Butchering, Part 1: Selection & Preparation of Animals

butcheringIn the selection of animals for meat health should be given first consideration. No matter how fat an animal may be nor how good its form, if it is not in perfect health the best quality of meat can not be obtained. If suffering from fever or any serious derangement of the system, the flesh will not be wholesome food. Animals are often killed that are infected with actinomycosis (lumpy jaw), tuberculosis (consumption), cholera, swine plague, and other diseases of like nature. There is little direct evidence of harmful results from the use of such animals as food when in the early stages of disease, but since it is almost impossible to distinguish between the incipient and the fully developed forms of the disease, or to know when it becomes virulent, the safer course is to discourage the use of anything known to be in imperfect health. Flesh from animals that have recovered from the ravages of disease before slaughter is not likely to cure well and is very difficult to keep after curing. Bruises, broken limbs, or like accidents all have the same effect on the meat as ill health, and, unless the animal can be bled and dressed immediately after such accident, it is not best to use the meat for food. This would hold true especially if there has been a rise in temperature of 2° or more. A rise in temperature at or just previous to slaughtering is almost sure to result in stringy, gluey meat, and to create a tendency to sour in curing.


First-class meat can not be obtained from animals that are poor in flesh. A reasonable amount of fat must be present to give juiciness and flavor to the flesh, and the fatter an animal is, within reasonable limits, the better will be the meat. The presence of large amounts of fat is not essential, however, to wholesome meat, and it is far more important that an animal be in good health than that it be extremely fat. ” Never kill an animal that is losing flesh” is a maxim followed by butchers, and observation points to a logical reason for the saying. With an animal failing in flesh the muscle fibers are shrinking in volume and contain correspondingly less water. As a consequence the meat is tougher and drier. When an animal is gaining in flesh the opposite condition obtains and a better quality of meat is the result. Also a better product will be obtained from an animal in only medium flesh, but gaining rapidly, than from a very fat animal that is at a stand-still or losing in flesh.

Breeding and Other Factors

Quality in meat is largely dependent on the health and condition of the animals slaughtered, and yet the best quality of meat is rarely, if ever, obtained from poorly bred stock. The desired “marbling,” or admixture of fat and lean, is never of the best in scrub or native stock, nor do the “gaudy” fellows of the show ring, with rolls of fat on their ribs, furnish the ideal in quality of meat. There seems to be a connection between a smooth, even, and deeply fleshed animal and nicely marbled meat that is not easily explained. It is found that the two go together usually, unless the animals are carried along too far, in which case there may be a surplus of ” spine,” or outside, fat.

Fine bones, soft, luxuriant hair and mellow flesh are always desirable in an animal to be used for meat, as they are indications of small waste and good quality of meat.

Age for Killing

Age affects the flavor and texture of the meat to quite an extent. While it is not possible to state the age at which an animal will be best for meat, it is a well-known fact that meat from » old animals is more likely to be tough than that from young ones. The flesh of very young animals frequently lacks flavor and is watery. An old animal properly fattened and in good health would be preferable to a young one in poor condition.

Cattle are fit for beef at 18 to 20 months if properly fed, though meat from such animals lacks in flavor. The best meat will be obtained from animals from 30 to 40 months old, though they may be used at any age if in good condition. A calf should not be used for veal under 6 weeks of age, and is at its best when about 10 weeks old and raised on the cow. There is a law in most States against selling veal under 6 weeks of age. Hogs may be used at any age after 6 weeks, but the most profitable age at which to slaughter is 8 to 12 months. Sheep may be likewise used when 2 to 3 months of age and at any time there- after. They will be at their best previous to reaching 2 years of age, usually at 8 to 12 months.

Preparation of Animals for Slaughter

It is important that an animal intended for slaughter should be kept off feed from twenty-four to thirty-six hours. If kept on full feed the system is gorged and the blood loaded with assimilated nutrients is driven to the extremities of the capillaries. In such a condition it is impossible to thoroughly drain out the veins when the animal is bled, and a reddish colored, unattractive carcass will be the result. Food in the stomach decomposes very rapidly after slaughter, and where the dressing is slow the gases generated often flavor the meat. Water should be given freely up to the time of slaughter, as it keeps the tem- perature normal and helps to wash the effete matter out of the system, resulting in a nicely colored carcass.

The care of animals previous to slaughter has considerable effect on the keeping qualities of the meat. It is highly important that they be not excited in any way sufficiently to raise the temperature of the body. Excitement prevents proper drainage of blood vessels, and if extreme will cause souring of the meat very soon after dressing. In no instance should an animal be killed immediately after a long drive or after a rapid run about the pasture. If heated by such cause it is far better to allow it to rest overnight before killing than to risk the meat spoiling. The flesh of an animal that has been overheated is usually of a pale color and very often develops a sour or putrid odor within three or four days after being dressed. It is also essential that the animal be carefully handled so as not to bruise the body. Bruises cause blood to settle in that portion of the body affected, presenting an uninviting appearance, and often cause the loss of a considerable portion of the carcass. A thirty-six-hour fast, plenty of water, careful handling, and rest before slaughter are all important in securing meat in the best condition for use, either fresh or for curing purposes.

Source:  U.S.D.A., 1903

Next:  Killing & Dressing Cattle

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