets a quality death at home, my local paleo eaters get wonderful beef, and I get a paycheck.
This brings me to my story…..
Last summer, my Parents gave me a hamburger cow in celebration of me quitting my job. I was excited about it because in my head I was thinking that I would use the money to buy myself a shinny new horse! This particular cow was fat, and she was open, we were sure of it! When we moved the other cows up to the mountains,we cut her back and she lived in a field next to the house for a few weeks, until I called and made THE APPOINTMENT. In the meantime, I’d found a group of people that wanted to buy her for a hamburger share. They were excited about having great burgers to grill all summer and I was already imagining that new horse smell.
Right before I made the appointment, we noticed something one morning. A calf. My open, sold, cull cow had a bull calf! It was a problem on levels! I had to go back and explain to my hamburger cow buyers that I did not, in fact, have a cow for them. Then we had to worry about having a pair on the winter ranch, during the summer – the heat, stickers and predators are deadly. We figured we would need a replacement calf at some point during the summer, and we could use him (a replacement calf is when a cow needs a baby because for whatever reason her calf didn’t survive). Oddly enough this year ended up being the ‘year of twins’, he stayed with his Mom all summer.
Fast forward to now. This bull calf spent the past 6 months with little to no human interaction, he’s had no vaccinations, no brand, he still is ‘intact’ and he is wild! We felt especially tough last week and decided it was time to get this little bull calf in and in the words of my father “change his mind from @ss to grass” or castrate him. Since it was the year of the twins, we also had a house herd of bottle calves that needed to be vaccinated and branded. Last week was the perfect opportunity to tie up all of out loose ends, and “work” (work means to castrate, brand and vaccinate) these calves.
We were able to work the bottle calves with no problem. They received their vaccinations and were de-wormed. They also got an earmark and a brand so if they got lost or stolen, we could identify them and bring them home. Next up, the Hamburger Cow’s bull calf. Since this calf has had no human interaction, he was scary to be around. If I would have given him the chance, he would have gladly jumped on top of me and done a little dance on my head. Don’t worry, I didn’t give him that chance!
We dislike castrating calves when they are this old. We feel that the earlier it is done, the less stress is causes the calf. Unfortunately, because of the mess-ups we had with this cow and calf, we were left no choice. Luckily, he is a nice, healthy calf and he handled it well and is fine.
There are several ways to work cattle. Some producers will use horses and rope their calves to work them, and some will use chutes. We feel like using a chute is less stressful for both our animals and us, so that is why we choose to use a chute and a corral systems instead of horses and ropes.
Our calf table catches and squeezes the calves to keep them calm. For the bull calves, we flip the chute/table on it’s side to preform the castration. The chute is built for this exact purpose, and it works well. HOWEVER, since our particular bull calf was a complete and udder mess-up, this didn’t work like it was supposed to. After our calf had been castrated and we tried to flip him back on his feet, but he just kept going. The calf table tipped the wrong way, WITH THE CALF STILL IN IT. I’d never seen that happen before, in all my years on the ranch.
Thankfully, the calf got out fine. He was let back out into the field with is Mom and has since recovered from his ordeal. I sincerely hope we are done with mess-ups with this pair!
This has been our epic mess-up. Despite our best plans, sometimes nothing works out the way we planned. In animal agriculture I re-learn that lesson everyday. Animals always make life interesting!
WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.
This past summer I met a wonderful man, Basque Mike. And over beers at our neighbor Pete’s house, I learned that he was an actual real-life shepherd that came to America when he was 16, with bread and wine, to herd sheep. He has a very heavy accent that was sometimes hard to understand, but he was a serious kick in the pants. My conversation with Mike inspired me. Mike told me that he would teach me to cut lamb the Basque way. The only problem with that is I don’t raise lamb.
I had a pair of bottle lambs when I was a kid, but for the most part, my experience with sheep has not been pleasant. I’ve been chased around by a mean ram, had a really bad experience with awful mutton and generally distrust sheep because they are evil. I really think it is a cattlepeople thing – we just aren’t used to things like goats and sheep.
After months of hemming and hawing I decided to buy some lambs. This was not an easy choice for me. I just wasn’t thrilled at the idea of having sheep back on this ranch. Even my dogs were not sold on the idea of sheep. And our bottle calves were absolutely horrified.
But, I have a friend from college that just happened to have some lambs ready for slaughter. Neighbor Pete said he would help cut and wrap them if I wanted to learn. It was meant to be. I had cash because I sold my car (so sad!!!), I bought some lambs from my friend’s Stacie and Taylor at Heart P Livestock. After a week on the ranch, they were slaughtered and hung.
After a few days of hanging I went to learn how to cut and wrap a lamb from neighbor Pete. Pete is incredibly fast and amazing at what he does. We cut and wrapped 3 lambs in no time. It blew my mind. I learned my basic lamb cuts after the first two lambs, so by the third I was able to wrap and label with no assistance.
Since before this time, I was not a fan of lamb, I decided to split my lamb with another neighbor. I regret that now. Getting my hands dirty, being part of my own food, made me like lamb! (Plus it was quality lamb to begin with, I highly recommend Heart P). Go figure, that I would like lamb! Plus I have all kinds of people wanting to trade lamb meat for cool things. I LOVE trading! Since I don’t have a steady cash income anymore, I’ve started trading my time and talents for things I need and want. It is awesome.
Although Mike and I haven’t connected for a Basque session I feel much more confident in my lamb knowledge.
I would have been embarrassed to even have him attempt to teach me anything before this because I just did not have enough basic knowledge about lamb to make it stick. I took the first step, I got some lambs, I learned about some lambs, I wrapped some lambs. Lambs are good. I’m ready for next time.
Remember when I had a dream come true and I got to not only meet, Dr. Temple Grandin, but have lunch with her AND see her speak? She is my ag idol and hero, and I will never forget that day. Dr. Grandin is continuing with her amazing work by walking us through a turkey slaughter. Just in time for the holidays! (This next thing I’m gonna say is in sarcasm font and meant to be funny, so please don’t take it personally, K?) So when your vegan/vegetarian family member (we all have one) is all snarky about your knowledge of your meat, you will actually know how a commercial turkey arrives on your table. Knowledge is power my friends.
It was my last weekend with the pigs. I made the most of it.
My town job was very stressful last week. So much so that I stress puked at work on Wednesday. I should clarify that I love my job in town and stress myself out because I don’t want to disappoint my bosses (I used to do the same thing before, during and after I worked cattle with my Dad, but I think I have control of that now). Anyway Friday when I go home I went straight out the pig pen with a glass of wine and hung out with the piggies until I felt better.
On Saturday my Dad took me to lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. After we polished off our margaritas, my Dad tried to talk to me about my feelings toward the pigs. Now my Dad is pretty much the most stoic guy I know, he tends not to get attached to anything (he’s softening up in his old age though! He has a bed kitty that he loves deeply (don’t tell him I told you that)). I really appreciated his attempt to make sure I was going to be ok when the pigs are killed. We both acknowledged that I would probably cry on Friday, but that was ok.
As you all know the pigs are our “adult 4-H” project. Kristen and Mahina each bought one pig, and I bought two. My friend Shannon, wanted to do adult 4-H, but she was busy with life, law school, and a job, so I told her I would just raise her pig for her, and she could be involved as much or as little as she could handle (she ended up being involved a lot, yay!). When we picked up our pigs, Jamie (our pig connection) gave us Char, who was a runt of a litter. On the ride home from picking up our pigs, Mahina, Kristen and I decided that we would “split” Char.
After a few months into this project, I realized my Parents were doing a lot more work for the pigs than the original “nothing” I had promised. My Dad got us a crapload of pumpkins. My Mom and Dad got feed for us, fixed fence, cooked, picked up almond pieces, and fed for us a lot during the winter when we had no daylight. They also allowed me to do this project and didn’t charge us rent or for water or anything! I planned on giving them half of my pig, but I could tell our family was going to have some major fights over the pork (we don’t share well).
After I realized how much my Parents were doing for us, and how much my Dad really wanted to eat Char, I gave my interest in Char to my Dad. It seemed like an especially good idea after Char rooted up my Dad’s cable TV cable and then to add insult to injury, my Dad tripped in the hole. I figured it’d be hard to be mad at your own pig, right?!? After my Dad got my interest in Char he promised the other girls he would hook them up with some beef in trade for Char. I think it worked out well.
Sunday my Uncle Steven came over. Steven is responsible for getting me all the organic almond pieces that we have been feeding the pigs as a part of their ration. I really noticed the pigs start to put on weight when Steven started getting us the nuts. And best of all I didn’t have to pay for them! Needless to say Steven is getting some pork from me (I want nuts again next year! I know whose butt I need to kiss). Steven couldn’t believe how big the pigs had gotten since the last time he saw them. I tried to get Steven to load up Char and take him home but he wouldn’t (Char has been a really bad pig lately, escaping and rooting and eating garden plants).
After my Uncle left my Mom pulled me aside and wanted to talk about how I would handle the pig deaths. I said I was probably going to be sad and planned on saying in the house until after they were killed, but after that, I’m going to blog about it. I’m an only child, I get attached to everything including inanimate objects. I can’t help it. But I’ve known this is what these pigs are for, and this isn’t my first time to the rodeo.
In anticipation of having a giant pig shaped hole in my heart after next Friday, I woke my garden up. I bought some new trees and plants. I started some early garden plants in my bathroom “greenhouse”. Next weekend I’m going to see if the Intern can come over and intern help me build a fence for keeping those goddamned deer out. Soon I will build my chicken coop and order chicks, and the never-ending cycle of food production will continue.
I have to admit, I am so excited to be producing all of my own meat, eggs and if I can keep the deer away, a lot of my own veggies (and in a couple years stone fruit, pomegranates, citrus and grapes!). Stay tuned, Friday is slaughter day and you know I will be blogging the whole process.
I’ve made the “appointment”. The pigs are going to be slaughtered March 8. I’ll admit I’m already a whisper sad about it.
I grew up raising my own food animals. I did 4-H and FFA. Every year I watch as our commercial calves are loaded into trucks to become food. I watch the custom exempt slaughter of our personal freezer beef. Heck I even worked in a slaughterhouse. I’m not new to this lifestyle, but for some reason I am already bummed out about the pigs.
Maybe because this was my project, my idea, my money, and my time. It was the first time a bright idea of mine worked out successfully (ask me about goats sometime). Since October, I have spent every day with these pigs making sure they were the happiest pigs they could be. In December I started making their food. I’ve cooked for these pigs more than I’ve cooked for myself.
I realize that is their “job” to be pigs and if they didn’t have a “job” they probably wouldn’t exist. I know I have provided them with the best pig life I could. I know they are happy and healthy. But I am still going to miss them; I think I would have no soul if I didn’t.
When I would have a bad day at work, or someone poked me with a stick, I would simply go out and hang with the pigs. They are always super excited to see me, even more excited when I bring treats and the most excited when I brush them and give belly rubs. They run and grunt at me when they see me, just like I sing them silly pig songs and talk to them when I am in their pen.
This project has been a success and we haven’t even tried the pork yet. It was wonderful doing adult 4-H and having so many visitors to the Ranch. It was great having something my Dad and I could talk about everyday, where I could ask for his advice. And best of all it was wonderful to bring awareness to this pork. I have a waiting list for next year.
This project reminded me that my place is on the Ranch, not in an office. Over the past three years I have worked in town from 8 to 5. I worked on the Ranch during my weekends and free-time; so I have not noticed how “soft” I have become until recently.
When we first got the pigs I noticed it was hard for me to pick up the 50 pound sacks of grower feed. My arms were sore after I started cooking their food all weekend (it takes my whole weekend to cook enough food for them). I had blisters on my delicate little office hands. I have to make two trips to feed them because two full five gallon buckets were just too much for me.
But after 6 months of taking care of the pigs every day, twice a day (except for like a month at night, when my Parents fed for me because it was too dark by the time I got home) I have upper arm strength again. I can pick up their 75 pound sacks of feed like it is nothing. I now fill their slop buckets as full as I can get them and “pump buckets” on the way to their trough. I have calluses. It feels good and I’m thinking of becoming a bouncer with these guns, lol.
Since this was a success my Parents have agreed to let me start raising pastured poultry this spring. When I take my vacation next month I am going to build a portable coop and get chicks. I have fond memories of being a small child and slaughtering chickens and turkeys with my Dad (he would always give me the sea glass from the turkey’s gullet). Very exciting stuff is happening for me!
Be prepared Dear Readers, even though I will probably be sobbing, I am going to video and take pictures of the whole slaughter process just like I did with my beef all those years ago (Industry groups, if you are concerned about this, please contact me NOW, I don’t want another Beef Council incident).
Thank you to all of you that have kept up with our pig adventures. I’ve really enjoyed all of your comments and feedback! I’ve even met new “friends” through this project, it’s just been such a wonderful experience. However I am a little excited that I can start to sleep in and have weekends again after these pigs are gone. It has been a lot of work balancing my town job and my pigs.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a pig update. It’s time. The pigs are over 200 pounds a piece now. They are growing like weeds! We have about a month left before “the appointment”.
They spend a lot of time eating, rooting and foraging. I sometimes let them out to find acorns and eat grass. They loved it!
Wattle hog (what I named the pig that has the wattles) found one of the dog’s bones and took off. He refused to go back into his pen and he refused to give me his bone. I think I know where the term “pig headed” came from.
Since I’ve been literally cooking their food, I can use kitchen waste, garden waste and that kinda stuff. I keep my eyes open for pumpkins, old bread, fruit, etc. As I was coming home from getting apples at my favorite apple farm, I spied a sign and two big pallets of FREE bread.
For some reason these pigs insist on using their bedroom as their bathroom. In all my experience with animals, I have never seen this. All my other pigs would either go outside their bedroom or have a corner of their room dedicated as the bathroom area. Even the horse have a particular corner of their pasture they do their business in. Their lack of hygiene means we have to clean their room often. And it is a nasty, bad, gross, job.
Granted, I did smell like a billy goat/hog after I cleaned their bedroom, but luckily, I have a secret weapon to combat pig stank.
Since we are about a month away from slaughtering these guys, I’ve been increasing the amount of almonds they are getting in their food. The extra protein has been making them gain like no one’s business, and hopefully, the nutty flavor with influence the flavor of the meat. I know in Spain they are famous for their nut finished pork. I’m so excited to see if this works!
Since it is February in Northern California and we have been having beautiful, sunny, upper 60′s days, the pigs have made themselves a mud hole.
After a nice mud bath they like to lay in the sun, they really like it when you brush them while they lay in the sun.
I figure we have about a month left with these guys. I’ve really enjoyed having pigs on the Ranch again. I’ve learned a lot over these past few months, and have really enjoyed my Dad’s involvement and guidance. I can’t wait to taste this pork! But I am going to admit right now, I am going to miss these guys! Especially Wattle Hog. We’ve become friends (I KNOW better), but I couldn’t help it. He’s such a character! Look forward to one more Pig Post and then another slaughter post (I wonder if the pork council is going to say something to me?).