Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game

Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Poultry, Rabbit, Venison


By John J. Mettler

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This guide takes the mystery out of butchering, covering everything you need to know to produce your own expert cuts of beef, venison, pork, lamb, poultry, and small game. John J. Mettler Jr. provides easy-to-follow instructions that walk you through every step of the slaughtering and butchering process, as well as plenty of advice on everything from how to dress game in a field to salting, smoking, and curing techniques. You’ll soon be enjoying the satisfyingly superior flavors that come with butchering your own meat. 





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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Basic butchering of livestock and game / John J. Mettler Jr.

   p. cm.

Includes index.

ISBN 0-88266-391-7 (alk. paper)

1. Slaughtering and slaughterhouses. 2. Meat cutting. I. Title.

TS1960.M55    1985      664’.9






1 Tools, Equipment, and Methods

General Guidelines

Aging Meat

2 Beef

The Best Animal for Beef

Getting Ready

Killing and Skinning

Quartering and Butchering

3 Hogs

Getting Ready

Killing and Scraping

Splitting and Butchering

4 Veal

Getting Ready

Killing and Removing the Organs


5 Lamb

Getting Ready

Skinning, and Removing the Organs


6 Venison

Shooting and Dressing

Hanging and Skinning


7 Poultry

Getting Ready

Killing and Plucking Chickens

Cutting Up


Ducks and Geese

Game Birds

8 Rabbits and Small Game

Killing and Skinning Rabbits

Squirrels, Raccoons, and Woodchucks

9 Less Popular Meats

Butchering Goats



10 Meat Inspection

11 Processing and Preserving



Dry Cures and Pickling


Corned Beef and Tongue


Other Preserved Meats

12 Recipes

Short Ribs of Beef

Steak-and-Kidney Pie

Spicy Upside-Down Hamburger Pie

Beef or Venison Burgundy (and Meat Pie)

Sauerbraten (Beef or Venison)

Chinese Sub Gum

Sausage Cheese Casserole

Linda’s Leftover Ham Casserole

Wiener Schnitzel

Geschnetzeltes Zurcherart (Diced Veal Zurich Style)

Geschnetzeltes Kalbfleisch Swiss Hutte


High Valley Lamb Curry

Roast Whole Lamb

Sweet-Sour Kidney Stew

Lamb Ribs with Rose Water

Stuffed Heart (Beef or Venison)

Sweetbreads and Lobster Poulette Sauce

Venison Paté

Venison Stroganoff

Venison Sauté

Sheriff Proper’s Camp Cutlets

Raccoon or Squirrel

Venison Roladen


Monkey on a Stick

Wild Animal Whatever

Sweet-and-Sour Animal

Roast Stuffed Rabbit

Steamed Vegetables and Leftover Rabbit

Mexican Rabbit

Muskrat Chili

Saturday Soup

Best Chicken Barbecue Sauce

German Chicken with Indian Flavor

Wild Goose or Duck

Pheasant (or Partridge) Piccata


Weights and Measures



When I was a boy everyone did their own butchering, either alone, as a family, or with a group of neighbors. I learned from hands-on experience, as my father and mother had learned from their parents. Today everyone is a specialist, butchering is done off the farm, and meat comes into the home wrapped in plastic and ready for the oven. The majority of a whole generation has never learned to butcher. Also today, however, many want to return to the subsistence farms, some even feeling that if we are to survive we must learn to supply more of our food ourselves.

As an army veterinarian in World War II, I was taught meat inspection and butchering techniques so I might teach people in occupied lands (the Pacific Islands—Saipan in particular—in my case) to butcher hogs and cattle. More recently my butchering has been confined to a deer or two every year and an occasional duck or wild turkey. I have friends who butcher regularly, however: one a professional who cuts up meat for neighbors as well as in a local market, and others who butcher and process their own home-raised pork. They have been a tremendous help as technical advisers on this book.

You may want to be entirely self-sufficient on a small farm, or to avoid the high costs of the meat market, or to enjoy the better flavor of home-raised meat—or maybe you just want to butcher an occasional animal because you like being independent and doing things for yourself. In any case, this book is written to help you.

If you have enough do-it-yourself determination and a sufficiently mechanical mind to take things apart (in butchering you only take apart, you don’t have to put back together) you can learn to butcher. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but they won’t be life-threatening, and after a few trial-and-error experiences, you’ll develop techniques of your own that will make you skilled in your own style. I will tell you one way to do things, but to paraphrase an old axiom, there is more than one way to cut up a hog.


Man has been a meat eater since the beginning of time, but he can also survive on nonmeat food such as grain, fruit, and vegetables. Some thinking people might ask, Why eat another animal when humans can survive on nonmeat food?

The answer is simple. Most of this planet grows plants that man cannot eat. Only a small percentage of our land surface can efficiently grow plants that produce the high-quality protein (wheat, nuts) our health requires. Ruminants—cattle, sheep, goats, deer—on the other hand, not only survive on grass and other herbage, they grow and thrive on it. The bacterial action of their rumen (paunch or first stomach) digests grass, leaves, moss, and small twigs into forms of protein and nutrients that the animals can absorb. Thus, the protein in grass and other plants that man cannot digest is turned by ruminants into proteins (milk and meat) that he can eat and digest.

The hog, a nonruminant, can grow and produce protein from farm waste—garbage, spoiled corn, garden refuse, sour milk. The chicken, although not as efficient a converter as the hog, can eat grain (corn) that is not easily digestible by man and produce high-quality protein in its meat and eggs.

chapter 1


A PROFESSIONAL BUTCHER, like a professional carpenter, has many specialized tools that make his work easier and help to make his finished job look better. This book is written for the do-it-yourself butcher who, like the do-it-yourself carpenter, wants to do a good serviceable job at the least cost. Special tools might make the finished product look better in the market and so sell better; but we are interested only in how it looks and tastes on your dinner table.

Some tools are necessary, some are unnecessary but handy to have, and some are optional. For example, for veal or venison you only need one good all-purpose knife, such as a hunting knife, and a light rope, but a meat saw makes things easier. If you don’t have a meat saw, a carpenter’s saw will do.

For beef you need at least a couple of knives, preferably a skinning knife, a butcher knife, and a boning knife. You also should have a meat saw, but the job is made a lot easier with the use of an electric meat saw to split the carcass. For beef you do need some sort of lifting device, such as a block and tackle or come-along; rope, pulley, and tractor; or a singletree. And you need a stunning hammer or gun and, of course, some good help.

Following is a list of equipment that is mentioned in the book. Where items are listed that you may not know by name, pictures or drawings are supplied (figure 1-1). Some items have more than one use, such as a curved skinning knife used to skin beef and to stick hogs. Still, both jobs can be done with something else, which is lucky because in the case of hogs, some of the butchering equipment is no longer made. For example, the double-edged sticking knife and the potash kettle are useful, but you’ll only find them at an auction or antique shop. Many of the items listed, such as a tractor and scoop, are not essential, but if you have them handy, why not make use of them?


Skinning knife

Butcher knife

Boning knife (several styles available)


Bell scraper (for hogs)

Sharpening stone



Hand meat saw

Electric power meat saw (a similar saw made for wood is often used to split the backbone on beef)

Electric band saw


Block and tackle



Gambrel stick


Tractor and pulley

Tractor and scoop

Hog hook or hay hook



Stunning hammer

.22 single-shot rifle

55-gallon drum, potash kettle, or 95-gallon stock tank to hold water to scald hogs

Meat grinder

Sausage stuffer


Garden hose

Crocks for brine for salting (pottery or stoneware, wooden barrels, or heavy plastic garbage cans)

Floating thermometer


Butcher string, freezer paper, and tape

chapter 2


ONE MIGHT SAY that until you have butchered a veal or lamb you shouldn’t tackle a full-grown beef animal. Still, if you can round up at least one good helper and preferably two or three, and if you have the courage to try, you can butcher a beef more easily than any other meat animal, on a pound-for-pound basis. If you have an experienced neighbor, you could be the helper when he butchers and then have him help you. Hands-on learning is the best way.

The Best Animal for Beef

Typically, beef animals (steers and heifers) are finished to market weight on a concentrate diet at age 14 to 18 months. Another option is to grass-finish a beef. Some people believe a heifer 30 to 150 days pregnant will make better beef than either a steer or an open (unbred) heifer.

A cow or bull at least 30 months of age and up to about 5 years old will make good beef if it has been confined to a stall and fattened for 60 to 90 days. Even after that the good quality of beef from certain individuals is amazing. A “short milker” (a cow that dries up too soon), pregnant about 90 days and fat, will make surprisingly good beef. In this hamburger age, some farmers find that butchering an old cow and grinding everything but the most-choice cuts is a good practice. However, don’t grind beef until you’ve sampled a few cuts as roasts or steaks. I’ve seen cows as old as 11 years that made good beef after standing in the barn all winter taking on fat.

Unless they are beef bred, animals under 24 months old are usually half beef, half veal, and can be either tough or lacking flavor, or both. figure 2-1 provides an overview of cattle anatomy.

Getting Ready

Unless you have a place to hang and age it, plan your beef butchering for late fall, late winter, or early spring. A clear day with temperatures in the low 40s is perfect. Confine the animal to a small, clean pen and withhold feed for 24 hours. Allow access to water. It takes days to really starve out a full-grown beef, but 24 hours without hay or grain will reduce some volume and weight when you are removing the viscera of your beef.

Before you start to butcher, get all your tools together and ready in the butchering area, which should be clean and swept free of dust, cobwebs, and hay overhead that could fall while you are butchering and hanging your beef. You will need at least one sharp butchering knife, a skinning knife, and an extra knife for each helper, with a steel and sharpening stone. For cutting up beef you will need at least one boning knife. A hand meat saw or electric power saw is handy, but a carpenter’s saw can be substituted.

A stunning hammer or a gun is needed to kill the animal. Some people consider a .22 too small, but if properly used with long-rifle ammunition it is big enough. For lifting you will need a block and tackle, a come-along, or a rope and pulley and tractor to pull it. A heavy singletree is usually safer to use than a gambrel stick. A heavy 1¼-inch pipe with a ring welded in the center to keep the lift from slipping sideways may also be used for a metal “gambrel stick.” But unless the rear legs are wired or secured in some way, the carcass may slide off the pipe while you are splitting or quartering, which could cause serious personal injury or loss of the meat to spoilage.

You should have pails, soap, paper towels, and, if possible, a water hose with water left running a bit to keep it from freezing if the temperature is below 30°F. Containers for liver, heart, and sweetbreads, and a means of disposing of other insides should be ready ahead of time. String to tie the animal’s anus, or bung, should be handy when you need it. Light ropes, an extra rope halter, and an axe should be available but may not be needed.

Chapter 3


HOG KILLING IS AS MUCH an American tradition as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. In fact, in the South it used to be done on or near Thanksgiving Day, and in some rural areas it is still done at that time.

It is almost impossible for an individual to slaughter a hog or hogs without help. Neighbors and family members have always helped each other at hog-butchering time, making it an almost festive occasion, like a barn raising or a husking bee. As a boy, I recall that hog-killing day was one on which I was allowed to skip school, because the more help there was available, the better the job went.

Getting Ready

Quite a lot of paraphernalia and preparation are required for hog butchering, so once you are set up and have help available it isn’t much more difficult to do several hogs than it is to do one. Even if there is a slaughterhouse in your area that will custom slaughter, the most difficult job is getting the live pigs out of the pen and to the slaughterhouse. If you have help enough to do that, why not kill and stick the pig right in the pen, then drag it out, and scald and scrape it? The rest isn’t any more difficult than butchering a lamb or veal, so why not try?

To butcher hogs you will need a large tank to hold water. Few old cast-iron potash kettles are still available, but a 55-gallon barrel, wooden or metal, can be used, as well as a 95-gallon stock tank. If you are going to do a lot of slaughtering, the latter is preferred and should be set in a concrete block or brick foundation over a firebox.

Next to the water tank, you need a wooden plank platform 4½ feet wide and 6 feet long with the 4½-foot end toward, and at the height of, the top of the tank. A length of rollers scrounged from a nearby mill or junkyard will make it easier to get the dead hog up onto the platform (for setup, see figure 3-4). A block and tackle or come-along to lift the hog up onto a hanging pole is almost a necessity, but if you butcher your hogs at no more than 180 pounds and have lots of willing help you can get along without it.

A little imagination and ingenuity can result in other labor-saving schemes. For example, a door of the hog pen should be small so that when you take the dead hog out of the pen, the others can’t escape. An electric outlet or extension cord is convenient for using a power meat saw, and even simple things like a nail on which to hang the meat saw and a handy water hose to wash things down make the job easier. A rubber apron and hip boots for the people scraping the hog make for more comfortable working conditions.

The only tools you must have are bell scrapers; a curved or double-edged knife for sticking; a meat saw or clean, sharp carpenter’s saw; a small, sharp butcher knife; a hog hook or a two-handed hay hook; and either a singletree or gambrel stick.

The hog to be butchered should be about 220 to 240 pounds live weight. The ideal day for butchering is clear and still, below 40°F but above 20°F. Obviously you won’t always have such a day when you’re ready, but try to aim for one. Some authorities say you should starve pigs out for 24 hours before slaughter but allow them all the water they want. That, too, is easier said than done, since hungry hogs may tear down the pen, and even if you have no affection for hogs you feel sorry for them. To be practical, feed in the early afternoon the day before butchering but, of course, skip the morning feeding. figure 3-1 provides an overview of hog anatomy.

chapter 4


THE BEST veal (see glossary) is that from a calf raised on a nurse cow for about 12 weeks. Under modern farm conditions, this is usually impractical and expensive, yet there are times when it is done. The next-best option is a veal calf that is fed milk only until it is 12 weeks old. For someone who has a family cow that is a practical option, because when the cow is fresh she gives more milk than the family consumes. By the time you have fatted two calves, or started a beef steer or replacement heifer and fatted one calf, the cow’s production has dropped. Never try to milk a cow halfway and let the calf nurse the rest or vice versa. This will result in mastitis, a dry cow, a sick calf, or all three. On a dairy farm one can fat a calf on excess milk such as pipeline rinsings or other unsalable milk. And there are, of course, milk replacers meant just for fattening veal, and if used properly they do produce fine veal.

In no case should you try to make veal out of just any 12-week-old calf raised as you would a dairy calf on hay, grain, and milk or milk replacer, or out of a calf much over 12 weeks of age. These animals are apt to be stringy and tough.

Bob or newborn calves sent to slaughter end up as so-called baby veal, but I have no desire to eat that (although I probably have done so unknowingly in restaurants) and would not recommend that you butcher one. Of course, if you have a calf well fatted on milk at 4 weeks of age and you lose your milk supply, it would be better to butcher it at that time rather than feed it a conventional diet of hay, grain, and regular milk replacer, ending up with a rangy, stringy 12-week-old animal. Calves over 12 weeks old that have been nursing their mothers are sometimes used as veal. In fact, many used to come into slaughterhouses in New York City and were jokingly called “swamp veal” because they usually came from Louisiana or Mississippi. These animals, of Brahmin ancestry, could run across a slippery killing floor like deer across a sodded field. I would guess that that veal took a lot of pounding before it was tender enough for choice Wiener schnitzel. Butchering for your own consumption gives you an opportunity to avoid such poor-quality meat.

Getting Ready

To butcher veal, all you’ll really need is one good sharp knife and some rope. You should have string to tie the bung, and you may need an extra knife, a steel and sharpening stone, and a meat saw or carpenter’s saw. A clean pail and a source of water, preferably from a hose, are also a help, as are soap and paper towels. A clean container in which to put liver, heart, and sweetbreads should be within reach when you need it. For cutting up the meat later, you will find the work easier with a small, narrow-bladed boning knife.

As with most animals, starving a veal calf out for 24 hours before slaughter is recommended; but to be practical, withholding the morning milk feeding on the day of slaughter is all that is usually done.

The most difficult part of butchering veal is killing the animal. After you have fed and cared for a calf for 12 weeks you will find yourself looking for excuses not to butcher it. Therefore, although a veal is easily butchered alone, it’s a good idea to have assistance, so someone else can do the actual killing.

Killing and Removing the Organs


  • "With this book in hand, you should be able to take just about any animal from pen to freezer."
  • "Provides clear, concise, and step-by-step information for people who want to slaughter their own meat."

On Sale
Jan 10, 1986
Page Count
208 pages

John J. Mettler

About the Author

John J. Mettler, Jr., D.V.M., is a retired large-animal veterinarian in upstate New York and has written several books on animals, including Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game and Horse Sense. An avid sportsman, his appreciation of the noble turkey was the inspiration for his most recent book, Wild Turkeys. John has written on a broad range of veterinary topics for various magazines and has written a veterinary column for American Agriculturist for over 20 years. He has professional memberships that include the New York State Veterinary Medical Society (past chairman), the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the Society for Theriogenology, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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