The deep freezer was low on beef and the winter hay supply was also a bit low so between Dec. 6 and 29 of 2020, we went on a family binge and solved both issues. The activity provided a delightfully productive and educational interlude while the world at large was tying itself in a panic knot and fearfully sputtering to a frustration loaded partial standstill.
We have taken the ‘buy local’ approach to a level that dispenses with the ‘buy’ and the efficiencies in the long run are significant. Educated, small scale, in-house, integrated food production/consumption allows remarkable quality control without government rule and inspection hassles and costs, pst cost, gst cost, even income tax cost (no river of dollars to siphon from), and most important, without the spin-off medical hassle and cost that goes along with hype inflated assembly-line-food – ‘food’ made with the emphasis on ‘to sell’!
Meat processing in a small, warm, farm shop allows a relaxed social atmosphere where we can listen to pod-casts, audio books, or music of our choice while we trim fat and wrap roasts and steak. The 2020 session was like a university course with the perk of multiple high quality meals to follow graduation!
The food production cycle is an education course in itself. It is a course that, due to economic specialization and city growth, few get to experience. Getting to be involved in the whole show makes each step far more interesting. Even large scale farmers are cheated out of the integrated course! There are definitely costs, but at three meal times a day, we experience a unique luxury enjoyed only by a tiny segment of the world’s population! And the time periods in between have many positive unique aspects as well.
Let's step back in the story and follow some of the details. This big fellow is the current herd patriarch. Toronto has a key roll in putting the beef on the table!
As well as commenting on our meat processing project, this album covers other facets of our hobby farm. The covid chaos has boosted interest in small farms and acreage living, and for good reason. I do feel that the reaction to the covid virus is very unique while the physical disease virus itself is not out of line with the steady waves of such events that have occurred forever in past. The problem is more a widespread mental disease and that mental disease may have a link to the majority of people being pulled out of a rural setting where the rural realities instills a common sense feature in minds. Farmers tend to be skilled at detecting bull shit!
Few people raise longhorns. They grow slowly and are super lean. Neither producers nor the average consumer get off on those traits. But we want lean beef and we are not concerned that longhorns sell for crazy low prices because we aren't selling them. And so the hardy breed finds a place in our small, custom-made world.
Our animals have been here for generations. They are tame, grass fed, are unaware of hormones and vaccinations and drugs, and have lots of room and food variety. They are free to be cattle.
Don't think that having animals is akin to sitting in front of a TV or video game. If you have animals, you have WORK and variety, and a pleasant flow of surprises.
Cattle need to eat in winter and their owner needs to work in summer. Hay production is a multi step, weather complicated, yearly challenge. But you get-er-done cause you know winter is attached to the Big Wheel. And the vision of a hay-short winter is an effective motivator.
Play your game with the weather and with some luck you nail the goal. Once you have the product in those little round hay stacks, you can relax for a while.
It is a good feeling to get a nice hay crop lined up as 'bales in a row' without rain occurring between the cutting and the baling.
Finally we get to the bliss to burger routine. I don't really enjoy blasting my pets but it is going to happen and I far prefer my instant switching him from munching on a bale to oblivion vs scaring the hell out of my friend as he is brutalized into a stock trailer for the multi stage horror of wending his way to a slaughter house execution. In the big system, that is how it has to be. In a small scale farm situation, meat can be delivered without a load of 'end of the line' adrenaline. If you can swing it, I endorse the approach fully.
The loading, hauling, stacking, and feeding are all steps that take time and thought.
Sometimes we skin and gut animals outdoors - sometimes in the work shop - depends on snow conditions, temperature, and how many insects are around. We don't have to worry about any standards other than our own common sense and the lessons of years of experience. The meat is for us, no one else, and the government has no interest in protecting ourselves from ourselves - thankfully! Hopefully this won't change!
I learned the butchering routine on my own, starting with chickens and then sheep. Compared to where we are now, those early days were a gong show. Experience is a valuable thing. An electric wellsaw was a very useful investment. Halving a beef with a manual hand saw is 'WORK'.
Aging beef is not something you do on the patio or in the garage. At least not effectively. Rigging an insulated cell in a seacan such that it is easy to cool in summer and easy to heat in winter was a significant project. But a meat cooler is sure nice to have and it has been used many times.
Once again, you likely would cringe if you knew your butcher was using the same shop for butchering and vehicle repair and welding as he was using for cutting and wrapping. But we set our own standards and know what to worry about and what to ignore and over the years, no one has had any evidence of food poisoning. No worry about super bugs or microbe imbalances when antibiotics and medical gymnastics are not part of your agricultural production system.
Another tool that we did not have in the early days was a stainless steel meat band saw. This unit is very old but it is still a marvel. Really simplifies cutting. Goes through bone as if it is butter. Easy to clean. The blades last for years.
There is a lot of roast.
A meat grinder is another basic tool of the trade.
Mixing up the sausage ingredients. No rubber gloves. No face mask. No problem! No outside clients. No paranoia over bacteria or virus attack. Don't screw with nature and nature is easy to get along with.
Lots of creative room in the sausage world. Also a very pleasant department to have control of if you have firm views on what is food and what is crap. It takes work to avoid a high fat level. Many people want a high fat level and most butchers are happy to go with the flow. We don't go for that style. What else goes into a sausage? In our small scale situation there are NO preservatives. The binder is made from pulverized home cooked crackers made with farm produced butter straight from the cow and from whole wheat organic flour, milled on the spot. More on the wheat segment of the food system in a bit.
Shop pets are a pleasure and these little fellow are gems who love watching humans work, when they are not sleeping, and who never jump up on the work table. Amazing. I suppose if they were pests they would not be shop residents. Processing time is when tiny snacks are dropped on a regular basis to reward those plaintive gazes.
The next investment for next year will be a crank style compression tube sausage stuffer. But the grinder screw does the job in 2020.
Note the high tech sausage length gauge, held down with duct tape to assure accuracy.
Sausage casing can be an issue. We do not regard pork casing (nor pork additive) as acceptable. Again, we set the standard in our closed system and no one argues or gets upset. It amazes me that there is so little bad press for an animal that is eaten so enthusiastically yet associated with so many health issues, multiple pandemics being just one of them. Dollars and engrained custom talk loudly and cling tightly but current woke reasoning seems to beat on the beef methane monsters without hesitation, be they feedlot prisoners or grassfed freedom lovers!
Roasts and steaks get the plastic paper wrap as they often have sharp projections that create problems for vacuum pack bags, but sausages and ground beef are effectively sealed up in vacuum packs.
We have a fairly large cavity vacuum pack machine - truly a marvel. Boom - the product is sealed and ready for the freezer with no chance of drying out prior to use.
Plastic paper isn't as good as a vac-pack but it works. The meat will be eaten before freezer burn is an issue.
Little sausages snug in their vac-pack bags! They appear to be somewhat squished out of shape, but open the bag, let the air pressure equalize, pop the sausages in the cooker, and the nice round shape returns.
The production goes to various family members. Wonderful to have a little farm in the club. Nice to have kinfolk not diseased and dying!
Cattle make shit - and that is good. The janitor has some work but the manure pile is a type of gold. I call it our medicare system. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a close connection between animal and plant organic matter in soil and the health of the humans eating the plants and the animals that live off the soil that is fired up in this manner. The claw affair lets the tractor rip bedding and manure out of the cattle shelters. There is enough hand work to avoid a gym membership but even an old guy can look after the little herd and keep them comfortable.
The manure pile is a valuable asset but it needs to be spent. As it builds it is like seeing your bank account grow. But money is useless unless converted into something that has solid value.
Here we have the gold being transferred from the bank to the investment site.
The Brinks vehicle doesn't need an armed guard because almost no one realizes the value of the cargo.
Off the carrier and onto the future wheat field.
Here we have a half acre of pasture that has had many shit loads of manure roto-tillered into the soil such that it is hardly visible. But the earthworms and the microbes sure know that it is there and the wheat plants will have a different personality because of it.
The small scale food producer benefits from cheap equipment that the the mega farms have discarded. This drill works on 1/2 acre or even 10 acres but 20,000 acres, of course, blows it away. An irony; the farmer with 20,000 acres doesn't likely eat flour made from his own grain.
A low tech 'harrow' smooths and packs the seeded field.
Here it comes. Wheat on the rise.
Looking better and better.
Wow. So long as it doesn't hail, we seem to be on the way to a bumper crop.