In 2009 I had my first experience skinning and butchering a roadkill rabbit. I had been motivated to learn how to work with animals in this way, already. This experience was very educational. Kirill and I had no previous experience, and learned after we picked the rabbit from the road, how to properly gut and skin and cook the meat. YouTube and other internet searching proved to be useful. The experience did not leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, in any way, and instead inspired me to want to learn more about butchering.
This past summer I wrote about the experience I had with Bri and Anastasia, when we did the same thing with a porcupine.
Well, a friend in Portland is a big hunter. Before making my way out West I emailed his wife to let him know I was interested in going out this year, but sadly that didn’t end up working out. However, upon the second night of my trip to Feral Farm, someone spotted a raccoon that had been hit on the road, and it was still warm when Matt picked it up, and it didn’t look too badly damaged. It came home with us, and in the morning Terri and I began the process of skinning, gutting, and separating the parts of the animal. This time I had much more confidence in working with the animal than I had in the previous experiences.
The following morning, Ethan and I were working on transplanting some honeyberry and elderberry plants, at Feral Farm. Matt got a phone call that one of his dogs had been found on the road with some other dogs, who were getting themselves into a deer that had presumably been hit by a car. Apparently it was still warm, and so we got in Matt’s truck and drove to the next driveway down the road. A large female deer lay motionless in the gully. She was still warm, and had been hit on her backside by a vehicle. She was truly beautiful. Being so close to a wild animal, putting your hand on her coat, and feeling the presence of such a creature is something I will never forget. We picked her up by her feet and placed her in the bed of the pickup, and took her home.
For the rest of the entire day, into the evening, and part of the next morning, the deer required the time and attention of a few of us, constantly. It was an amazing amount of work, and therefore meat, that came from this one animal. There was no waste produced during the process either. The skin was saved, as was the brain for tanning the hide. The dogs and other animals around ate the innards, the meat was separated into various cuts, those pieces that were not large were ‘stew meat’ and we even saved the bones for their marrow and for making broth. Each cut of meat was cleaned in a diluted vinegar solution and wrapped in butcher paper, which Matt had on hand for this purpose. Nearly three boxes were full by the end, which we took to a friends house that has electricity, where a few friends share the use of a freezer. This deer will provide Matt and his friends with all the meat they need for the winter.
It seems that this type of activity is truly embedded within us as humans, as far as I can tell, from my experiences. There isn’t much anyone can tell you besides what orders of procedures tend to work out well. What I mean is that the process of butchering the animal seems to be something I didn’t need to learn in detail. It just works. This is not to say that it could not be improved upon – I have much to learn. However, when handed a the complete leg of a deer with the expectation that you have to take it apart and separate the cuts of meat, it seems that the process just makes sense. The muscle groups are all separated by thin layers of fascia and it just seems to all be quite logical.
Wild meat – why would we eat this, many of us ask. Well for the bulk of history, humans have been eating wild meat. There was no such this as eating an animal domesticated by humans until fairly recently in our past. Why, though, with the option of eating beef from the supermarket, one might ask, would one choose the deer? Or, the raccoon for that matter?
Imagine two different situations. In the first you have a cow. This cow, Bessy, is born on a factory farm in the mid-west. Bessy is confined to live within electric fences and occupies a small space in close proximity to a very large number of other cows. Bessy eats some corn fed to her from stainless steel industrial equipment, often mixed with other animal parts, and often other things I don’t want to mention here. Bessy might get sick, so she is fed antibiotics and a wide variety of other drugs. This is not to mention that she could be given growth hormones to speed up the process of growth so she can be turned into meat for sale, more quickly. Bessy is a product. Bessy has no choices and is not in an environment that is natural where she can be happy and use her instincts to eat what she wants or find the right part of the environment in which she and her body tell her to be. Bessy is funneled into a loud, scary, industrial building and is put on a conveyor belt. She is rolled up to a large machine where a piece of metal is forced into her skull to kill her. Her body is then picked up by another machine, and she is butchered on an assembly line, sealed on styrofoam trays, and shipped on trucks for hundreds or thousands of miles to refrigerators, where people eat parts of her body, separately, and have no connection to her, or her life. By paying for this meat, they are investing in the company who brought Bessy up, and in all the companies involved in getting her to market.
In the second situation I want you to imagine Bambi. Bambi was born in a forest in a heavily forested part of Maine. Bambi’s mother was able to find a secluded and fairly safe spot to birth her babies. Following the millions of years of instincts they had, the deer learned how to participate in the world by imitating their mother. Sadly, one of the babies wasn’t fast enough and was eaten by a mountain lion. While this is sad, the remaining deer in the pack, including Bambi, are the strongest, most able-bodied, and healthy deer. When they have babies, they will have naturally been selected as the survivors. Bambi lives her life away from machines, away from roadways, and is able to create a diet comprised of foraged flora about the forest. When her body tells her it’s time for Cedar, that’s what she eats. When the seasons change, so do her food options, and that is what nature provides and intended for her. She runs freely without pens or a stable keeping her from moving her body and becoming flexible and healthy. The forest while of course being a place where she must use caution, is her natural habitat. We will explore two outcomes for Bambi’s life. In the first, Bambi sadly is trying to get from one area to another to forage. But, there is a large black line, pavement, separating one area of the forest from the other. She tries to cross but is hit by a very, very heavy animal made of metal that is crossing her path. Someone comes along and then finds this beautiful animal, and can potentially take Bambi and make wonderful use of her meat, her bones, her skin, cartilage, and even her brain. Every part of her will be enjoyed. Her meat is lean, as she is exercising daily, and because she chooses her food, she has based her diet to be completely herbacious. Her inputs are organic, pure and simple. This meat also has no economic cost, and required no industry to manufacture it. Wild meat has no managers, no waste, and no labor hierarchy. It happens, naturally and spontaneously. In the second outcome, there are a group of people living in the forest. They know the winter is coming and they are in need of a food source for when the snow comes. They wait and silently watch the patterns of the deer in their area. They want to find the weakest family member in the pack. They scout and wait and finally comes a time when they have a very likely chance of killing their targeted prey. Bambi takes a quick and unexpected shot to her heart, and is killed instantly. Bambi is taken home, butchered, and feeds a small family for the winter time. She is appreciated, and her coat becomes clothing for the family, as well.
What do you think? We could be planting out our forests more intelligently, and not have to build industrial meat farms, at least here in the North-East. This might not support a massive population but you get the idea. I’m tired now so forgive any run on sentences or statements that are not cohesive or thought out fully.
This is in no way an attempt to convert anyone or change certain habits or anything. I am just speaking my mind.
Think about it.