From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Our butcher retired recently and in the process of finding another, it seems clear that there’s a great opportunity opening up in local meat marketing if you can stand the work. Nobody wants to do it but most people want to enjoy its fruits. I have done my share of butchering hogs, chickens, even a few steers and lambs and I don’t much like to do it either. Carving up a dead carcass is not so bad once you learn how to sharpen a knife properly, but slaughtering is a nasty job, even when done “humanely.” On the other hand, so is hanging high up on an electric pole in a blizzard repairing a power line, emptying bedpans in an infirmary, or repairing a ruptured water main in below zero weather.
Meat is a part of the local farm, local food, local restaurant business that needs more participation. It can be lucrative and begs for more skilled and even artisanal entrepreneurial types. On a small scale, even the killing is not as distasteful as it sounds. Our method, the one most used in home butchering, is to shoot the animal in the head with a twenty-two rifle, which stuns it motionless momentarily during which time the jugular vein is cut. Professionals can do this swiftly and calmly and the animal never knows what happened to it. Small animals and chickens are generally hung upside down or held by some contrivance in a vertical position and the jugular vein cut with one swift pass. If reading this overwhelms you with revulsion, you should be a vegetarian. I have a hard time listening to people who pretend that killing animals is terribly barbaric even while they are chomping away on a hamburger.
The local food movement has now made neighborhood butcher shops more popular than ever. In no segment of quality food production is small size more an asset. Small scale meat processing makes handling the animals more humanely easier. The meat can be better aged for more quality in a small operation. Cleanliness is easier. Most especially, a small shop can tailor the meat cuts to an individual customer’s desires. We’ve found only one shop so far that makes lard and smoked hams the way we used to do it.
The downside is that there is lots of government inspection and regulation involved if you are selling to the public. There are state and federal regulations that can get too complicated to cover here. You have to talk to the people involved. Government regulations about the onsite disposal of wastes require a big expenditure of money so most local butcher shops I know pay to have their waste trucked to rendering plants, which is also expensive. There is another way which would be practical and cheaper for a small butcher shop. Especially where a small livestock farmer wants to start his own butcher shop, carcass waste could be disposed of by burying it in manure piles, as some farms are doing now, and composted into valuable fertilizer. I am assured by those who do it, that a dead animal or carcass waste, well buried in manure, will disappear into good fertilizer, including the bones, in just a few months.
The interest in artisanal foods embraces meats as much as any other food. Dry-aging makes better tasting meat than wet-aging, but the former is mostly a possibility and practice for small operations. The length of time meat hangs in the cooler before cutting up makes a big difference in taste to most of us and the small butcher shop can more easily let the meat hang longer to cater to a customer’s desires. Not all pork sausage is the same by far and the amount of fat, lean meat, spices, salts, preservatives etc. put in it could be an artisanal butcher’s heaven of opportunity. Fresh sausage without any preservatives is my favorite and about the only way you can get that is through a small artisanal shop. Some meatcutters are in the habit of slicing pork chops too thin to suit us and now that we don’t do our own, it has taken lots of patience to get the message across to our local butcher shops.
This past year meat everywhere has been expensive and people tend to complain about the cost. Since I know first hard how hard and sometimes unpleasant it is to process meat, I don’t think the local shops in my area charge enough to tell the truth, especially when they go to extra pains to give the customer what he or she wants and can’t get at regular stores. Also, on a local level you may have the opportunity to visit the farm where your meat is coming from and see how it is raised. If you are in that lucky situation, be nice to your providers.