Have you ever wondered how to slaughter your own beef? I did too, with the rising cost of having beef processed these days I decided to figure it out. It is not very difficult, and it is much less stressful for the animal. I believe a less stressed animal leads to better quality beef. The stress that goes along with being corralled, loaded on a trailer, hauled to a strange, new place, and ran through the chutes to be slaughtered can cause a lot of fear and adrenaline for the beef. Harvesting your own beef out in the pasture while it is living a normal life I believe is much more humane.
(This post has a lot of instructional butchering photos so it may take a moment to load. Photos may be graphic for some readers)
How to Harvest a Cow
It is important that the beef is calm and doing its normal thing when harvested. Use a rifle that has enough power to penetrate the skull. I use a 22 magnum for steers up to 18 months old. For older steers or bulls, I use a larger caliber like a .223 or even a 30/30 rifle. Putting a little bit of feed out for your cow such as hay or alfalfa will usually keep them still and calm(we do all grass fed/finished beef). It is also important that the person who will be pulling the trigger is calm. The last thing you want to do is miss and wound the steer. When the steer is calm and the person who will be pulling the trigger is calm it is time to take the shot. The steer needs to be looking directly at the shooter. Aim for the center of the steers forehead and squeeze the trigger.
Upon the sound of the shot the steer should fall to the ground. As soon as the steer hits the ground it will need to be bled out. This is done by using a very sharp knife and cutting the jugular veins on either side of the steers esophagus. Allow the steer plenty of time to bleed out. This usually takes around five minutes.
Gutting the Beef
After the beef has been shot and bled out it is time to move on to gutting. This involves removing the guts and organs from the animal. Roll the beef onto its back and use blocks of wood, bricks, or something to wedge against its side to keep it from rolling onto its side. To remove the guts use a knife (I use this one) that’s around four to six inches in length and very sharp. Start by making incision just through the skin between the beeve’s back legs and carefully cut up the center of the belly, across the brisket and all the way to the underside of its chin.
After this remove the feet. I use a cordless reciprocating saw (like this one) to cut most of the bones. Be sure to make the cuts where they are in the picture. It would make it very difficult to skin if the back feet were cut off too close to the beef.
After removing the feet make four more cuts through the skin from where the feet were removed toward the center of the beef where the cut up the center was made. Next you will cutting through the belly muscle that holds all the guts in. Be very careful during this step. It is very easy to puncture the guts or rumen. Split the belly all the way from between the back legs to the sternum. Use the knife to cut through the muscle and brisket down to the sternum.
Next carefully use a hand bone saw (like this one) or reciprocating saw to cut through the sternum and pelvic bone. The beef is now split open with all guts and internal organs exposed. Use your knife (I also like these knives) to cut the trachea and esophagus free. Use your dominate hand to cut and your other to pull them towards the back of the cow.
I use a tractor to pick up the cow so gravity is helping to pull all of the guts from the front of the beef and out the back end. Most of them should pull right out but sometimes it is necessary to use the knife to cut free any areas that are being stubborn. After everything is pulled out of the back if the steer the only thing left to do is cut around the rectum. At this point the steer will gutted and ready for skinning.
How to Skin a Cow
Now that you have successfully harvested and gutted your beef it is now time to skin it. Start on the legs and use your sharp knife (this is the kind I use) to separate the hide from the meat and bone. Be careful not to leave any meat on the hide. Meat left on the hide is difficult to remove and harvest. Once you have skinned the out all of the legs start skinning the belly, hind quarters, and shoulders.
At this point I use a tractor to pick the beef and finish skinning it. If you don’t have a tractor the beef can easily be finished on the ground. You can lay the hide from one side out on the ground and roll the steer onto that side and skin all the way past the spine on the side thats exposed. After that roll it onto its other side finish skinning and removing the hide.
Once you have the beef skinned down to the head, use a knife to cut through the flesh to the neck bones of the cow. Use a saw to cut through the neck bone to remove the head and hide from the carcass. The beef is now slaughtered, gutted, and skinned. It time to quarter the steer and get it cooling down.
Halving and Quartering a Cow
At this point you are one step away from having your home slaughtered cow in the cooler or refrigerator to chill. If you skinned your beef on the ground rather than hanging it the way I did use your knife to cut a hole in the back legs between the bone and the large tendon as shown in the pictures above. Insert a gambrel into the hole on each leg and hoist the beef up to split and quarter. Once the beef is completely suspended you can saw it in half right down the center of the spine. I have used a handsaw, reciprocating saw, and an electric chainsaw to split the beef. My favorite is an electric chainsaw (this is the one have) dedicated only to splitting carcasses. I use avocado oil in the saw as a bar and chain lubricant and since its electric theres no exhaust fumes on my yummy beef. Use the saw to cut through the center of the spine lengthwise. You now should have two beef halves.
You now need to cut each half in half. To do this use your knife and cut from the spine just behind the the steers back rib and follow that rib out until the only thing holding the front quarter to rear quarter is the spine. Have someone hold the bottom quarter while you use a saw to cut the spine freeing the two quarters. It is a good idea to remember that a gambrel only works when its evenly balanced. You will need to secure the half of the beef that you’re not cutting in half so that it wont fall to the ground when you cut the other quarter off.
Now its time to get that beef chilling.
Letting the Beef Chill and Age
You’re now all but finished with slaughtering a cow. It is important to get it into a cooler or some form of refrigeration to get the beef cooled down and drying out. If you don’t have any way to cool the beef you can start processing it for freezing and eating. Getting the beef chilled and cooled makes it much easier to get it cut up and ground. We have walk in cooler that we cool with a window unit air conditioner and a CoolBot (you can get $25 off a CoolBot unit clicking this link). It works perfectly maintains a temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit. I leave the beef in the cooler for a week or so before processing it to freeze it.
You’ve Now Slaughtered A Cow
Slaughtering a cow takes some time and there is often a bit of fear that needs to be overcome. Slaughtering you own cow is very rewarding and is much cheaper than paying someone to do it for you. There is a lot freedom in not having to depend on someone else to produce your food. It’s also convenient to not have to wait to get on a butchers schedule. Slaughtering your cow builds your confidence as a farmer and provider for your family.
The ideal age of a cow, steer, or bull to be butchered is 24-30 months old. They can be butchered at any age but this is considered the prime age for the beef.
The time it take varies depending on the experience of the people harvesting the animal. I can slaughter a cow and have it in the cooler in about 90 minutes. If you’ve never harvested a cow it will take a bit longer.
Any breed can be slaughtered for beef. This is a personal preference but what the cow eats will depict the flavor of the meat more than the breed. We have eaten many different beeves from dairy breeds to beef breeds. Beef breeds will yield significantly more meat than a dairy breed.