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Posts Tagged ‘Harvesting a meat goat’

I love looking at a fresh head of cabbage: the pale underground quality of the spring green, the slight waxy sheen of the surface, the sturdy leaf spines ending in curling ripples, like a gentle ocean wavelet, sucking back down a steep, sandy beach. I love the crunch of my heavy 10″ chopping knife as it reveals the secretes within that dense head.

Good thing, because I had nine of them to chop which meant a lot of cabbage brains spilling over my counter top. But that was where friend Marian came in… with her superior Japanese cutlery and sexy bamboo cutting board. Whew! Off the hook.

Here's Marian hard at work.

Here’s Marian hard at work.

And so my morning began, with “Mare” on washing and chopping detail and Isla and I on the food processor, sea salt, caraway and whey song and dance (maybe I’ll include a video of the literal song and dance when we jar the kraut in another 2 weeks, for there actually IS one! Hasn’t everyone made up a kraut song with their 3 year old?). We alternated purple heads with green, grinding in a large carrot with each. Then 1 tbsp of coarse celtic sea salt, 3/4ish tbsp caraway seeds and 4-ish to 5 tbsp of whey left over from my last batch of goat chevre. Isla and I filled the hopper, I ground while she covered her sensitive, wee ears, I dumped the pile in the massive metal bowl, I measured and Isla dumped in the condiments. Then together, with very well washed hands, we stirred it all in , inquisitive fingertips tickling one another inside of the grated mass. Most of it stayed in the bowl. The vegetables dwindled as our multi-colored mound grew, and pretty soon it was time for clean up and hugging Mare goodbye. And here is where I let the salt and whey do their jobs. There is very little kraut bashing with this method. I just leave it to rest on a counter top with a clean towel draped over it, and get to work on something else.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey....

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey….

...mix, cover, and wait!

…mix, cover, and wait!

The next something else was re-rendering our recently rendered goat tallow. I had noticed at the end of the first rendering, that there were a few bits of meat on the bottom of the last batch of tallow muffins. Read this post for more info on that first rendering job. I was not interested in goat meat showing up in future soaps, lotion bars and pastry crusts, so I set a massive pot on the stove top with about 4″ of water in the bottom.

While that got to boiling, I moved onto the third something else – boiling up a whole chicken for bone broth, gelatin, and meat. As I rinsed the expensive, organic chicken carcass, I vowed that we would buy straight runs of chicks this spring. I wanted my fall freezer filled with mean roosters from my back yard. No more $12 chickens from the store!!! I plopped the gold gilt bird into our crock pot with water and reached for one of our onions. This was when I received a horrible shock! No, not an electrical shock, a “we’re almost out of onions” shock! In fact, after this one, there was only one left!!! Our harvest had lasted until Feb 6th. Honestly, I was quite proud, but still weepy, as I sliced through the brittle, brown skin and into the white, seeping flesh. Oh. Well of course I was weeping – it was a yellow onion.

We try to boil up a whole chicken about once every 2 weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

We try to boil up a whole chicken once every 2 or so weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

Crock pot loaded and topped, I checked the pot on the stove. Boiling – good. Outside to the deep freeze on the porch. Molly, our Pyrenees leapt repeatedly into the air, channeling her border collie alter ego, hoping to catch a falling goat roast as I juggled the bags of tallow muffins. I dumped them ALL in, undeniable proof of my characteristic impatience.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Now what? I put away some dishes, blended up some kefir mango lassies, sliced some pears, spread chevre on the slices, and called back in my daughter for her elevensies (oh woops – at 12:30pm. Dear me. Don’t think I would impress any parenting specialists today.). And then, thankfully, it was quiet time. Isla read “quietly” on her bed (which means in a loud whisper to her doll Sarah) while I read a parenting book on mine, in hopes of getting a higher rating from said specialists. And as an aside, this is one of my two most favorite parenting books and I am reading it for the second time. How to Talk So Kids Will listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. (And here is the second of my 2 favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting”.)

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir.

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir mango lassies.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture. It should be ready to consume in about 2 full days.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend's farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend’s farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender. If we feel the need for more sweetener in the cup, we add a couple of drops of stevia.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Rest “hour” always feels like it is only 10 minutes, but the clock argued with my opinion loudly. Back in the kitchen I checked the tallow. It was melting nicely but there were still plenty of chunks. The “golden chicken” in the crock pot was simmering cooperatively, and it was not yet animal chore time. So back to the kraut went I.

I washed and rinsed well the 5 gal crock. I say this in such an off hand manner, but this is probably the hardest part of the the entire job. Have you ever tried to lift a 5 gallon, stoneware crock? No? Well start preparing the discs in your spine for some serious air time because they are about to be blown from your back in all directions. And then once in your sink – your teeny, miniscule, stainless steel sink (where you realize with terror that you have swiveled the spigot to the wrong side of the barely movable crock-a-saurus) – you have your eye balls shaken and teeth set on edge by the barest of movements of this mountain of ceramic against that teeny sink. Think fingernails on chalk boards. After this heavy weight wrestling match you still need to dry the leviathan and beach it onto the seat of a chair. Let’s hope the legs of that chair don’t promptly retaliate against the whale you dropped in their lap.

Next, with carefully wash hands, the kraut is transfered lovingly from the bowl to the crock, by double handfuls. (Make sure the crock is on a chair and not the floor as with all those missing discs, you will no longer be able to bend over.) At this time, if I were adding fresh dill instead of caraway, I would layer in a dill sprig after each couple of double handfuls. If you feel the need for some anger management, you are welcome to bring out a kraut bat at this time and pummel the kraut into submission. But it really is not necessary as the resting with the salt should have pulled the juices out of the grated vegetables by now. The addition of the whey will have given you plenty of juice. Give it a check by pushing your open hand down on the surface of the kraut. See all that juice rise up between your fingers? If you are answering “no”, then you probably weigh under 100 lbs and need to eat a lot more kraut. LEAN into it you light weight! THERE is that juice! I have to admit I like to abuse my kraut just a wee bit before I shut it up in the dark for 2 weeks. I have tried stomping in the crock with meticulously cleaned bare feet, but with size ten battleships, it was not terribly comfortable. So I usually just use my balled fists and puuuush in, alternating hands. I have not yet identified this gene – the one that entices me to do more work than I need to – the same gene that convinces me to knead my no-knead bread dough. But there it is.

Transferring the kraut from bowl to the crock.

Transferring the kraut from the bowl to the crock.

Punch it out baby!

Punch it out baby!

There's that magic juice!

There’s that magic juice!

Now I slip in an upside down dinner plate, well washed and rinsed first, of just the right size to cover as much of the surface as possible with out getting hung up on the sides of the crock (because ceramic grating on ceramic is only second in line behind ceramic on steel). Then I burp out the trapped air by pushing hard on one edge of the plate until all the bubbles release from under the concave surface of the plate. (You are welcome to use a truck with a cherry picker to lift the crock to your shoulder if you would like to attempt the burping in a more motherly fashion.) Then I fill a half gallon, or 2 qt jars (meticulously washed and rinse before hand, inside and out) with water, screw the lids on tightly, and place these weights on the protruding rump of the plate. This is merely to hold the plate down and keep the kraut under the juice. Lastly, cover the crock with a clean towel (I use a thick bath towel doubled over), and hire your neighbor and his back hoe to move it to a quiet spot in your house where it can remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. Join me in said time to see what our cheese whey and nifty, household microbes have created by clicking this link here.

Plate in and weighted with a half gallon jar filled with water.

Plate in and weighted down with a half gallon jar filled with water.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it's final resting place to do it's thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it’s final resting place to do it’s thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

OK. The tallow. It had melted and was at a rolling bowl with the water, hopefully as clean as a whistle. Then I simply repeated the previous rendering steps of ladling out the clear, liquid fat, straining it through a butter muslin-lined strainer, into a 4 cup measure, then pouring from the measuring cup into the muffin tins. Soon after, I discovered the process was not proceeding as planned (or previously experienced). It seems my impatient personality (that other unwanted gene) was not allowing the muffin tins enough time to chill in the freezer. So learn from my T’s and T’s (trials and tribulations) – let the tallow chill until some surface cracks show on the muffin tops. Do not try to extricate the muffins before this time (unless you want to bring in your neighbor’s heavy equipment again). Once the surface cracks are visible, run hot water over the bottom of the tins (quickly as they will want to leap from your overturned tin and break themselves in the depths of that teeny, weeny stainless steel sink with the ceramic scrapes on the edges), and pop the remaining muffins out onto a sheet of wax paper by inverting the tin again and pressing the center of each muffin cup. Slip the muffins into a gallon zip lock, suck out the air with your mouth, and store in the freezer.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

But I did not finish muffinizing all the tallow as animal chore time, laundry folding, hot bath, speedy dinner, and a movie with Marian preempted the rest of my greasy project (and I highly recommend seeing “Silver Linings Playbook”, by the ah, “whey”). So today I have a cool pot of water (I presume) with a thick circular block of solidified tallow on the surface (guessing at being 5″ thick without taking a core sample to verify). As I have been writing, I have not had a chance to tackle it’s removal. And I am about to make the drive to pick Isla up from pre-school now. (But you can see what it looked like at the end of this later post.)

I think I’ll just call my neighbor on the way and hire his power auger. I’m sure that will do the trick!

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner.

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner that evening.

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(Continued from Part I, Part II and Part III)

And then it was simply another Back Porch Farm work party.

Day 1: Friends were laughing and cracking jokes and knives were hacking. Bill, Chuck and I made a concerted effort to keep each other’s fingers intact while Randy, Deedee, Drew (who’s arrival I had barely been aware of), and Carrie, with wee Larka asleep on her back, chatted and watched, asking questions when curious. The carcass was hung by carabiners snapped through the hind leg tendons. The biners were then laid over hooks screwed into a previously set 2×4, cantilevered out from the shed wall. The skinning was awkward, but after some direction and correction from the boys, I got the hang of it. I wish I could have had hours to simply study the warm pile of entrails – seriously. It was even more fascinating than I imagined it would be. So many closely working parts. These organs had been in complete dependance on each other, and had danced their dance in perfect synch to keep that body functioning. I felt like I was back in my high school biology classroom on dissection day. It was necessary to follow plumbing in all directions to be sure nothing was punctured or breeched. After all this, I was certainly not going to taint the meat! The guts did NOT just “fall out” as I had read. It took a lot of investigative effort to detach each organ at the right spot, and we (or “I” at least) were also trying to save as much of the white sheets of fat as possible from within the cavity. I had visions of bricks of clean tallow for cooking, soap making and candles.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Hanging the carcass in place.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

Bill is cutting around the anus here and tying off the colon.

I am getting started on the skinning.

I am getting started on the skinning.

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Chuck, Bill and myself at work.

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We are finally in the abdominal cavity.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Carrie and Randy reach into the melee to help hold up sheets of fat and entrails while Chuck saws through the sternum and rib cage below. It was pretty awkward.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Entrails can finally tumble out freely. The pale pink organ is one of the lungs.

Once the cavity was cleared and the massive liver set aside, Chuck, Bill and I continued with the hide removal. Finally, somewhere on a shoulder, our blades met and the hide fell the the earth. I want to do SOMETHING with it, but I still don’t know what. I have been warned that it is an extremely tedious process to tan a hide, especially without chemicals. I just don’t know if I am up for it. The alternative would be to scrape and salt it and let it dry rigid. Then I could use it for a rug. But do I really want Bucky on our floor? Um, honestly, no. It is starting to look like it will end up as coyote food, although it is still hanging safely on our porch as I write. And then there is Marian, who keeps eyeing it thoughtfully….

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Hide is off and we're working on backstraps and tenderloins.

Hide is off and Chuck is working on a backstrap.

Next were the back straps (the strips of muscles along each side of the exterior of the spine) and tender loins (the strips of muscles along each side of the interior of the spine). We were instructed to treat them like gold and not share them with anyone. They were basically our fillet mignons. Then the ribs skirts were sliced off (thin sheets of layers of fat and stringy muscle below the boney ribs). Next were the rumps which meant the entire hind legs, and they were removed whole and hauled off to the prepared table inside the warm house. This is where the roasts would come from. The party meandered slowly back to the porch, away from the melting snow and gray skies, to the warm house, thick with smells of baking bread and pungent stew. It was 11:30 and we had been at it for about 2 hrs. Glasses were passed out and the scotch bottle followed and soon there was the chorus of “Slante!” and “Prost!” and “Cheers!” and a few others. Isla big sistered Larka with tenderness while we all dug into bowls of stew and heavily buttered slabs of hot, einkhorn bread.

I leaned against Randy’s tall, broad form with a deep sigh. I was caked in mud, blood, bile, grease, and melted snow. I was tired. I was relieved. I murmured, “Did you hear what Bill said to me?” He shook his head and waited, his mouth stuffed like a chipmunk’s. “When he cut off the head and looked for the bullet holes, he found the entry hole was dead center below the nob, just where I wanted it. The exit hole was through the center of the lower jaw – also right where I wanted it. He said I split the tongue clean in half.” I smiled shyly as it seemed a strange thing to brag about. Especially seeing as I had no memory of firing the shot. Marian told me later she suspected I had a lot of “help”, said with a glance to the heavens. I heartily agree with her opinion. I can only surmise I was channeling some mighty Amazons warriors that gray morning.

Working on a hunk of rump.

Trimming fat from a chunk of the rump.

Once appetites were satiated, Carrie and I sat down at the meat table, each with a hind leg in front of us, and set to work. Bill and Deedee said their farewells, Chuck took over child care, Randy began clean up and the brewing of a large pot of tea, and Marian (our duplex mate who had collected the 2 young girls under her wing for the first part of the morning) worked out the idiosyncrasies of the borrowed vacuum sealer. After another hour and a half, Marian and I were the only ones left. Randy and Isla had laid down for nap time and everyone else had returned to their own homes. Finally, after the 2 legs were packaged into nice little roasts and a bunch of soup bones, the 2 of us were spent, and said goodbye, she to walk across the courtyard to her apartment, and me, after a bit of this and that, to slip eventually into another hot bath.

Once more in the red glow of the bath candle, I stared out the picture window at the low, moody sky and gray dusk, watching the drops of rain wind their serpentine paths down the misty glass towards Mother Earth. The weather had been above freezing the entire day, melting our snow cover and dumping us into an early mud season of sorts. It was the first day above freezing in many weeks, and would be the first above freezing night as well. It added greatly to the surreal feeling of the day as we had just emerged from a winter lock down of weeks of sub zero temps. But the gloomy, darkening sky did not match my mood. I felt light and relieved and…. proud. And I knew that a full wolf moon was rising above the eastern hills as I soaked my bones and sipped my scotch. How interesting that this goat harvest had surrentipitously fallen on a full moon. Then, with a deep breath, I began my prayers of thanks. I thanked my higher powers for keeping my aim true, for keeping my arm steady, and for letting Bucky pass from this world with the least amount of trauma and suffering that we could offer. I gave thanks for my amazing friends and community, for all the support I had received during the preparation for this day, and for the friends (and even strangers) who had left encouraging comments on my blog and Facebook posts. I could envision this network of support surrounding me for many months prior, like a web of love and understanding… of shared strength.

And then I remembered entreating the Amazon warrior/mothers the night before. I let out a little chuckle. For I realized that not only had I received their help and support, I had become one of them. I had walked across the coals of initiation and passed the test. I was the newest member of the Amazon tribe.

Day 2 saw Randy back at his paying job, Isla set up with a pad and her paints, Marian grinding trimmed fat in the food grinder, and me hacking at the front legs for sausage. Alternately we would assist Isla with “oooos” and “aaahhs” while admiring her Picasso in process, or plop another mound of fat into the simmering crock pot, or ladle off a few spoonfuls of clear, greasy liquid, or drain these ladles into muffin tins through a cheese cloth lined strainer. Once the tallow muffins solidified, they were popped out and moved into gallon zip lock bags to be stored in the freezer. They were clean, white, and odorless. I fantasized mixing them with my melted bees wax, some of our honey, some goat cream I had been slowly collecting in the freezer, essential oils and healing herbs, and whipping out some mighty fine soap and lotion bars. Our hands were already soft as babies bottoms just from working with the dense fat.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it's in small pieces.

Isla and I start on the fat grinding. It helps the fat to melt faster when it’s in small pieces.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Sometimes the fat was in dense, waxy hunks and sometimes it was in blubbery sheets.

Marian posing here as the Queen of the Fat. She ground for many hours.

Marian posing here as the Queen of Fat. She ground for many hours as you can see!

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins.

After melting for a while in the crock pot, the clear, liquid fat could be ladled out of the cracklins. The cracklins were a mix of deep fried meat scraps, connective tissue, sinew, and etc. left behind once the fat was removed. They did not temp me in the least, although I know some people like to munch on them.

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Then the fat was strained through a cheesecloth and metal strainer into a 4 cup measure (merely because it was easy to pour from that).

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

Next we poured it into the muffin tins.

And once solidified....

And once solidified….

...we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

…we popped them out and stored them in gallon zip lock bags.

The pile of hacked off sausage meat grew larger while a matching pile of stripped, gleaming bones collected. I found the rib skirts hiding in the platter of fat and set to work trimming them out. Not sure that was worth the effort, it was so tightly layered, each layer of alternating fat and meat extremely thin. A late lunch and naptime for the Nugget separated us from Marian once more and Isla and I got happily horizontal. It wasn’t for nearly long enough in mama’s opinion. Randy had agreed to take the afternoon off from his paying job, so once I was back with the living, I set him to sawing ribs off the carcass that was hanging inside the shed, and hacking sausage makings off the second front leg. I kept up with the fat rendering and our wee lassie.

By nightfall, the house was a greasy, waxy disaster. The tall freezer on the porch was mounded high with bowls and platters of meat and bones. This lumpy burden reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s interior beneath mirrored it’s handicap with a bulging belly of assorted goat meat cuts and bags of rendered fat muffins, nestled around our 1/8 of a local, pasture-raised cow, 2 of our turkey tommies, one last mean rooster, a venison gift from friends, the remaining stores of frozen garden veggies and strawberries, and frozen jars of tomato sauce, homemade soup, bone broths, goat milk, goat cheese, cheese whey, salsa verde, roasted pablanos, (take a breath) and you get the picture! And I was brain dead – not even the energy left for a shower. I was on the get-the-kid-ready-for-bed-march-of-death brigade and tucked my crusty body in beside her with the shortest book I could find. My angelic husband continued to hack meat and clean up way past bedtime. God I love him.

Day 3 began with the arrival of Drew and a nice preliminary chat over black coffee. Isla was playing nicely alone, so Drew snuck out back with a bone saw and began to disassemble the remaining backbone and pelvis. There was only soup bone material left so this job was quick. Then he got on the vacuum sealer while I warmed up the food grinder. Laying out my bowls of freshly ground spice mix, my rendered tallow disks, cutting board, knife, package of organic bacon, wax paper sheets, platter and massive bowl, I pushed up sleeves, donned my apron, and dove in. And I ground sausage meat for what felt like hours. Well, it WAS hours! About half way through, Drew got a hankering to TASTE some sausage. Heck, I had been planning to give a little space between the carcass processing and the actual EATING of it. But he was so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say no.

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The sausage set up.

Grinding, grinding, grinding....

Grinding, grinding, grinding….

I formed him up 4 patties with my goopy hands and he popped them into the cast iron skillet. A delightful aroma filled the kitchen as the patties sizzled happily without any extra oil. He cracked open a turkey egg each for each of us and fried them up beside the goat meat. (Holy crap! That was sausage from our goat! From BUCKY!) He was grinning ear to ear with anticipation and couldn’t serve our plates fast enough. I then had a very emotional moment while bracing myself dramatically against the kitchen counter. It was not about Bucky, per se. It was that I was really, truly living my dream life – the homesteading life I had imagined for so many years. Eating our mean roosters was one thing, but one of our goats? I was about to do just that! I was about to sit down with my good friend and my daughter to have a lunch of goat sausage and turkey eggs, which both originated a stone’s throw from the back porch. And just to amp up my fragile emotional state, I cracked a fresh jar of my own canned apple sauce to spoon out along side!

Ooooh baby!

Oh my!

Isla was non-plussed. In fact I had to stop her mid bite to say grace and give thanks to Bucky before chowing down. She said little but kept shoveling. Drew took a bite and then closed his eyes to savor it. “Oh – My – God.” he said slowly. “That is divine.” I was struggling. I stared hard at my plate, I cut off a hunk, I stabbed it with my fork, and I stared some more. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and it disappeared into my maw. My first reaction was a violent shiver from head to toe. Then a slight gag reflex. Then my taste buds found their anchor point in the familiar hint of bacon, and the bite slithered down my throat. And the next bite. And the next. And the egg and the apple sauce and the fresh cup of coffee. I seemed to have developed a mild, full body tremor that was humming from within. Drew summed it up with sparkling eyes when he said, “Wow. I’ve got a little buzz going. That sausage has some potent life force in it.” Yes, that was it! In fact, I wanted to go running around outside and do a half gainer and donkey kick off a play stump in the goat pen! This was Super Food! And it was going to take some getting used to – small portions. I would have to warn my friends when I passed out thank you packages. WOW. I could FEEL it. This was real food – food that I had loved and cared for, food that had had a happy life, food from a very healthy animal, food from my friggin’ BACKYARD!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, give the Bucky sausages a thumbs up!

Isla, sporting her Picassa smock, gives the Bucky sausage a thumbs up!

I had DONE IT!!!

And yes, Drew and I finished packaging EVERYTHING that afternoon, including the liver. And all the fat was rendered and the deep freeze is bursting at it’s seams. I have yet to finish cleaning the house, but it will happen this weekend. The massive Kitchen Aid food grinder we borrowed is still claiming the western third of the dining room table, but I am rather getting used to it.

Perhaps with luck, Wes won’t even miss it.

Post Script:

That very afternoon, after nap time had past, Isla and I cleaned up the vacuum sealer, loaded up a jar of our goat cheese and a 6 pack of goat sausage, and headed out into a freshening snow storm to Thomas’ house. It had been his generosity that had provided us with the use of a vacuum sealer. It was a quick pass off and short greeting as I was anxious of the mounting storm, and Isla and I were soon back on the highway headed home. The blizzard quickly turned into a white out and I shifted into 4WD and slowed down to 25. I was acutely aware of the dropping temps, watching the car thermometer like a hawk. 33 degrees. Treacherous driving conditions to be sure. As we slowly took the turn onto our own road, the temp dropped to 32. I was creeping along, dodging pot holes, taking my time. Then, with a completely out of place flash of lightening, and boom of thunder, the LED display dropped once more to 31 degrees. It was literally the first time it had gone below freezing since the morning Bucky was shot. For 3 days the weather had remained perfect refrigerator temperature, between 33 and 41 degrees (which was significant as we did not have a walk in fridge to store the carcass and waiting parts in).

That night it was in the teens once more, and the following night back to sub zero winter weather. It was sunny and biting cold. A fresh, cleansing mantle of snow laid over the mud, ice, and blood of the days before, hiding the evidence, granting us a grateful closure, and allowing us to move forward in our lives.

Back to winter.

Back to winter.

Post Post Script:

Several people have been curious about how Bucky’s demise affected the remaining goats. I had also wondered if we would sense any discomfort on their part. I can say that in the week leading up to the harvest, I had verbally “warned” all 3 goats (Auntie Hazelnut, Cousin Fiona and Bucky) that Bucky would be leaving soon and they all needed to prepare and say goodbye. And I can say that before I led him from the pen on the morning of, I told them all to say their farewells, that Bucky would not be coming back. The shot was taken around the corner of the house, away from the barn and barnyard, and the hanging of the carcass was not in their view.

I feel we must never underestimate what animals understand. I certainly do not think they understood my conversation in human english as I talked to them, but I think on a spiritual, energetic, or psychic level, they got the gist just fine. And I also think animals process emotions in a very different way than humans. They are in the here and now, just like young children. There is food and there is water and they are healthy, comfortable and feel safe. As long as they are cared for properly, they do not worry, or really think about much but when their human will visit again and when dinner is being served.

But back to the question at hand: All the goats were fine and unstressed – including Bucky! I can honestly say he never knew what hit him. He was not anxious in any way when I led him out of the pen. Hazelnut gave her normal quantity of milk the next morning, and Fiona and her never seemed to be “looking” for Bucky. They showed no indication of any sort of distress at all.

I have to say I was very relieved to witness this!

 

The tally sheet:

11.35 lbs of sausage patties

13.25 lbs of rendered tallow (several pounds went back into the sausage)

14.35 lbs of soup/bone broth/dog bones with minimal meat left (several bones has already gone to Molly our Pyrenees before the weighing)

4.50 lbs of ribs

1.45 lbs of liver (currently researching liver pate recipes)

2.65 lbs of rib skirt (really this should have all gone into the sausage, but we’ll try a stew)

.75 lbs tender loins

3.85 lbs back strap

10.45 lbs rump roasts (I would like to attempt some jerky out of the biggest one)

5.95 lbs of cracklins from the fat rendering which we are slowly feeding to the delighted chickens

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68.50 lbs total (head, lower legs, and offal were offered to the coyotes in a distant arroyo. Hide is still being deliberated over as it hangs on our porch.)

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I crunched up the hill in rhythm with my steaming breath, planting my poles alternately, wishing I had found my gaiters in the car. The snow wasn’t super deep, perhaps 6 or 8 inches, but deep enough to find it’s way past the cuff of a boot. Another gust of wind stopped my progress as it whipped my stinging cheeks. I turned away from the blast, eyes tightly closed and watering profusely. The gust quieted and I remained standing still, taking in the winter wonderland scene. Oh! The snow had not been simply blowing off the heavily laden conifer branches. It was coming down again with a will.

And the white out was beautiful!

This was my first moment alone since the Big Event and my mind was deeply engaged, assigning descriptive words and phrases to the jumble of emotions within. I had been dying to sit down at the computer and write, to pour out all my feelings and document my experience of the first 4-legged meat harvest on our farm. But for 3 days after the gun shot, it was all about processing, getting the meat in vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer. Three days!! And each night I had collapsed in bed beside my 3 year old, too exhausted to even consider getting back up for “adult time”. Visions of muscle groups, connective tissue and bone saws flitted behind my red-rimmed lids as I felt my own muscle groups relax heavily against the mattress. I had had no idea how much work it would be. After all, 3 of us processed an entire cow elk in 12 hrs! But, I reminded myself, that was from a skinned and gutted hanging carcass, and with 2 men who knew exactly what they were doing.

WE had started with a walking buck goat, a needy 3 year old child, and had only 2 knowledgeable friends in the fray and only for the first few hours. Thank god for Bill and Chuck, as they helped me angle the rifle barrel correctly, made sure everyone was safe from ricocheting bullets, taught us to skin and gut, and then got us started on how to process the carcass. But that only took us until lunch of the first day. The remainder of the days it was me, with either Carrie, Marian, Drew or Randy, depending on the moment, and all of us completely inexperienced, and continually interrupted by Isla and her constant 3 year old needs. After all, I AM a mother too. We also rendered ALL of the fat in that time which was a massive job – and strong evidence that we had grossly overfed our buckling.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first fill in the missing parts of the story leading up to the Big Day. If you haven’t been a part of the previous posts, I recommend reading Part I and Part II before you continue with this Post. And here is where my liability waiver comes in: if you can’t handle reading about the killing and butchering of a meat goat, then use your brain, stop reading now, and find a blog about kittens and butterflies.

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Nine days ago, four days before the harvest day, a good friend took me to a local shooting range to have me shoot the gun I was to use. This was yet another part of my continued personal preparation for the job ahead. Seemed like a smart notion, considering I had not shot a gun since I was 13, and had never shot a rifle (I am 50 now in case you are dying to do the math). It was a beautiful Mini Ruger 14, .223 caliber, that I had inherited from my father. When Dad was in the throes of downsizing and selling his house to move into a retirement community, his gun collection was up for grabs. Of course my little brother got the majority, many of which were antiques and non-functional for all practical purposes. But I did voice my desire for just one usable gun. I have to say I think I got one of the best. It is stainless steel and walnut, a beauty to behold, and smooth and balanced to fire. It has a magazine that will hold 5 bullets, making it a semi automatic. It will fire those 5 bullets as fast as my finger can tug the trigger in succession. This is not a hunting gun – my dad had carried it on his boat when he had plied the seas around Florida and the Caribbean in his more adventurous years. It was his official pirate gun!

Justin laid out all the safety rules for me and showed me how to load, aim and fire. It was a rush! I LOVED shooting my gun! Here is my target after firing the first 2 magazines:

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And a token picture of meself:

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After firing 4 or 5 magazines, I dug out a pen and sketched the back of a goat head on the lower part of the target. I wanted to really press home what I was going to do come Saturday. I stood a foot away, aimed, and fired. The lower part of the paper target exploded! VERY different from shooting from 15 yards. I would post a photo of the target at the end of that session, but the bottom is completely gone. At least that showed me it would do the trick.

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The next 4 days leading up to the harvest were difficult. I was racked with a vast array of violent thoughts that kept me awake most nights. I played and replayed the pending act, as I imagined it, over and over in my tired brain. I prayed. I asked my higher powers for help. And I spent time with Bucky, scratching him in his favorite places, and reminding him it was almost time to leave.

The night before the Big Day, I was up late, getting a beef stew simmering in the crock pot and starting bread dough rising. I did not want to have to think one iota about feeding our support group the next day. Then I ran a hot bath, lit my red bath candle, poured a wee dram of the Water of Life, and sank gratefully into the dark, steamy waters, glistening with a slick, red sheen from the flickering candle. I breathed. I breathed more. And I began to pray again. I prayed to have a clean shot through the back of Bucky’s skull with an angle towards the lower jaw, to have the courage to take that shot, to have the grounding to stay present and focused on the job, and most of all, to have the grace to keep my heart open and not leave my body. I had a strong desire to entreat some appropriate minor deity to stand behind me as spiritual support. I was rather tickled at what came to mind – the Amazon hunter/warrior/mothers of the distance past – the courageous women of history who bore their children, nurtured them and protected them with a fierce matter-of-factness passed down from generations of mothers and grandmothers before them. These were the true mother bears. And I would need them tomorrow.

The next morning I awoke, fairly well rested, and ready. As ready as I would ever be. I kneaded the dough as my pot of green tea steeped and laid the loaves in pans for a second rise. I stirred the stew and added a bit more salt. I boiled up some oats and raisins for the family and ate quietly, moving through the motions with a peace I did not expect. I was no longer deliberating. I was no longer visualizing. It was all done. Everything was set out and ready. I was just waiting for 9:30am. I sharpened our quiver of knives while the clock kept track.

At 9:26am the first 2 cars pulled in – Bill and his girl friend Deedee (who I did not expect and had never met), and Chuck. Bill was an avid hunter of large game with a great deal of experience. He was also a law enforcement ranger. Chuck was a hunter as well, and a nurse at the nearby hospital. I felt well covered by their presence. Carrie, Chuck’s wife, pulled in a few minutes later and hefted 1 yr old Larka out of her car seat. Carrie had grown up on a farm and had harvested multiple chickens, turkeys, and a pig. Not only was she a tough chick, she was also a mother. My support group was assembled and my courage bolstered. I had my gun handlers, my carcass handlers, my medical professional, and my tough mom. It was time.

I stepped into the bathroom one more time, even though I had already peed twice in the past 30 minutes. I washed my hands, slowly brushed my hair from my forehead, and tied it back from my face. I pushed my pearl earrings through my lobes and looked in the mirror. I smiled, and thought of my old high school friend who is in a woman’s shooting club on the east coast. She target shoots in make up, pearls and a little black power dress. I thought she would be proud of me donning my mother’s pearls for this very special day.

But something was still missing.

I was slightly aware of the kitchen murmur of voices and clinking coffee mugs as I pulled out my top drawer and reached far into the dark shadows. There it was. The little deerskin pouch that I had made from the pocket of my Poppy’s deerskin shirt. And inside was my hawk talon neckless. I had made it after a fatally injured red tail hawk had dyed in my lap, as I sat on the tail gate of my truck on the side of some Illinois highway. In that moment, as I felt the raptor’s soul release and fly free, I was introduced to the second of my 2 totem animals. And it was that experience which guided my pencil, and the tattoo artist’s hand, as together we memorialize this fierce hunter on my lower abdomen in permanent ink. It was also at that moment that I left my vegetarian life and drove on down the road in search of my first burger in 10 years.

I snapped the clasp beneath my ponytail and walked out tall.

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It was a friendly but subdued gathering in the kitchen. The smell of strong coffee was tempting, but I needed to stay in the space I was in, unaffected by a blast of caffeine. I avoided eye contact and collected the items I had set out – the bucket to catch the blood (which I wanted to give to the compost pile), the 4 very sharp knives, my 5 bullets to fill the magazine (kept separate from the gun), my water bottle, and a smudge stick and box of matches. I got Randy’s attention and nodded. He nodded to Chuck and all conversation ceased mid-sentence. I walked out to the pen gate, lit the smudge stick, breathed deeply and cleansed myself with the sacred smoke. I emptied my mind and then filled my heart with strength and love. The gate stuck momentarily on the melt-thaw glacier of runoff as I pushed inside the pen. Goats crowded warmly around me with soft breaths, Fiona lipping my coat zipper, Bucky pressing his forehead against my arm, and Hazelnut standing patiently aloof, waiting for me to come to her. I smudged Bucky, speaking to him soothingly, and told all the goats it was time to say their farewells.

Walking with Bucky.

Walking with Bucky. Hazelnut, Fiona, and visiting King Arthur calmly watch his exit.

Then, without further adieu, I looped the rope through his collar, and led him out, grabbing the bowl of grain on the way. Randy was there waiting. He took the bowl from my hand, and followed a respectful distance behind me, knowing full well I was in an altered state. My friends were waiting at the shed where the event was to happen. We threaded the loose end of Bucky’s rope through the eye bolt screwed low in the outer corner of the shed. Randy dumped the grain on the ground and Bucky happily got down to the business of Second Breakfast. I laid my hand on his knobby head and whispered, “Go with god, buddy.” Then I picked up the gun and snapped the magazine into place, saying each step out loud. “Magazine in. Safety on. Chamber charged. Breathe.” There was a short period of readjusting as I discovered I could not get to his head from where I had planned. Turning 180 degrees to shoot towards the east instead of the west, solved the issue, but resulted in a few more seconds delay while everyone readjusted their own positions of safety.

Time seemed to stand still. I raised the butt to my shoulder and the peep site to my right eye. I flipped the safety off, as if in a dream. His knobby, fuzzy head moved animatedly, but in slow motion, changing my own angle of aim. I thought clinically that I was lucky to be 5′-10″ as a shorter person would not have been able to get the barrel between their shoulder and his head. I exhaled. He moved. I exhaled. He moved. He raised his head and looked around, then put his mouth back to the pile of grain. A muffled shot rang out beyond my ear protection and in fast forward motion he was blasted flat again the snow. It was clean. There was little blood. Some unchewed grain fell from his mouth. His eyes glazed over and his legs began to kick – more than I imagined they would. I knew he was quite dead and it was only the muscle twitch of death, but it was still uncomfortable to witness. His head remained motionless and heavy, as if it were a tremendous weight glued to the ground. I knelt beside him, my canvas covered knee sinking into the slush and mud, and laid my hand on his warm, multicolored side. I murmured, “Let go little boy. Let go little one. Be free my dear.”

Kneeling beside Bucky after the shot.

Kneeling beside Bucky immediately after the shot.

Everything was so crisp and clear, so immediate and now. The impossible crimson color of his blood, blooming on the melting snow, his galloping legs reminding me of my old Pyrenees when he would dream, the unusual humidity in the air, the dead silence in the wake of the shot. His legs became still and I reached for the sharpest of the knives, noticing the intricate details of the smear of mud on my sleeve. It took a few passes to breach the fur, but soon his arteries and windpipe were severed and the blood flowed freely. I removed my ear muffs and the world flooded back in. Then the hands were on my shoulders, gently patting my back as the quiet congratulations found their way to my ears. “You did well MacLaren. You did well.” I heard, but I am not sure who said it. It was then I realized I had no memory of pulling the trigger. None at all.

I stood up, blinked, and stepped back. I noticed Chuck taking care of the gun but did not remember giving it to him. I did not cry. But I did need many deep breaths to return from the world I had just been in. A world of extreme focus and deliberation, a world void of emotion, but not of love, a shadowy world of death. And of life. And I was OK. And Bucky was gone – very gone. All that was left of our buckling was a hunk of meat at my feet and days of work ahead. It was over. Finally, gratefully…

Over.

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