Disclaimer, there will be pictures here of a lamb being processed. It can be startling if you are not used to it, but it also is really important if you are a carnivore of any kind. I always say that an animal on our farm lives the best life possible, right up until the last day. Now I’d change that to, “right up until the very last second.” Even the slaughter was fast and professional. So just tuck that in the back of your mind as you read.
Easter Week is the time we as Christians celebrate the risen Passover Lamb of God, Jesus. I think of those Israelites, huddled in their homes in Egypt, having just witnessed nine destructive plagues, having marked their doors with the blood of a spotless lamb, that the Angel of Death may pass over (the final plague).
I think of the sacrifices made in the temple, many lambs brought as an atonement offering, given to high priests wearing white robes. It must have been such a messy sight. We often read these stories quickly, but it is a wonder when you imagine actual pooping and baaing sheep, scuffling to and fro, some likely breaking out of their pens (because that’s what they do). And if you really think about it, the whole area may very well have smelled like a barbecue pit.
I had all of these thoughts while walking through the process of butchering one of our lambs a few weeks ago. We normally send all of our animals to a local butcher for processing, but one lamb was smaller than the rest and so we kept it longer and butcher on-site. This was the first time we have butchered anything larger than chickens ourselves.
We had to think through all sorts of set up and infrastructure needs. Rory worked at a meat locker a few years ago while researching Durable Trades. They had all sorts of equipment and refrigeration and storage spaces that we didn’t have, so we had to figure out how to do it with what we had.
It turns out, as with a lot of farm activities, it’s a lot simpler than you’d think. Not easy, but simple. Basically we needed a location to slaughter and clean, a place to hang the meat for a few days, and then a place to break down the meat.
While Rory worked at the meat locker he met Izzy, who has been butchering most of his life. So when we wanted to try this ourselves, he called Izzy for help. We also invited friends who were interested to come and watch (and help!).
We picked a weekend when the weather was just right: above freezing but not too warm. Cold enough to chill the meat for a few days in the barn, but warm enough to run the garden hose. (It was warm enough for the hose but everyone would tell you it was freezing water!)
Our whole family watched as the lamb was slaughtered, gutted and cleaned. It was quick and humane… I can honestly say I have never been more connected to the meat we eat. I used to not want to know where my meat came from. Now it’s the opposite. If I am going to be consuming it, I want to know how that animal was raised. I remember a few years ago when it startled me to realize I had NO IDEA where my Culver’s beef patty came from. Not even a guess as to which nation that cow was raised in. That is more disturbing to me than watching our meat being processed.
After the lamb was cleaned it was moved to our barn to chill.
Two days later Izzy came back and we put a huge cutting board down on our kitchen table. As Izzy and Rory cut, I wrapped and labeled each cut. It was fascinating! Oh that’s where the steaks come from!? I just didn’t know. The mood was glad and grateful the whole time. Izzy was a great teacher and even though he made it look easy, it felt like we could learn to do this on our own.
We made roasts, steaks, chops, ribs, shanks, and of course, leg of lamb! As each piece was cut I wrapped and labeled them.
And then I made a Mediterranean feast out of lamb steaks that had never been frozen. I tried new recipes, hoping to give these steaks the fanfare they deserve!