Farming is a tough job. It’s difficult to appreciate the effort that goes into growing and farming the ingredients we consume unless you grew up on a farm and partook in the daily grind. Imagine having a business where you need to grow the feed (grass), feed it to your stock, constantly look after your animals, contend with natural disasters (floods for New Zealand farmers and droughts for Australian ones), maintain fences to keep stock in, sell the livestock yourself and, after all that, hope that the marketplace will buy it for a price that allows you to turn a small profit. When you know how difficult it is to produce beef cattle to a high standard, it makes you look at all parts of the animal with the same value. Which, of course, they are anyway — it’s just society’s preconceived historical notions that some parts should be more expensive than others. Eating the whole beast was something my father, Rob, instilled in me.
We farmed mostly Aberdeen Angus or Hereford–Angus cross-breeds. Until the 1990s, these were the predominant beef types in New Zealand, but the introduction of other cattle breeds, such as the Simmental and Charolais as well as dairy breeds such as the Fresian, has ‘watered down’ the purity of many New Zealand herds. Here is what my father has learned from his thirty-odd years of raising cattle.
I’ve seen some appalling misadventures with home killing over the years. The trick to home killing is to have the animal completely relaxed with no hint of what’s to follow. Killing a stressed beast pretty well guarantees tough meat, so it’s better to delay the kill or try for another day if the beasts become agitated.
On the day of the deed, a little group of cattle should be manoeuvred into the designated yard or under a tree. A rifle, which has been already set up, should then be used for a head shot at close range.
Once down, the animal should be quickly bled out with a knife. Most of this will be carried out on the ground, but I usually use a front-end loader, or a bulldozer with a rope running through a block tied up from a strong tree branch, or an endless chain, which is tied to a tree branch, to hoist the carcass periodically to prevent dirt getting over the meat, and also to assist in the proper bleeding of the animal, before it’s skinned.
The best time of the year for home killing is autumn, as the animals are in prime condition, yet the days are still cool enough to assist with the setting of the meat when it’s hung. Bone taint can be a problem — especially in spring or summer — in the hind quarters, which are typically very dense and meaty, and thus can slow down the natural cooling process.
The carcass can be moved the following day in quarters to the chiller. It’s good to hold them there a week before breaking them down.
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