You’ve raised your animals with care and love. Now, however, it’s time for the freezer. You want to harvest your animals yourself: what basic “tools of the trade” do you need?
Being able to harvest your own animals is an important skill for a homesteader. An intimate connection with your nourishment is made more so when you’ve taken the animal, stress free as possible, through life’s final stage and have processed and packaged it for your own freezer. It’s not something everyone can do (that’s why we do custom chicken and turkey processing), and it’s a great goal to have. The intentions for nourishing, health building food on your table makes a powerful difference in how you raise your animals and they know it. The same is true of harvesting (butchering) your animals into the freezer.
There are very few tools needed to be able to harvest and process your own meat.
Knives: A simple set of quality knives will serve you well and keep you safe to do meat processing. We use Victorinox knives. They are good, butcher quality knives that you won’t have to take a loan out for. They hold a sharp edge well. They are more comfortable to hold for many different size hands than any brand of knife we’ve tried. We only use 3 knives, and occasionally a fourth: a paring knife, a curved 6″ boning knife, and an 8″ chef knife. You’ll notice these in our butchering videos. Occasionally we use a skinning knife.
Here’s a video of Jill using the chef knife to cut up a chicken: How to Cut Up a Chicken
Sharpening stick: or some other means to sharpen your knife. A dull knife is a dangerous knife as it can slip and really slice you. A dull knife also requires more effort and you’ll get tired (and tired of the the job) a lot quicker. You need to be able to get it sharp and keep it sharp as you go.
Good table: We’ve used plastic folding tables and they will serve the purpose. Plus, they are multipurpose. If you use them, be sure you have a few of the 3rd item or the top will get cut to pieces. Even better, is a stainless steel table. These are made for butchering and food processing and are at a better height. They are also sturdier and won’t wiggle around, endangering your fingers.
Large cutting boards: The largest you can find, the better off you’ll be. These protect your cutting surface and your knives. A metal or stone surface dulls your knives quickly, so plastic is best. A large board gives you a large working surface so that you can just worry about what you are doing rather than falling off the cutting board. If you have the resources, a cutting table is awesome. This is a table with a cutting board top, much like a butcher block counter top. It’s large, the cutting surface doesn’t move, and it’s sanitizable.
Meat Totes: Having a large, food grade container to put your meat in is essential. Juggling kitchen bowls makes the job too difficult to be worth the effort. These lugs are large enough to hold and cool many chickens, a quarter of a hog, and half a goat or deer. They are virtually unbreakable. You can put them in the freezer or put meat straight off the grill into them. If you’re going to process your own meat, a few of these are a worthwhile investment.
Here is a video of us in our butcher shop: Fun in the Shop
Level up Tools
Meat Grinder: You can’t make sausage without a grinder, and when you make your own sausage once you’ll be hooked. We’ve used smaller versions of this LEM grinder, and we own the larger one. If it’s a question, go big. The larger machine will work better for larger quantities of meat and has tougher construction than the smaller grinder. Having the capability to grinder larger pieces of meat and greater quantities at a time will save you lots of time in the long run. Because once you start making your own sausage, you’ll need to make a lot of it.
Vacuum sealer: Food Saver makes some good quality ones if you pay for their top end sealer. their top end sealer. We used one at an ANYONE CAN FARM ON THE ROAD Hog Harvest that performed up to the task of packing a hog. Cheaper ones will wear out too quick or overheat before you’re done. If you want to vacuum seal to sell your product, get a small to medium commercial sealer. Ours has worked flawlessly for 14 years of LOTS of packing all sorts of things, from broth to chicken/pork/beef to corn and green beans. You won’t regret the investment if presentation, ease of packing, and top quality meat preservation is important.
Sausage stuffer: LEM is our go-to source, again. They have good products that are made to be used. We’ve used the 10# and 25# version of this stuffer. If it’s a question, go big. The time you spend reloading the 10# stuffer will pay for the upgrade to 25#. Especially since you’ll get addicted to making sausage and feel the need to make a lot of it. Go big. Also, be sure the tube comes off the bottom, not the side of the container. You’ll get more cased sausage and less left over. This is, again, from hard experience.
Scale: For home use, a simple kitchen scale will do the trick. A weight is handy for the cook, since cooking times often depend on weight. It should measure in grams as well so you can use it for accurate sausage ingredient measurement as well. A simple Sharpie will do the job of labelling for you. Be sure to put item name, weight, and date on the package. You may think you’ll remember, but I can guarantee you won’t if you’re like 98% of human beings. Freezer mystery meat is rarely good.
Scale with labeller: If you’re looking to market your products at all, this is a good investment. The newer versions can be programmed with logos, prices, and so much that will make your products look appealing to your customers and give them all the information they need about the cut (name, weight, date, who the farmer is). Presentation is everything.
You can do it! A few of the right tools will make the job of harvesting your animals a lot easier. Check out this video about Chicken Processing Demystified!