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How to Slaughter and Butcher a Sheep
Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: Month of the Blessed Sacrament, 22nd Day, Year of Our Lord 2023
Mosey’s sister Posey inside a pig sty while it is being built, pictured with Gracie behind her and Petunia off in the woods

I reject the idea that there is a particular vocation for us by God in order for us to earn our meat and bread, provide for a family, have a family, and fulfill all our duties. A particular vocation refers entirely to God’s calling upon a person’s soul that they devote themselves entirely to Him by engagement here upon Earth to be fulfilled with union in Heaven. But for us who have not meritted such, He does not care greatly how we make money.

Despite this, there are certain things which anyone can surmise by logic from God’s nature, especially by His perfect charity. That is, He calls us all to perfection, namely, to the achievement of Heaven, to magnanimity, to the utmost use of every moment and resource in order to fulfill our salvation. That means that He puts all things in front of us and in our reach, from the weather to our mood, in order for us to make use of them for the salvation of our souls. And this is not a mystifying or abstract thing, but a very simple thing. Today, it is raining, and so I write. Easter has passed, and so I eat. If I am to write, I must write well. If I am to eat, I must eat with temperance, practicing the sense of the line where eating is merely pleasure, and denying myself there, while having humility, and no longer being able to boast of many penances, fastings, watchings. If I must write, I must do so whether or not my mind has ascended with the mysteries of the Rosary, and if all I can think of is the various tasks I have performed this last week, then certainly there is still something holy in that, because humility is a more secure virtue than magnanimity.

“Oh, how the seasons change from contemplative to active and back again. At the one time, God is all of the vision, as an immense subject, and every faculty is engaged in probing whatever sensible facet is most readily at hand. All duties are but distractions, every venture is vain to the touch, and the will is engaged in sanctifying all labors in holy thoughts far disengaged from the dust of the world.

“But the days lengthen, and the light increases as at the Rorate Mass, and the mind emerges from its venturous meditations to declare itself proud and request God to assist it in lowering to the Earth, to do what is set before it, what had been set before it long ago, which the Almighty requires. Fasts increase until they expire at Easter, and suddenly, even violently, the world encompasses us again.”

Last week I had four sheep, and we had been watching them for signs of successful breeding, expecting lambs near the end of Lent, but none of them were successfully bred. I resolved on a novena to St Drugo, patron of shepherds, and the day after his feast day, I resolved to slaughter. I invited a number of people and a single friend came, likely the godfather of my next child, God willing.

Her name was Mosey, and we set her aside in the carport two days before the slaughter, because Drugo’s feast day was on a Lord’s day. I cut her food off twenty-four hours before, and her water about twelve hours before. There was some chaos with the other sheep because they broke through the fencing, especially Mosey’s lamb, and comforted her in her affliction. I could hardly get them in the barn on the day of slaughter, and it sparked my temper, which I regret.

There was some other wrestling with sheep the day prior, because a parishioner was having trouble with theirs, a ewe having lost both her lambs. I came to help milk her and built a headclamp, and we attempted to milk for about an hour after Mass, praying the joyful mysteries, but we got very little out of her. It turned out to be another problem which the veterinarian helped with later, but mostly it served to exhaust me before the harder day of slaughter.

My friend arrived a bit late at 5:00pm or so, and I had just gotten the sheep in the barn. We shot her with a .22 rifle at 5:30 or so. The purpose of that is to stun them, and you shoot between the eyes, but Mosey was so gentle she dropped right away and must have died instantly. Maybe it was because I used a rifle instead of a handgun, but I do not have a handgun. The last one I did during the affliction of my dear Father Riehl who died last year, was a ram, and we used a handgun, and he did not die like that.

We put her on a sawbuck and cut the throat in order to drain the blood, but because her heart must have stopped, we didn’t get much out. Then we hung her from the gambril. That was quite a shuffle, and it always is, because they are heavy, and I do not have a great set up. My wife came out to help us, and we eventually got her hung maybe about a foot lower than would have been ideal.

Then we gutted. That is the most worrisome part, because you can make mistakes, and you have a completely intact animal, whereas once the cutting progresses a little, it becomes more like various parts. Also, I had only done the ram, and one ewe prior to that which was very chaotic because she died suddenly, and that was a year or so before. Of course, my experience with the ram was very different because now I had completely different sexual organs and a fully developed utter in my way. But that being the most gruesome part, suffice it to say we did finally get her gutted.

Then we skinned. That is a fairly tedious process if you are trying to save the hide. It is a lot of careful scraping and cutting to remove the connective tissue from between the skin and the meat. Afterwards, to preserve the hide, you nail it to a large enough board. I use a pallet a little too small, topped with plywood. The next day you take a knife or a scraper, and scrape all the fat off the hide. That is a slow, hard, greasy job. I have a bucket full of the mixture of lard, meat, and underskin, and this I hope to render to soap, while the hide is sitting with salt in my cattle trailer. You cover it in salt when you have finished scraping. I find ice cream salt is the most economic. Then every day you change the salt until it is dry. I trimmed it with a hoof-trimmer two days ago to get the edge off, which retains a lot of fat, and I suspect it is fully dry now. She was shedding. Her hide is more like goatskin, so I look forward to experimenting with different leatherworks.

After the guts are out and the hide is off, you then commence the best part of the process, which is the actual butchery. The gutting and skinning parts are so exhausting that sometimes it makes you cut corners at the butchery, which is good to look out for. I think it is the best reason to have another person with you. It keeps you accountable.

It is smart to start with the best cut, which is the backstrap. This is the meat that they include with the ribs for a lamb chop or a pork chop or a T-bone steak. In a small operation, it is smart not to do too much sawing, so I do like the deer-hunters do, and take a cutlery knife. From a little below the tail you start feeling the big chunk of meat next to the back bone, and you get the blade in right close to the bone as much as possible, and then tease it off best you can to retain all the meat. You follow it all the way down to the neck and then back up. It is really something that you need to feel out. But it ends with a nice big strip of meat that you get good steaks out of.

After that, you go from lower to upper, which since the animal is hanging upside-down, means you start on the shoulder. A sawzall with a metal cutting blade is good to keep bone-shards down. You cut the hoofs off of the shoulder where ever the hide stops, and then you cut the shoulder off of the torso around the shoulder blade. Those shoulders are great big chunks of roast.

Next, you saw straight down the ribs where they join the back bone and get two nice big full racks of ribs, which are easy to divide with a knife into half-racks, depending on the size of the freezer. Then you saw off the backbone into as many sections as you want. Those are roasts for the crock pot. Finally, you take the hooves off the legs, which will swing your gambril around a lot, another good reason to have a second person with you. I believe the hooves can be burnt down on an open fire, and then boiled into a thick stew of collagen, which I know they do with cow hooves. It is an Armenian recipe. All the meat needs to age in a refrigerator or on a countertop for at least a day. We sold all the meat this time, which was satisfying. The heart can be cleaned and eaten the same day, as can the liver, which needs no cleaning. The kidneys should be soaked in salt-water for a day, and the saltwater should be changed at about twelve hours. I lost them during the slaughter, but when I dumped out the bucket by the dog’s house, I sorted through all the fat and found great big chunks, and in there was the kidney. The fat preserves them just fine. I cut open the head to take out the brain to use for tanning, and then threw it to my dog, but she hasn’t touched it. I give most of the scraps to the dog to save on feed. The gut sack I threw to the chickens, because even if they do not pick at it, when it rots and pops with maggots, they’ll like that.

So all in all, with the possible exception of the head, I have used every part of the animal. I am very happy about that.

Forgive me that this is not in keeping with my other articles. I really am not sure what to write this month. I did not write much at all for the end of Lent and am only now getting back into intellectual labors. It is interesting when you have your arms deep in blood, grease, and manure for a week, how all the writing seems pretentious afterwards.

May the Lord reward you.

Simplicity and the love of God behooves me to tell you, now that I have finished writing this and had some time to pray, reflect, and meditate on St Joseph the Workman, whose blessed feast day’s novena begins today, that this is a product of the change of the seasons. We enter into a new season of labor and planting. And it is like the Day of Ashes, where we remember our dust. In fact, it seems like the calendar and the devotional life are arranged to remind you of all necessary things even when they seem opposed. For instance, the Glorious Mysteries are the most abstract and ascended of all mysteries, and that now is the season.

God willing, I will follow this up with a simpler explanation from my wife related to her embroidery and sewing.

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