Monday, March 30, 2009

More Than Meat

There was plenty of work to do following the butchering class discussed in my last entry. Steaks and roasts were only one of the products harvested from the animal. My brother and I spent most of Sunday working on sinew, fat, bones and hide.

I cleaned up the sinew separating meat and fat from the tendons and ligaments as my brother scraped the remaining meat from the bones.

Cleaning the sinew

There was quite a lot of sinew. The leg tendons were very long. After cleaning it, I hung it up to dry.

After about a week it was fully dry.

Breaking up one small piece gave many strands to work with. The amount pictured below is enough for many small projects.

Our class collected a lot of fat. Besides this pile we have a five gallon bucket full. We have been rendering it for the last week. There is just so much of it. It's pretty silly. Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog entry with details on rendering fat.

Here my brother boils the meat off some of the bigger bones. Barely visible in the background is a pot of fat being rendered.

We also started to work on the hide, but I'm going to save that for another blog entry. If we do another butchering class we are thinking about having a second day where we teach what to do with the non-meat parts: bones, hide, sinew, fat, organs and more.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bison Butchering Class

Warning: This blog entry contains vivid pictures and descriptions of a real bison being butchered. If the sight or thought of blood and guts makes you squeamish, skip to the last two pictures which show what a human carnivore is comfortable with seeing these days. If you want to see the whole story of where the bison meat came from, continue on.

On Saturday March 21st, my brother and I taught our first class for TrackersNW. We had 17 students participate in our Bison Butchering class. We started the day at 9am at the L-Bar-T Bison Ranch. My brother opened by reading the following quote from Steven Rinella's "American Buffalo - In Search of a Lost Icon".

How can someone suggest that paying for the slaughter of animals is more justifiable than taking the responsibility for one's food into one's own hands? At moments like this, though, I understand their perspective much better. It takes a strong stomach and a lot of dedication to do this job properly. You need to be able to visualize the end result - high-quality food - at a time when your sensory perceptions are seeing everything but that. Civilization is a mechanism that allows us to avoid the necessary but ugly aspects of life; most of us do not euthanize our own pets, we don't unplug the life support on our own ailing grandparents, we don't repair our own cars, and we don't process our own raw sewage. Instead, the delegation of our less-pleasant responsibilities is so widespread that taking these things on is almost like trying to swim upriver. It's easier not to do them, and those who insist on doing so are bound to look a little odd.

Each student had their own reasons for taking the class but I imagine that taking responsibility for one's food was a reason for many. For this reason and other personal ones, I volunteered to kill the bison as opposed to having the ranch owner do it. Bison are wild animals so the traditional bolt gun used for domestic cattle was not an option. I used a handgun as the ranch owner typically does. It was an emotional experience for sure.

The 1050 lb. bison bull before slaughter.

Once the bison was dead, his throat was cut for bleeding. The ranch owner and his son took care of hanging him using their front loader. This made the job of bleeding and skinning a lot easier because we had gravity to help.

The blood was collected by some students for fertilizer and other projects.

After bleeding the animal, the next step was to remove the head. Up until this point there hadn't been any student participation, but several volunteers eagerly stepped in to work on the head.

The removed head was then skinned while others worked on the body.

We did almost all the skinning using stone flakes and stone knives. The stone knives were very good at removing the skin.

Several students working on different parts of the hide.

Once we had the hide peeled back from the belly, we opened it up to remove the organs. This was one of the more challenging parts do to the amount of connective tissue that had to be broken up without sharp tools for fear of piercing organs. The last thing we wanted was digestive materials on the meat. It was quite an experience being shoulder deep inside feeling around for connective tissue. The body was still hot inside after an hour.

After removing the guts. The heart and lungs are still inside at this point.

We caught the guts in a plastic bin and took them aside to sort through. Clumps of fat were gathered for various projects. The liver and other organs were kept for a meat processing and preserving class the following day.

One of our instructors Shaun (bottom left), leads students in sorting through the gut pile.

The scene at the ranch.

The students finishing up the skinning.

The animal was split into six pieces plus the head. Four legs and the torso cut in two. We did the whole thing while keeping all the bones intact. I write this tonight after dropping the bone collection off at the Portland State University science lab where we will have the opportunity to assemble it into a museum style articulation. The professor we gave the bones to said that it would be put on display somewhere so hopefully that happens down the road.

Two front legs packaged up for transportation back to Portland.

At 3pm we all met back at the Scout Pit in Portland to cut up and package the meat. Fat and sinew were collected for future projects. Once the major hunks of meat were removed they were sliced up, packaged and labeled.

Students working on the six sections.

Here is but a small sample of the meat harvested.

After all the meat was packaged up, the students divided up all the meat that they worked so hard for.

At the end of the day we enjoyed the fruits ...err, meats of our labor.

Overall it was a great experience on many levels. I learned and experienced so much. The work didn't stop that day though. My next blog will explain some of what my brother and I did the following day.

We are tentatively planning to teach this class again in May.