Learning to slaughter lambs

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Today we facilitated a learning experience in slaughtering lambs.  These aren’t just any lambs, these are high quality, grass fed, pasture raised, churro sheep.  We had three educators learn the process from a local slaughtering expert, Edward Gonzales.  All of us had slaughtered lambs or goats before, but our experience was based on research and not necessarily experience and definitely not on tradition.  Edward has been slaughtering and butchering lambs, cows, and pigs for most of his life and learned from his brother who learned from their grandfather.  We partnered with Peter Walker of Swashbuckler Media to film the process for later production into an educational video.  We are hoping this video will be ready for the Taos Shorts Film Festival later this year.

It was interesting to compare our past experiences with the expertise the Edward showed us.  He had techniques to slaughter the lamb that seemed brutal but were more humane in the limiting of suffering by cutting the throat followed by breaking the neck of the lamb.  He showed us another technique in cutting the hooves to release the nerves and was otherwise very efficient at the whole process.  He showed us how to remove the skin from the head to make head cheese and gave us some context about how he grew up raising animals and living off the land..

We feel it is important to understand, if not participate in, the process of slaughtering and butchering if a person is a meat-eater.  There is right way to raise animals and provide them as food and a wrong way.  The right way respects the life of the animal and views them as an integral part of the family and landscape and the wrong way is to mindlessly consider meat as a given or as a commodity for “efficient” profit.  The benefits of home-based slaughtering leads to a knowledge system of animal husbandry and anatomy and an opportunity to make use of the entire animal.

Our next step will to be to learn more about the ins-and-out of utilizing the entire animal like actually making head cheese and other cultural delicacies like burinates, or little pieces of lamb meat wrapped in cleaned out intestines of the lamb and baked.  There is also some learning to be had around the processing and use of the sheep hide.  We strive to create and understand the agro-ecological cycles that allow for the raising of animals, the production of crops, and the augmentation of soils in beneficial feedback loops.

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About Miguel

Miguel Santistevan is a researcher, educator, and advocate for traditional agriculture crops and systems.
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2 Responses to Learning to slaughter lambs

  1. Hello Miguel. We harvested our buckling goat last weekend, and it was only the second time we have done this. I am working on the hide now. Would love to chat with you more about this… perhaps at school? I found a way to use alum powder as a tanning solution and plan to try this. Right now I am trying to find the best scraping knife as the salted hide dries on the side of the shed….

    • Miguel says:

      I have found the best way for me to process a hide is to stretch it across a frame that is made of aspen poles, but that is lashed together instead of screwed or nailed. The edges of the hide are best poked with a sharpened bone implement so string can be threaded through the hide and stretched across the frame. Other people I know drape the hide over a viga, or shaved tree trunk pole, and scrape it down. Scraper tools can be bought or made, the coolest one I saw was made from the metal of an old scythe… If you want the leather soft, then you can use the brain of the animal to work into the hide. The neatest method I heard about was to remove a bunch of rocks from a river bed, install the hide on the river bottom, and cover it again with rocks. A few months later the hide can be removed and it is soft leather. I share this not so that you dig up a river bed, but in thinking of the science and biology behind the tanning process. I believe tanning, like all agricultural activities, is an art form that requires many hours of creativity in action to come up with the best way that works for you…

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