Life, as a small-holder, is obviously seasonal. Tasks come around with an inevitable regularity and we have busy and quiet spells. We seem to live between peaks and troughs; periods when things are going well and life seems good, and times when everything seems to be wrong. The latter is usually related to problems with the animals and their health. It is rarely due to anything else.
Sometimes it is just busy and it is difficult to squeeze everything into the available daylight. Haymaking, especially by hand, is one such task -we are bound by the weather and the sunlight and I don’t recall ever working as hard (physically or mentally) as when we try to get the hay into the barn before the rains come and we lose it. Another such period started today with the dispatching of our lambs and our billy goat (He had done his allotted task as we think our nannies are now both pregnant, though we don’t have the certainty or luxury of scanning).
Each year we meet this busy week, where the fruits of the labours of the past year have to be gathered in. The tasks have to be done in a set order and within a set timescale and there is little room for error or we risk spoiling our harvest. The work starts the day before we dispatch the lambs. We need to create a holding pen and bring them in for the night. This allows us to dry their fleeces so they will be easier to work with and ensures they fast overnight which makes the following mornings job much easier.
I used to fear this part of the life, and even considered vegetarianism, but now I am quite happy with the process we have. The lambs never leave our farm, they move into the barn on their last night and this is not a strange place for them and they have experience of being fed and sheltered there. In the morning they move into the holding pen and are brought in, one by one, for slaughter. Thankfully, they seem blissfully unaware of what is about to happen and they have only a few seconds of worry before it is all over. Had they lived, they would have had more distress during the year when I would have to go through the same process to shear them, give them their antibiotics or trim their hooves, so I am certain they have had a good life and a reasonable good death (Probably a better death that I will experience I am sorry to say).
The morning that we dispatch them we start early and work quickly to minimise the time this all takes. But this is only the start of a very busy day. As we are trying to be self-sufficient, and out of respect to the animals, we do not want to waste any part of the animal if it can be avoided some things that would be considered waste in a commercial abattoir are important to us. Even the blood that occurs at death we collect; after this has clotted, this can be made into blood meal and blood curds which helps feed our vegetable garden and our dogs. But all the while the clock is ticking and time is against us.
The carcasses we have to hang for a few days. Therefore after dressing the carcass we have relatively little to do to it for the next two days. It is the offal that needs our attention. However, before we even start the work on the offal we need to protect the skins. Once the skins have dried we cover these with salt. This is the start of a four day preserving process for the hides. Later we will tan the hides and hopefully turn these into throws and rugs. But for now we must salt inspect the hides daily.
Salting the hides is a pretty ‘hands on’ job as you need to work the salt into all areas of the skin. However, at this stage the hide is not that unpleasant to work with. The same can not be said fo the next task. We need to separate out the various forms of offal, the liver, the tripes, the hearts, and the lungs. Parting the offal into its component parts, and discarding the gallbladders (we have not found a use for bile yet) is not a task for the squeamish or delicate but it needs to be done to keep the tripes away from the other components. The tripes we will wash and prepare tomorrow as there would not be enough time today
The next part of the offal to work with is easy – the hearts. These are just washed then vacuum sealed in bags and put in the freezer. We find that the dogs are very partial to heart meat but we too enjoy it. However, we find that they need to be cooked very well – even though these are very young animals – slow braised stuffed hearts is a good recipe to try with this meat.
Next we deal with the lungs. We cut these and the windpipes into very small pieces and then dehydrate them. This produces a treat for the dogs which can be vacuum packed and which lasts for ages. We were still using some a year after we make the batch. The dogs go wild for these treats which are nearly all protein with very little fat at all. All our friends’ dogs, who visit the house, know where we keep these treats and also vote them a great favourite.
Lastly, for today, we prepare the liver. This means little more than removing any membranes, washing and packing. However, it also gives rise to the best part of the day and also one of the highlights of the year. Fresh liver, lightly fried on the day it was collected, is one of the best meals you can imagine. While I think our lamb, chicken and duck all taste fine I know that I have tasted equally as good meat from the butcher or supermarket. However, fresh liver like this is way superior to any liver we might buy and at the end of a busy day, and the start of a busy fortnight, an ample reward for all the work.
P.S. This was the first time I had tasted goat’s liver. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very like lamb’s liver though, if anything, a little milder in taste.