Ramble On

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Inside the Butchering Shed

The scalding tub, with the big window above.
This is the first stop for the carcass as it
enters the shed.  Note the heavy duty sawhorses
on the table here.
Looking down the line towards the big table.
Note the overhead railing, where the initial
steps in processing are done.
Call it a shop, a shed, or a shack, but the utilitarian little building we spent most of Friday and Saturday in matches all those definitions. From the outside, nestled in among some outbuildings behind a very recognizable house on the outskirts of Luray, it’s not much – just a 20x30 building simply constructed out of concrete masonry. Inside, it’s another story, as it is practically laid out for the business of processing animals into food.

These are the hooks that are used to suspend the carcass
from the rail - longer ones for the head, shorter for the carcass.
Also note the scale just visible in the upper left, it only had a 30
pound capacity...too small for our pigs!
The photos that accompany today’s post are a few that I took before any of the work had begun, even before most of our company had arrived to join us for the day’s work. Heck, the BS session hadn't even started!

I had a few minutes alone to look over the equipment, and with only the imagination of a greenhorn, to imagine what I was looking back. With the first time behind me now, I’m realizing that I don’t have the photographs to tell the whole thing – but there is plenty for the imagination.

Like so many process oriented buildings, this one is simply, linearly, laid out. The animal comes in at one end and moves down a line, progressively evolving from a carcass to a roast. That’s effectively what got done on the first day of our work as well. So here’s my layman’s version of the process.

At the front of the shed there is a large window with a barn door opening that slides the wooden covering out of the way. Below the window is the scalding tub, a large basin that the animal gets placed inside before anything else. The heat in the tub – the water is kept at 150 degrees – facilitates the removal of the hair.

After a “bath” of a few minutes, the carcass is raised up out of the water to the nearby table, and the team goes to work with some tools to take off as much hair as possible. While there was a bloody aspect to some of the work, this part of the job seemed the dirtiest to me: the pig, warmed from the water and with the hair loosened, needs to be cleaned. Along with all the hair, most of the dirt comes off, and is left behind over in this part of the shed. The cleanup begins immediately after, as this space is put back to use once the carcass is broken down.

Next, at the end of the heavy duty table there (it's supported on saw horses made from steel beams), the head is removed and hung on the steel overhead rail. The removal is a straightforward job that I didn’t do, but I did hang them up after the decapitation. Next, a little cut behind the ankle tendons on the rear legs, and the carcass is ready to hang from the rail, with the aid of more hooks and a winch. With the first one hung in this fashion, we moved back to the truck to do it over, until all four of the animals were hanging from the overhead, bodies next to heads.
Aprons and buckets for convenience.
We didn't use 'em.

In approximately the same area as these aprons and buckets, we began the process of cleaning the carcasses. (I do have photos of this activity, but I have decided not to post them yet…I think some readers will find them disturbing. So I may put them into a slide show that I can post as a video with an advisory note. That will take some time to put together.) I’ll talk about this in more detail in tomorrow’s post.

This is the little table - note the
wooden saw horses - where everything
is boken down into roasts
or smaller parts.
From there, the carcass is moved on down the line to a smaller table at the end of the building. Here is where the roasts are separated out – the hams, the ribs, the loins, and the shoulder. We seemed to be making pretty good time, as this activity was underway by late morning. Later the table was used for breaking some parts down further into sausage meat, and then it was used to prepare some of the parts for use in scrapple.

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