Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Same Old Grind

Today is Day Three of this fall's deer butchering and my hands are sore.

I put in 5.5 hours Friday, 7.5 hours Saturday, and I'll keep at it today until I'm done—pushing 20 hours all together. We worked up six deer this season, yielding about 350 lbs of ground meat, roasts, ribs, stew meat, sausage, jerky, and soup stock. With the addition of occasional contributions from our poultry flock (chickens and turkeys) this is Sandhill Farm's meat supply for the year. It's one of the jobs I've learned to specialize in over the years, yet I don't do it regularly (or even every year) and I've been using muscles the last couple days that are not typically exercised by virtue of my routine three hours/day at a keyboard. And while I've successfully avoided any major slips with knives or saws (knock on wood), I nonetheless have an impressive array of minor nicks and scrapes on my hands that are souvenirs of my time in the abattoir that is otherwise our food processing kitchen.

Just before dinner yesterday I finished cutting and deboning the last carcass. I got the last of the bones into the stock pots, and all that remains is to complete the sausage making (half done when the dinner bell rang last night), to start drying the jerky (which was marinading overnight) and to grind up about 200 lbs of deer hamburger (which is the way we most prefer it). Monday I'll give the kitchen floor a thorough cleaning and put the equipment away until next year.

While Sandhill doesn't eat a no-meat diet, we do eat a low-meat diet (on average, we serve meat at a meal 1-2 times/week). We live in a climate with terrific deer habitat (the population has been steadily rising the entire 35 years we've lived here) and with topography that supports grass production (that is, most of the land is too sloped to farm in row crops without serious erosion). With modest stocking rates, grazing animals fit well into the ecology of our land and we believe that a diet that includes moderate amounts of grass-fed animal protein is responsibly sustainable.

My main challenge today will be coaxing the homemade meat grinder (a
hand-me-down from Stan's father, Jake, who passed it on to his eldest son when his butchering days in southern Manitoba were over) into working through all four buckets of meat chunks, converting the tougher cuts—plentiful in a deer—into lean hamburger. It'll take all day.

There are many tasks on the farm like this, that take hours to complete and require more perseverance than perspicacity. The trick to it is setting aside the time with grace and embracing it as a meditation, rather than as a burden. I am not butchering deer so much as I'm feeding my family and honoring the deer by using it as fully in the process as possible. The deer graze on our land, we eat the deer, and, ultimately, we will die and our bodies will nourish the land. It's a cycle.

While the gears of this cycle turn slowly, just as the auger in our homemade grinder, it's also inexorable, and I embrace my small part in it and accept responsibility for occasionally having my hand on the crank.

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