While we knew it was time to send our first farm-raised beef cows for processing, Dan and I did a lot of thinking about how we were going to process them. The butchering facility is more than happy to cut, wrap and freeze the meat for you, but of course they need to charge for their time and effort. While we have gotten quite efficient at processing a pig or two or three ourselves in a day, a whole beef is a LOT bigger! So we debated both the economics and what we thought we would be able to handle, plus logistical matters like refrigeration. In the end, we decided that we would have Hirsch's cut up the beef we would be selling to the public and do the other, which was going to our personal freezer and to Dan's parents, ourselves. The first half, which was for Dan's parents, we had the help of Dan's father, Tom, who is a professional meat cutter as well as Dan's brother, who has been helping us out a lot these days. With the help of a book devoted to processing meat at home and his years of experience, we got it done and Tom was able to take it home when he returned to Chambersburg. We decided that we would do our own, just the two of us, and since we aren't picky, any mistakes could be wrapped up as-is or ground into burger.
Half of a cow, even cut into 2 pieces, is a big thing to haul in a 4 door car like mine, but somehow we got it situated and home. Thank goodness for old bedsheets to keep the seats clean! While not all the steaks were picture perfect, we were really proud of how it all turned out. Dan and I got everything cut and wrapped that first night, and cut the meat we wanted to grind for burger cut up and bagged into the fridge. Beef needs to be run through the grinder twice, unlike sausage, so we let it sit in the fridge overnight to break the work up over two days. 80 pounds of meat takes some time to grind twice and package, and we were hungry for dinner after all the cutting and wrapping the first night. What to cook? Steak, of course! I had heard that some consider pasture raised meat tough since the animals move around much more during the course of their lives, and there is a lower amount of fat marbled through the meat, which some think detracts from the flavor. I cooked our first steak simply, in a pan on the stove with just a bit of cracked pepper and Worcestershire sauce. It was by far the most tender and flavorful steak I have ever eaten, and was really something to feel proud about producing ourselves! Not only was it delicious, we could also feel good about the conditions the animals were raised under...I really believe you can taste that the animal was raised in a natural, low stress way, without chemicals and with respect for the animal's needs. After packaging the burger the second night, we were able to relax and reflect on a big job well done. I would never believed myself capable of doing anything like this even a few short years ago, but it really is amazing what you can accomplish with an open mind and the ability to be ok with a less than perfect outcome if necessary. A few mangled steaks will still taste great and gave us a wonderful amount of practice and the confidence to do it again ourselves.
The majority of butchering is done, we've gotten a good start on the field corn harvest, and most things are winding down for the winter. While my mind has been turning to all sorts of things I consider winter projects, my time as a full time farmer has also come to a close as I was called back to my away-from-the-farm job beginning today. I'm happy for the individuals that rely on our non-profit agency who are able to better themselves by reaching educational goals with our help, but I sure hated to hear the alarm clock and leave my beautiful farm on a sunny late fall morning. My time here was a great beginning to what the farm can be for my husband and myself, and I'm sure I will be finding ways to make it a success and spend as much time as I can here. How that will shape up for next summer, I don't really know yet, but if nothing else, my layoff time showed me the possibilities of being here!