The surest way to guarantee the quality of life and products of your livestock is to raise and butcher them yourself. Butchering animals is not difficult, and with a basic setup, you can be sure that your animals are killed humanely, the meat is handled properly, and the wastes are managed sustainably.
If you keep animals for food, you will have to “harvest” the meat at some point, and having a clean, organized area for this task makes everything less stressful for you and your animals.
Each abattoir is different, depending on the site, butcher, and resources available. We’ve simplified the process to a system based on the 5 gallon bucket. This creates a modular butchery, to which you can add stations easily and cheaply.
Our design is based on butchering rabbits, but can be customized to fit almost any small livestock. Poultry require a slightly different approach, as they need a plucking station instead of a pelt station. We’ve designed this system around one person, but it could easily accommodate two people.
5 x 5 gallon food grade plastic buckets
42″ of 3/8″ smooth rebar
18″ of 2″ angle iron
6 x 2″ wood screws
Small animals to butcher
Tape measure and marker
Sink and water
Knives and sharpeners
Hard surface or anvil
Fill the pelt bucket about halfway with cold water. Once the pelt has been removed, wash it well, then place it in the pelt bucket, and let the pelts soak in the cold water until you are done. When you are done butchering, the pelts can be “tanned” for other projects. Do not let this water get warm, as the fur can “slip”, whereby patches of fur come loose. Putting a cup of vinegar into the water also helps prevent slipping.
This can be very simple, but you need a supply of running water, both for cleaning before and after the butcher session. If you don’t have a hose or water connection nearby, you can use a bucket of water. The most important thing is to clean the processed carcasses really well, making sure they are free of blood, hair, and dirt. Once they are cleaned, wrap them for the freezer ASAP.
It’s best to keep butcher animals away from food for at least 24 hours before butchering. They should always have a supply of clean water, but removing food helps empty the bowels before processing.
Each butcher day will include a setup time of about 30 minutes, cleaning the area, laying out buckets, catching animals, sharpening knives, etc. Before bringing the animals to the butcher area, make sure you have the pelt and carcass buckets filled halfway with cold water. A few ice packs help keep the water cold.
We can butcher about 5 rabbits an hour, from hutch to freezer with this layout. Adjust your butcher stations to reduce steps and improve sanitation.
With your Backyard Butchery in place, you are on the path towards high quality meat right at home!