Bravo The Bloody Local Butcher Shop



Our butcher retired recently and in the process of finding another, it seems clear that there’s a great opportunity opening up in local meat marketing if you can stand the work. Nobody wants to do it but most people want to enjoy its fruits. I have done my share of butchering hogs, chickens, even a few steers and lambs and I don’t much like to do it either. Carving up a dead carcass is not so bad once you learn how to sharpen a knife properly, but slaughtering is a nasty job, even when done “humanely.” On the other hand, so is hanging high up on an electric pole in a blizzard repairing a power line, emptying bedpans in an infirmary, or repairing a ruptured water main in below zero weather.

Meat is a part of the local farm, local food, local restaurant business that needs more participation. It can be lucrative and begs for more skilled and even artisanal entrepreneurial types. On a small scale, even the killing is not as distasteful as it sounds. Our method, the one most used in home butchering, is to shoot the animal in the head with a twenty-two rifle, which stuns it motionless momentarily during which time the jugular vein is cut. Professionals can do this swiftly and calmly and the animal never knows what happened to it. Small animals and chickens are generally hung upside down or held by some contrivance in a vertical position and the jugular vein cut with one swift pass. If reading this overwhelms you with revulsion, you should be a vegetarian. I have a hard time listening to people who pretend that killing animals is terribly barbaric even while they are chomping away on a hamburger.

The local food movement has now made neighborhood butcher shops more popular than ever. In no segment of quality food production is small size more an asset. Small scale meat processing makes handling the animals more humanely easier. The meat can be better aged for more quality in a small operation. Cleanliness is easier. Most especially, a small shop can tailor the meat cuts to an individual customer’s desires. We’ve found only one shop so far that makes lard and smoked hams the way we used to do it.

The downside is that there is lots of government inspection and regulation involved if you are selling to the public. There are state and federal regulations that can get too complicated to cover here. You have to talk to the people involved. Government regulations about the onsite disposal of wastes require a big expenditure of money so most local butcher shops I know pay to have their waste trucked to rendering plants, which is also expensive. There is another way which would be practical and cheaper for a small butcher shop. Especially where a small livestock farmer wants to start his own butcher shop, carcass waste could be disposed of by burying it in manure piles, as some farms are doing now, and composted into valuable fertilizer. I am assured by those who do it, that a dead animal or carcass waste, well buried in manure, will disappear into good fertilizer, including the bones, in just a few months.

The interest in artisanal foods embraces meats as much as any other food. Dry-aging makes better tasting meat than wet-aging, but the former is mostly a possibility and practice for small operations. The length of time meat hangs in the cooler before cutting up makes a big difference in taste to most of us and the small butcher shop can more easily let the meat hang longer to cater to a customer’s desires. Not all pork sausage is the same by far and the amount of fat, lean meat, spices, salts, preservatives etc. put in it could be an artisanal butcher’s heaven of opportunity. Fresh sausage without any preservatives is my favorite and about the only way you can get that is through a small artisanal shop. Some  meatcutters are in the habit of slicing pork chops too thin to suit us and now that we don’t do our own, it has taken lots of patience to get the message across to our local butcher shops.

This past year meat everywhere has been expensive and people tend to complain about the cost. Since I know first hard how hard and sometimes unpleasant it is to process meat, I don’t think the local shops in my area charge enough to tell the truth, especially when they go to extra pains to give the customer what he or she wants and can’t get at regular stores. Also, on a local level you may have the opportunity to visit the farm where your meat is coming from and see how it is raised. If you are in that lucky situation, be nice to your providers.


I have done a lot of butchering myself and Im very happy, thankful in a way, that people hired me. I am very careful, ensure there is no suffering and use the appropriate tools. I learned from old farmers who loved there animals – theres a great old joke about a pig with three legs… We learn how to help bring them into the world, raise them with care and respect, and then its time for slaughter. 4H Clubs are an ideal way to teach young farmers the morals and responsibilities of animal husbandry

Lorenzo Levi Brown April 13, 2015 at 7:50 am

I can’t kill the sheep I raise. I will do it to end suffering, other wise, after taken care of them for 2-3 years, after these decades its ruff.I have learnd to have them trucked off, to the local processor who kills, guts and skins. Then I take ’em home, butcher em up, grind up as needed.

One thing I have learned about lamb and mutton. Any piece smaller then 1.5″ square is best off going into the grinder. When they are less then 1.5″ square lamb/mutton seems to toughen up a tad, no matter how low and slow.

Around here (NY State) you’ve gotta become USDA/State Cerifed with all kinds of procedures to become a butcher shop or processor. My pencil work has shown its cheaper to gut a place and redo to meet current code.

And that folks, is a big barrier for a small butcher…better to buy an existing shop from
an retireing butcher and have at it…

If you to be employed get a job that requires hand skills….forget any job that needs connection to the will loose it.

I’ve done my share of killing and butchering, nothing larger than a hog tho. Killing should never be easy. I try to make it as quick and painless as possible for the animal, but that doesn’t make it painless for me. Killing an animal that you helped birth, fed and cared for is one of the hardest parts of farming. What helps get me through it is thinking that they got the best care, the best food, and the best life I could offer. Their death is their way of returning my work.

Wow! What a post followed with some great conversations. Thanks Gene.

Our local small time butcher did a good job for me and for folks that bought beef from me . The problem is he is really getting old, so I decided to give a new outfit a try and that was a huge mistake . Two entire steers were ruined and wasted. I found out that the meat cutter had gone out on a “bender ” and the meat never got cut and it just rotted on the hook. I took the meatcutter drunk to court and eventually won , but the heartache of having animals that I raised from conception to slaughter go completely to waste was horrible. The only thing that was not wasted was the offal that I had buried in my manure/ compost pile. I worked my way through college as a butcher but I do not have time to butcher the animals that I sell to other folks. I do my own and several Elk every year. It is a handy skill to have!

I have been butchering my own meat for over 35 years. I have grown my own meat for longer than that. I believe that I am blessed with the desire and the skill to do both. We have a small wash house on our farm where we cut and wrap, make sausage and smoke our hams and bacons. I am passing this skillset on to my family.

I owned a small processing plant here in Ohio many years ago. So, I pass this bit of information on based upon knowledge and experience. In Ohio, poultry can’t be killed in the same facility as cattle, hogs, goats and sheep according to government regulation. Deer are considered “wild game” and have their own set of rules that allow them to be processed almost anywhere.

Start up costs, mostly due to waste water disposal (septic/sewer) are very high. I can’t help but wonder however, why buildings wasting away in cities, where public sewer is readily accessible, aren’t utilized as small slaughterhouses. Tax incentives could entice young folks to try a start up business.

You are right on target Gene, (as usual) with the local food movement offering opportunity to small butchers. I think municipalities will miss the boat by not helping where it makes sense.

I am like you Gene, I really don’t care to butcher and I don’t bitch about the price I pay for my local meat. Thank goodness we have several small “meat lockers” in our area. I have bought local beef and pork for 35 years now. I will not purchase meat from Wal-Mart.

The one thing none of them do is butcher poultry. I have tried to get my local butcher to do it but he is reluctant. Deer, hogs, and cattle are all he wants. He says and I believe him, that he is just to busy to add on anything else.

Brilliant thanks. I had to laugh at your comment on pallets, duct tape and baler twine are all you need to run a farm. We don’t have many pallets around here, but only yesterday my husband repaired the greenhouse with duct tape and a friend of ours showed a repair to a collapsible washing line done with a piece of wood and duct tape. 🙂

Amen to all of above comments.

I’m getting older and am disabled so I have to constantly think about how to do things as the saying goes: ” Smarter, not harder”. Following are a few tips to accomplish that end.:

May I suggest that for even large animals an appropriate gambrel to hang the hind legs on coupled with the use of appropriately sized block and tackles to lift the gambrel with the carcass suspended therefrom makes dealing with even a large steer much simpler and definitely cleaner and easier on the butcher’s back. If it is still too much weight to handle by hand I put one more pulley at the height of the vehicle bumper and attach the end of the rope to the towing apparatus on the rear bumper of the vehicle, then put the vehicle in low gear and drive forward very slowly. To suspend the carcass of a large animal I use the top roof beam of our barn which we purposely built extending out from the barn to hang out for loading hay into the loft and for hanging carcasses. I think I learned that technique as a matter of tradition and from reading Gene’s works. Even with the height from a two story barn however I still had to deal with some of the fore end of a large Holstein Steer carcass touching the ground. If allowed to grow to mature size some bovine critters can just plain get really big. Calves eventually grow and grow and—well you get the idea.

Barring the block and tackle method, (AKA ROPE AND PULLEYS), if you have a hand winch, popularly referred to as a:”Come-Along” in our vicinity that works as well. I think Gene mentioned in one of his books the use of the front loader bucket on a tractor to lift a carcass. If you have access to a big enough tractor that works too as long as the hydraulic seals are good so the carcass doesn’t suddenly drop to the ground.

The manure compost idea for offal seems to work well, In fact I’ve thought it would be a good way to dispose of my remains for recycling into vegetables when the time comes. (There is a poem written about that with a line :”Put me in the compost pile to decompose me for a while.” ) Alternatively, If the weather isn’t too warm the dogs and cats and even chickens make short work of the offal. Of course many cultures use the offal, after proper cleaning, for food purposes, which is something Gene pointed out in his great book about practical homestead skills.

According to Holistic Management proponent Alan Savory properly produced grass-fed animals products are a key tool for helping abate desertification and climate change as well as providing human food needs. That requires butchering so butchering is a good skill to learn, which is useful worldwide. Thanks again Gene for your thought provoking essays.

We are lucky enough to have a terrific butcher and have used him for over 30 years. But he’s 81 this year and doesn’t have any young family members in the business. There are three more local butchers (and now that we’re getting older, we really can’t butcher the big animals any more, especially after hubby’s three back surgeries). Unfortunately, two of them are not very ethical, and if you take your high-grade grass-raised beef to them, you may get something else back. The killing part is tough, and I have to grit my teeth, but doggone it, if you’re going to eat meat, you need to learn to deal with the emotions. When you get up close and personal with the process, it’s a long way from buying that shrink-wrapped stuff in a sanitized store. Diana Gabaldon has a terrific scene in her book “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” where two of the protagonists talk about the need to kill an animal in order that you may live, about gratitude and making a ceremony of it. I say a prayer for the animal when we butcher — it helps.

Unfortunatly I am one of those who has a problem with the killing part of it.I can do the butchering part. But being older and in poor health i am kind of sympathetic with the soon to be deceased animal.I even hate to open the hot oven ! lol So i guess cremation is out for me . But i think it is one of those things like in the James Herriot books where the small holder raised a pig for his own use every year and sobbed for 3 days while his wife and daughters cut up the hog.I never shot much game back when i hunted enough to get used to kill and clean. But did clean my share of fish!I’ve seen when a killing part didnt work when one old time farmer for some reason had trouble getting the bullet into the right place. It was something out of a bad PETA video.I think a golden business opportunity for those that are squeamish or short handed is someone with a usda inspected trailor to go around and do the killing bleeding and skinning part ,maybe even the splitting the carcass into halves . I think i could handle the rest by myself but with health not in great shape, struggling to make sure the animal is killed and bled and hung properly might be too much.I’m finally starting to realize that I am having to give up some things as i get older. Dan around here there are people trying to turn collecting pallets into a living or at least a profitable sideline. I’ve seen pallets advertised on craigslist for $4-5.oo apiece!

Hello Gene,
Last year was the first year I have raised hogs (from weaners) to slaughter with nothing but a book to guide me (and all those years of anatomy and physiology classes finally came in handy!).
While the first hog was a bit daunting, by the third I was feeling confident, and even opened to trying different cuts.
And ooohhhhh! The bacon! Nothing like grass fed, home cured and smoked bacon!

We are blessed with two small abattoirs/custom butchering operations in the little village around the end of our hill. One of them is USDA organic. There are two other facilities that i am aware of within a 2 1/2 hour drive from home.

The birds on our table come from out back of the house and the rest of the meats from growers using on of the local processors. I agree with you, Gene, about fresh sausages.

And manure is a magic ingredient in any compost recipe. Reread Holy Shit for a refresher!!


You hit the nail on the head this week. We lost a good processor in Plucky Poultry in Utica when they closed their doors. We took all our turkeys and chickens over there for processing and they were great with customer service. So sad to see them close down. WIll be looking for some place new this year or else we’ll just be heading up to Baltic to see Aden and the folks there, but that’s quite a stretch for us. If you know of any Butchers in north-central Ohio that like to do poultry (not many do, it seems), keep us posted.


Joanna: It does work. I make a pen around the pile with cattle panels (if I am flush with cash) or pallets if not. (Pallets, duct tape and bailer twine are all you need to run a farm 🙂 ) The manure seems to offset the smell of the offal and so the vermin aren’t attracted.
Dan H.

I now bed my horses with sawdust as I can’t find straw raised without chemicals . I pick out the manure daily to build the compost pile . We always buried the slaughter waste or dead animals in the pile and it always composted swiftly and without any bones ect as well as having no smell . I do use biodynamic preparations in the pile so am not sure if that is a contributing factor . It smells like humusy soil and has lots of worms .I am having problems actually killing animals as my husband used to do that part while I plucked the birds and prepared them for the freezer . Now that he has passed away , I am looking for someone to share them with who is able to kill them .. I simply can’t bring myself to do it. :)Sharon

I was wondering about the critters. We don’t have wolves in our vicinity, but we do have wild boar (wild hogs) and they get into most things and we could really do without attracting them more than they are already attracted, so I’m intrigued to know if this would really work. Mind you, not sure I would have the nerve to try it and risk more big holes being dug in our land

Your suggestion to compost the offal, etc in manure works really well. I have always said that “if you have livestock, you will have dead stock”. That means that disposal of the carcass is an issue. For years I tried to use high carbon base materials such as sawdust or woodchips. I would create a layered pile of offal and carbon and put a fence around it.

However if would just never compost properly and a year later it was still a soggy mess and stunk to the point where the dogs, coyotes, crows, etc would break into the pile and drag it about. Then a friend shared your suggestion to use manure instead. The difference is astounding! In a remarkably short time even the large long bones are gone. It must have something to do with the bacteria and other life forms in the manure. The manure also seems to counteract the smell so the critters don’t try to break through the fencing.

Thanks for continuing these weekly articles. They make my day.

Yours in the endless effort to make the world safe for spreading manure,
Dan Hubbell

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