Processing a Steer On-Farm

After a year and a half of dreading it, the time finally came to butcher our steer. Let’s talk about processing our steer on-farm.

Why Process Animals On-Farm?

This year we really didn’t have a choice. Back in May or June I called hoping to get a fall processing date. With the craziness of the world, every processing facility within a two hour radius was booking out until next summer.

There was no way we could afford to feed our steer for the entire winter, so we decided to process him on-farm.

Benefits of On-Farm Processing

I think processing animals on farm is truly the best way to do it. If you only plan to eat the animal yourself or share with friends and family, I highly recommend it.

  • Saves Money. Best Farm Animals breaks down the cost of having a steer processed and it will run you upwards of $500. In our case I trade a quarter of the beef to our on-farm processor and put in my own sweat equity. Basically that means it didn’t cost us a thing except time and beef.
  • No trailering required. We don’t have a stock trailer. If we want to transport an animal bigger than a goat, we need to borrow a friend’s. When you process on-farm there is no need to haul the animal anywhere.
  • Less Travel for you. You’ll be making two round-trip journeys to the processor. For some that might be 2+ hours away.
  • Less Stress for the Animal. This to me might be the biggest incentive to process on farm. No scary trailer ride, no weird place that smells like death, just a peaceful and respectful end.
  • You get your meat. There is always a chance at a processing facility that you won’t be getting your own meat back. Devastating to think about when you spend time and money to raise an animal properly.

Negatives of On-Farm Processing

Even though it is my butchering method of choice, there are some true negatives to butchering on the farm.

  • Time. There were three of us who worked on processing our steer. Total time invested was around 12 hours, which would equal 36 hours if only one person was doing it.
  • Equipment. You will need a whole slew of tools to process your own animal. The butcher block isn’t gonna be enough. More details on this below.
  • Know-How. You’ll need to have a solid idea of what your are doing or have someone help you who does.
  • Waste Parts. Legs, skin, and most importantly the massive rumen, all will need places to go. You’ll need a plan of how to properly dispose of those parts.
  • Space. We were able to do most of our processing in a neighbor’s semi-heated garage. This allowed for light and electricity to plug in some equipment.
  • Moving the meat. The cuts of meat will be heavy. We were able to hang it ourselves using twine and the muscle of three adults. When we hauled it in for processing we loaded it on boards in the back of my pick-up.
  • Emotional Toll. It can be very hard to butcher your own animals.
  • Hanging the Meat. Ideally you want meat to hang for two weeks minimum. You’ll need a clean place with solid rafters.
  • Temperature. If you are hanging the meat outdoors it needs to be fridge temperatures.
making ground beef rough and tumble farmhouse
Friend, neighbor, and fellow farmer, Brittney, ground well over 150 pounds of beef.

Our Dairy Steer

It seems only right to take a minute to talk about the steer. Our dairy steer was born in early June of 2019. As soon as I saw that he was a boy my heart sank. I knew that his fate would eventually be found in our deep freeze.

He lived on our farm until he was just shy of a year. He spent that whole time with his mom and sister and a small flock of sheep.

When the grass came in this spring, we loaded him up and took him to a neighbor’s house about five minutes away. There he lived with another flock of sheep.

He was always on grass and sunshine, well fed and watered, with other animals for company, always well cared for.

His name was Blue.

Equipment for Processing a Steer On-Farm

There are several items you’ll want to have on hand before you get started.

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  • Dispatching Gun. We used a .223
  • Tables. 3 six foot tables would be ideal
  • Processing Knives. Good sharp boning knives are essential
  • Electric Meat Grinder. You certainly could try using an old crank one but if you can borrow or buy one it is well worth it.
  • Cutting Boards. Not essential but nice to have.
  • Freezer Tape
  • Freezer Paper
  • Twine or other rope for hanging the meat.
  • Boxes. Cardboard boxes for temporarily storing the wrapped meat.
processing beef tallow rough and tumble farmhouse
I can’t imagine processing beef without an electric meat grinder.

How We Processed our Steer On-Farm

Dispatching the Steer

I am fine processing animals. I have a very very hard time killing them. Roosters are about the only animal I have killed with my bare hands. That’s hard, too.

Thankfully my friend Andy (small farmer extraordinaire) was willing to take on that task as well as be the lead butcher for processing.

We encouraged Blue into a secluded area of the neighbor’s sheep shed. He had a big pile of hay that he munched on. No stress, no worries. Andy used a rifle and took a single shot. Blue dropped immediately and was gone.

Honestly I tear up even as I write this, sad that he is gone but grateful for his sacrifice. Grateful too that he was able to have a peaceful and respectful end.

Making the first Cuts

The first order of business was to remove the skin from the carcass. We made fairly quick work of this between the three of us. Our neighbor Brittney salted the hide and plans to tan it.

After that, Andy used a Sawzall to cut down the breastbone and open up the rib cage.

We took out all the parts we won’t use (which wasn’t much) and moved them aside. The fat was kept separate in bins to be rendered for lard.

The heart, liver, and tongue were all kept for eating as well. The lungs we threw out for the chickens to eat which they happily did.

The rumen was HUGE. It’s shocking how much of the cow turns out to be rumen.

We pulled that out into an area where Brittney’s chickens hang out and sliced it open. We poured out the semi-fermented hay. The chickens enjoyed that too.

Next, Andy used the Sawzall again to cut the remainder of the carcass into large sections. Hind quarters, ribs, front legs, neck, etc.

Using twine, a ladder, and a lot of arm power, we hoisted these large cuts and hung them from the rafters of Brittney’s sheep shelter.

hanging meat rough and tumble farmhouse
Meat hanging to help the future cuts become more tender.

Ground Beef, Steaks, and Roasts

We let the meat hang for a week. Temps were around 30-40 degrees F. Ideally meat should hang for 30 days, two weeks minimum. This is to allow the proteins in the meat to break down. As the muscle stretches it makes for more tender meat.

Given various life circumstances we went with a week.

Ground Beef

We boned out two of the legs entirely for ground beef. That means we sliced all the meat off in grindable chunks and put them through the meat grinder.

All the ground beef went through the largest holed plate, meaning it is course ground. We then ran it through the same plate again. We packed these up in 1-2 pound packs using wax lined freezer paper.

Any other random little meat scraps not good for steaks or roasts were also used for ground.

packaging ground beef rough and tumble farmhouse
Packaging up ground beef.

Steaks and Roasts

Next, Andy cut around twenty steaks. We didn’t get fancy here. Just enough for my husband to have a few and Brittney to have a few. The rest were all cut into roasts. Of course if we want to these can be cut down into steaks later.

Brisket & Ribs

Andy also cut several sections of brisket and several smaller portions of ribs.

Final Thoughts on Processing a Steer on Farm

On farm processing isn’t for everyone. It takes the right knowledge, tools, and infrastructure to make it work.

If you plan to process animals on farm, I recommend helping someone else do it first before you dive in on your own.

Overall, I am relieved that we have the job finished and grateful that we have a year’s worth of beef in the freezer to feed our family.

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