Killing and Butchering a Cow

If you eat red meat, you can take one more step toward independence by learning the process of killing and butchering a cow yourself.

  • 059-butchering-a-cow-02.jpg
    Suspend the carcass to finish skinning the animal and to remove the viscera.
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-05.jpg
    Here is what you hope the finished outcome will resemble of killing and butchering a cow yourself.
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-01.jpg
    Slit the hide down the belly.
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-03.jpg
    Separate the heart and liver from the other organs and cool 'em in a bucket of water.
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-04.jpg
    A chain saw makes short work of cutting your beef in half. Go straight down the backbone from tail to neck.

  • 059-butchering-a-cow-02.jpg
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-05.jpg
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-01.jpg
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-03.jpg
  • 059-butchering-a-cow-04.jpg

A lot of homesteading folks who have made the smart move of raising their own beef steer turn right around when "harvesting time" comes and send that ready-for-slaughtering animal off to a professional butcher. The truth is, however, that there's no need to pay someone. Although the job does entail a good bit of labor and no little mess—just like most any move to greater self-sufficiency—killing and butchering a cow is a task you and a single helper can accomplish yourselves in a few hours.

Here's How

Start by choosing a nice late fall day (Here in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, we do our butchering—"before the flies arise"—on a November morning. If you plan to cool the carcass yourself, though, you might prefer starting the job in the early evening.) Gather your equipment—you'll need some knives, saws, a hoist, a support, and a spreader—and round up a helper. Then confine your steer and shoot it.

Take your time with the killing and do it as cleanly as possible. Fill a 12-gauge shotgun with high brass No. 4 or 5 shot, stand about 10 feet from the steer, and imagine two lines drawn from the base of each ear to the opposite eye. Then carefully aim for the spot where the lines cross and fire. The shot will make a silver dollar-sized hole in the animal's skull, and the beast will immediately drop to the ground.

At that point you (or your assistant) should keeping your back to the body and watching for thrashing hooves—set one foot against the animal's forelegs and force its head back as far as possible with your other foot. Then, using a sharp knife, cut along the bottom of the neck for about 10 to 15 inches—the breastbone forward—and make the incision deep enough to expose the wind-pipe without piercing it. Next, insert the knife to one side of the windpipe (with the back of the blade against the breastbone) and press the point—toward the spine—to a depth of four inches or so to cut the carotid arteries and jugular veins.

After the carcass has bled as much as it will, drag it to a clean area to be skinned. (For obvious health reasons, cleanliness is essential during this entire operation.) Prop the animal on its back, then start your skinning cuts by slicing the hide around each foot and making a long slit down the inside of each leg. Complete these incisions with one long center cut—down the middle of the body—from the beef's anus to its throat. Then use your knife to slice through any membranes and peel the skin back off the body. Let gravity help with as much of the work as possible.

This is also the time—while you've got the carcass on its back—to cut through the brisket. Use a hacksaw or handsaw, and avoid slicing into the internal organs. The same tool can then be employed to remove all four feet just above the ankles.

2/10/2015 6:43:59 AM

I think after shooting, hanging to bleed out would be preferred to me, to remove as much blood as possible. The idea of the animal lying on the floor with whatever blood glugs out, and the rest settling in the animal, skeaves me.

11/26/2013 8:51:38 AM

I need to comment on this for everyone's safety reading this. I'm absolutely mortified that NOTHING was said about removing the spinal cord and brains. I've also taken many meat science classes in college and I previously worked as an inspector. It needs to be specified that if the animal is 30 months or older the brains and spinal cord need to be completely removed and disposed of either by burying, burning, or landfilling. That way if the animal is a carrier of BSE then no one will ever eat the neurological agents that can pass on BSE. Also regarding the post below, he is correct you cannot legally sell meat that was not butchered in an inspected establishment. And to answer your question Cam, in order to let your steer hang for 21 days you need to keep it in a cooler that keeps a constant temperature of approx 39F-35F. This is to keep microbial activity low. I would also recommend a 3:1 water to vinegar mix to be sprayed on the carcass to help reduce microbial populations on the exposed parts of the carcass. The carcass does not need to be doused with the water/vinegar mix but a light spray will suffice. Lastly always keep your knife clean if you have cut into the hide and are about to cut into the interior of the carcass SANITIZE your knife first! Use either 180F water or warm/hot water plus some water/bleach mix to sanitize your knife. You don't want to make your family sick because you did not follow proper food safety handling procedures.

1/4/2008 9:17:14 PM

-Regarding the part where you sell the side of beef at market price.......Where does one sell such a product? I thought if you sold it you had to have inspected? Obviously if I need to sell off half, it would be best if I knew a place to sell it. -Now about hanging. What facility do i use? I remember when my Dad did Deer as a kid (dad passed on), they had a closet type thing in a garage, with a container at the base, for the blood. But they only hung it for a couple of days, unrefridgerated, butchering it in Late November. Since I'm in Canada, and it's January, I'm mostly concerned about the carcass freezing. My situation is different, as I operate a small cattle ranch, though I've never butchered a steer. What type of facility do I need to hang a steer for the 21 days. I have a steer with severally injured foot, and normally the steer would have been sold through the auction, but nobody will buy it now. I would like to grain feed it for part of the Winter, it's been on hay since it came off pasture a month ago.



Feb 19-20, 2022
Belton, Texas

Join us for a much anticipated return to the Lone Star State! Earlybird ticket discounts are now available online.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters