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Meat. Many of us eat it. Most of those who eat it, adore it. Most of those who adore it probably prefer to have their meat neatly packaged and disembodied. Though I live in an area with great farms and buy most of my meats locally either at the farms themselves or more commonly at the Farmers' Market, I have never previously bought a live animal for the express purpose of sacrificing that specific one for the sustenance of myself, my family and our guests. Rob Connolly (aka gfron1) described his experiences with goats and bison here.. Today, I had and took the opportunity to do just that.

One of my professional colleagues has a farm that he runs with his family. They raise goats, sheep, chickens, guinea fowl and horses and sell all but the horses for meat as well as using the animals and their products for their own needs. Because the farm is a small one and not geared for a large commercial operation, most of their customers have come to them via word-of-mouth. While I was there, a Bulgarian family drove up from Queens to purchase a lamb like I did. They had previously purchased a newborn lamb at Easter and have now come back for more. They sell the animals live and then as a courtesy dispatch the animal and butcher it on the spot, a courtesy that I availed myself of.

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This was the group of lambs from whence mine was culled. I believe that it is hypocritical to eat meat and not acknowledge how the meat was obtained. In addition, I prefer to know that the animal was raised well and slaughtered in as humane a fashion as possible. There is no better way, as unpleasant as it may be, to ascertain that, than to visit the farm and witness the animal's sacrifice directly. The following photos are indeed graphic. They pull no punches in witnessing the death of this young animal that was bred and raised for this purpose. I cannot say that the experience was one that I enjoyed, though I came away with a greater respect for the animals and the farmers who raise them as well as those who slaughter them humanely and efficiently. These animals are raised in a situation as well as any animal could wish. I hope to demonstrate by these photos the respectful, humane and efficient process of preparing my lamb for the table and the sustenance of my family.

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The lamb standing in the back of the pen was the one I had purchased. She was a bit jittery as two of her siblings had already met their fates earlier in the morning. At this point, I was feeling sad for the lamb, but I fortified my resolve knowing the benefits it would provide for me and my family and that this was indeed the very part of the process I was there to be part of. It is a strange feeling to have such a direct contact with one's food.

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The lamb, approximately two months old, weighed 35 pounds. We agreed on a price of $3/pound for the animal. Because, it was sold live to me, I could then butcher it for my personal use and consumption. With the help of another farmer, who is teaching my colleague to slaughter and butcher his animals, the process continued.

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The animal was quickly taken from the sling scale and hung by her rear legs upside-down.

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Without wasting any time, the farmer slit the lamb's throat, allowing it to bleed out very quickly while denying oxygenated blood to the brain. The lamb was dead within seconds. I was shocked at how quickly and efficiently this process happened.

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This next step was entirely unexpected by me. The farmer slight the skin around one of the lamb's rear ankles and placed an air compressor tube subcutaneously through the slit, pumping air into the space, thus separating the pelt from the body.

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He began the process of skinning the animal at one of the forelegs. He worked quickly and methodically using a very sharp knife.

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He returned to the hind legs, while also separating the tail from the rest of the carcass.

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The remainder of the pelt was removed easily.

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With the severing of the head, the animal was completely skinned. Unfortunately, the process for tanning the hide is not a straightforward one, with facilities for doing so scarce in the area.

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The skinned carcass.

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The next step was to slit the belly to remove the internal organs. These, including the thymus were set aside and saved. I will use the sweetbreads, liver and kidneys.

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The carcass was completely slit down the front through the sternum.

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A small chainsaw was used to split the carcass down the vertebrae.

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The carcass was split into halves.

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The halves were further cut into smaller pieces. Since the lamb was young and fairly small, I kept the pieces larger, with each rack kept whole as well as the legs.

I packed the meat into a cooler to bring home. Some of it I plan on eating this weekend. The rest will be frozen. While this is not the most pleasant process to witness, it is reality and a significant part of life, not generally experienced by many in our culture. I am happy that it was done quickly and efficiently. I hope that we can do the lamb justice when we prepare it for our consumption.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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A "wow" of humility, respect and life. Yours is a step that I didn't have the opportunity to share in. Both the goat and bison processors were afraid to have their work documented - both citing the recent California cow incident.

I've seen your pics, and I have no need to see it first-hand. I was honored enough to meet my goats and then share them as food with friends. I have never looked at mystery meat (styrofoam tray meat) the same since, nor have I shied away from eating meat. Its a valuable journey for anyone to take, and I feel at some guttural level, that it is a step that will become increasingly important for our society in the future.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

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doc-thank you for sharing this experience with us. Your piece is written with care and respect while still admitting us to the reality of where our food comes from and how it is slaughtered for our consumption. I'll look forward to hearing and seeing your story continue through to the end with a delicious lamb dish served to your family. Regards.

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This was a fantastic posting, thank you.  Aside from the offal you took home, I was just curious why you left the tongue and brain behind.

I am happy to eat offal, but am not particularly experienced in preparing it. In addition, the brain, in particular is not something the rest of my family would likely eat. To be honest, I didn't even think of the tongue.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks very much for this, docsconz. I really believe that we meat-eaters have to accept this part of the process, though we don't have to witness it every time we eat meat! I hope to one day have a similar experience myself.

I'm always amazed, when looking at photos like these, how quickly my brain switches over from processing things as "animal" to "meat."

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Just the other night I was thinking that if I all of a sudden had to live off the land, and I managed to catch an animal, I'd have no clue what to do with it to turn it in to usable meat. Thanks for bringing me one step closer.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My son just asked me if it was difficult to watch. Once the deed was done, no. The hardest part was seeing the lamb, alive one minute then not the next. After that, I was able to detach myself and view the butchering clinically. I felt some interesting emotions. I'm glad I did it. Interestingly, my friend's family has become quite inured to the process. His wife, a former vegetarian, said that eating meat is a lot easier for her knowing how it was raised.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Superb. A shame you didn't take tripe and testicles, though! eventually i think one finds the connection between live animal and meat very appetising rather than unpleasant. And that's an amazing price.

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Superb. A shame you didn't take tripe and testicles, though! eventually i think one finds the connection between live animal and meat very appetising rather than unpleasant. And that's an amazing price.

The lamb was a female. I actually have a number of the organs. I will have to go through them to see what I actually have. What I specifically wanted were the sweetbreads, though I have never prepared them myself. I also got them from one of the other lambs that was slaughtered today. Unfortunately, they are only enough for a taste.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks for the great post. As one who deals every day with lots of vegetarians, and as a former vegetarian myself, I always want to talk about this process. I try to only eat animals that, as Joel Salatin relates in the Omnivore's Dilemma, "only have one bad day in their life." I too believe that if you are going to eat animals you have a responsibility to see that they are raised responsibly, slaughtered humanely, and as little as possible is wasted.

But, seriously, go get that tongue. It's terrific. Pickled or cured.

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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Thank you for sharing this Docsconz. I read it soon after you posted before there were any replies and had to think a while. I agree that it is those 30 seconds from here and gone that are most emotional. I recall when my dad was asked by the Italian handy-guy who had been helping him with his bees, to slaughter a calf he had been raising in a lovely pasture at one of the people he worked for. Us kids had seen the calf as the bridle trail was adjacent to the pasture. We would stop by and talk to him as our horses nosed over to check out this foreign creature (cattle were not common in the area). My dad had not dealt with a live cow/bull/steer since he was in Europe in the 50's but felt like he needed to help the guy- to do it correctly. I so appreciate you and gfron sharing these experiences. Hope you will report on the cooking end of things.

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Did the lamb twitch about?

When I was little I spent a couple of weeks every summer on my grandmother’s farm. I was in the barnyard one day when uncle came out of the henhouse with a chicken. He told me we were having it for dinner, and he then chopped its head off with an ax. The cut was clean, but the chicken’s body, well, it ran around a bit, like a chicken with its head cut off. I don’t remember my reaction but I am sure I did react, because I remember the farm side of my family laughing at me.

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Thank you for the thoughtful responses for what is an emotional situation when one doesn't deal with it everyday.

Nibor, the lamb did twitch a bit while it took its last, agonal respirations through its severed trachea. Fortunately, this was brief, in fact briefer than I would have expected. It was, I imagine, about as stress-free for the animal as i imagine it could be.

Unfortunately, it is too late for me to get the tongue, but should I do this again, I will be sure to keep that as well as a few other choice items.

As for preparing the meat, I believe that I will prepare some of it this weekend, probably Monday for Memorial Day. I will probably cook one of the legs simply in a CVAP to a temp of about 130F, then apply salt, pepper and a little olive oil before finishing it on a charcoal grill.

A friend was telling me earlier about a calf they had that was destined for their family table. To remind themselves of its ultimate fate, they named it "Schnitzel." That must be another whole level of emotional involvement, when one slaughters an animal that one has raised for oneself.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I appreciate you posting this. It brings back memories. My Uncle raised sheep for wool, I remember seeing the harvested lambs hanging in the trees before being broken down to cook and also store. Nothing went to waste.

Thank you.

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I believe that it is hypocritical to eat meat and not acknowledge how the meat was obtained.

Great post, John. I think your words above sum it up for me and I'll bet for many of the readers here.

My wife grew up on a similar looking sheep farm and although it was before I met her I have heard the stories and seen the photos. There is something very gracious about living on a family farm, the people I know who have grown up this way tend to be practical and lacking pretense. The next best thing would be to visit one to buy at least some of your groceries there, as you have just done.

edit: that "small chainsaw" looks like a DeWalt reciprocating saw

Edited by Peter the eater (log)

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Interesting about the live animal workaround, I wonder if many small operations avoid big processing plants in this manner? With the ever diminishing number of small/artisanal meat processors, I can see the sort of experience you've just had becoming more common among urban folk wishing to obtain product from small or hobby-type operations.

A few questions:

Are you planning to age the lamb before consumption?

Did you keep the heart?

Why is your meat swimming in a bucket of water?

Thanks for sharing your experience.

edit: I forgot to thank you for your wonderful pictures as well, they really capture the moment.

Edited by Mallet (log)

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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Interesting about the live animal workaround, I wonder if many small operations avoid big processing plants in this manner? With the ever diminishing number of small/artisanal meat processors, I can see the sort of experience you've just had becoming more common among urban folk wishing to obtain product from small or hobby-type operations.

A few questions:

Are you planning to age the lamb before consumption?

Did you keep the heart?

Why is your meat swimming in a bucket of water?

Thanks for sharing your experience.

edit: I forgot to thank you for your wonderful pictures as well, they really capture the moment.

That is certainly a reasonable alternative for the very small farmer. It probably doesn't work so well for even medium sized operations since it is fairly labor and time intensive.

I will eat some of it fresh and freeze the rest. I did in fact just prepare a few choice items upon which I will report shortly as I upload the photos.

I did keep the heart and will probably grill it later tonight.

The meat was put in a vat of fresh, cold water to rinse it and cool it off. It was placed in the water as it was butchered.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This is the offal that I retained.

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From top left clockwise, the diaphragm, which includes hangar and skirt steaks, liver. thoracic contents including heart, lungs and trachea, thymus (sweetbreads) and kidneys.

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This is the thymus of our animal. We also received the thymus from someone else's lamb who didn't want it.

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The heart with the pericardial membrane removed. It is sitting on top of the lungs.

At the International Chefs Congress a couple of years ago, Fergus Henderson, Tony Bourdain and Chris Cosentino held a panel on using offal. They talked of using every part of the animal, but the one part I remember as being particularly difficult to use was the lungs. Unless I get a really good idea from here or elsewhere for using the lungs and the trachea, they will, unfortunately, probably go to waste.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sweetbreads

If it wasn't for this bit of wisdom from Jon Tseng back in 2005, I would have gone through the whole rigamarole of soaking and compressing, etc, the sweetbreads I had from the lamb. As that post states, that was not necessary.

This was a young lamb with correspondingly small organs including the thymus. For an old, but interesting discussion specific to lamb sweetbreads see here.

I took the four pieces of thymus that I had, salt and peppered them, dredged them through cake flour and quickly sauteed them in some duck fat that I still had sitting in a pan from this morning's eggs. They did not need to have any membranes removed.

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They were done quickly.

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I added a squeeze of key lime juice to them and though I was tempted to horde them for myself, I shared them with my wife and son. To put it simply, I'm not sure that I've ever eaten anything more delicious.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Diaphragm

The sweetbreads piqued my appetite so I continued with a simple and quick approach trimming the membrane from around the muscle tissue of the diaphragm. This left two distinct cuts of meat - the hangar(onglet) and the skirt. Dissecting them from the liver, heart and lungs as I did gave me a new understanding of their anatomical relationship and origin.

I did the hangar first. After I salt and peppered it, I cooked it quickly in a cast iron pan with some butter.

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I shared this with my son. Once again, I squeezed on a little key lime juice. The flavor was sensational. My experience with hangar steak from veal or beef is that while tasty, it can be fairly tough and chewy. Not so for this. The small size of this cut literally afforded just a taste, but what a taste!

The skirt steak was long and narrow. I cut it in two and cooked it exactly as I had done for the hangar.

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Once again, this provided an extraordinary taste that was a clear example of great product making for a great meal. I am in the process of cooking one of the legs for tonight's dinner.

Edited by docsconz (log)

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I'm enjoying the bounty and look forward to the leg photos!

No mention of the pancreas, was it too small? Around here it's sold along with the thymus as sweetbreads. Although anatomically very different, I can't tell them apart unless I'm the one cooking them.

As far as the lungs go . . . I got nothing.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I'm enjoying the bounty and look forward to the leg photos!

No mention of the pancreas, was it too small? Around here it's sold along with the thymus as sweetbreads. Although anatomically very different, I can't tell them apart unless I'm the one cooking them.

As far as the lungs go . . . I got nothing.

Thanks, Peter. Unfortunately, the pancreas was removed with the stomach and the intestines and I didn't think to look for it. The leg is cooking right now. I hope I do it justice.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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How about a terrine that uses the heart, kidneys, liver and lungs? It's basically a chop of the briefly boiled organs with a lot of parsley, dill and scallions, binded by egg and ideally wrapped in caul - but puff or pie pastry will do.

The human mouth is called a pie hole. The human being is called a couch potato... They drive the food, they wear the food... That keeps the food hot, that keeps the food cold. That is the altar where they worship the food, that's what they eat when they've eaten too much food, that gets rid of the guilt triggered by eating more food. Food, food, food... Over the Hedge
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