Home Butchering - what you need to know

Mark Doyle District Veterinarian Bega

Whilst commonplace only a generation or two ago, the art of home butchery has quickly faded in recent times of quick, easy and convenient access to meat.

Given that we had received a number of enquiries, we felt it a good time to visit the legalities and practicalities of home butchery.

Laws, standards and regs

Firstly, legally speaking there are lots of laws, standards and regulations for meat production in Australia including:

  • Biosecurity Act 2015
  • Australian Standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption
  • Right to Farm Bill 2019
  • Biosecurity regulation 2017
  • Food Act 2003
  • Food Regulation 2015.
  • And the list goes on

Essentially the gist is that regulation applies to ownership, welfare, production and sale of food. So, it’s fine to home kill so long as you own the animal, you do the best by that animal’s welfare and you are not selling the product.

Even though you are not selling meat, you should still aim to meet all the same standards to ensure you are eating a clean, safe product. So, it is worthwhile looking at some of the standards that registered facilities must comply with. A good place to start is the Food Authority website.

Before you kill the animal, you should also make sure it is adhering to requirements for slaughter as you would do an animal for sale. That is, make sure it is fit and healthy and in good condition for slaughter. Consult your treatment records and make sure the animal hasn’t been treated for any ailments in recent history and adheres to all with-hold periods (WHPs) for any drugs, drenches or treatments it has had.

To see what standards are required of meat establishments in Australia and a great reference for all components of what to do to get a good product from start to finish it is worthwhile referring to the Australian Standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption AS 4696:2007. This can be ordered as a hard copy or downloaded in pdf format.

Butchering options

The main choice you will make is whether you perform the whole process yourself or you hire someone to come onto your property and do it for you. There are a number of licensed home/on-farm butchery services available and if you can’t find one yourself please feel free to call your local LLS office and we can point you in the right direction. The first step is ensuring that the beast is euthanised humanely by carefully following the guidelines.

It is certainly advised to at least have someone with experience in the area help you out to start with until you are more confident. Or, you could start small and get bigger, like starting with chickens or poultry and working your way up through small livestock before you tried doing a whole beast on your own.

There are a plethora of comprehensive texts and field guides to guide you through the process. Too numerous to list here, maybe it’s time to get online shopping. I found it very easy to find books on the subject just by entering home butchery into google. Organisations such as Meat and Livestock Australia and NSW Farmers have plenty of resources to access for advice. There are also some very handy YouTube videos to help you through the process, so if your internet is still holding together with the extra COVID pressure, get watching.

Home butchering gear

Before you start you will want to make sure you have the right materials at home to get the butchering job done. Again, consult your reference texts but a basic start suggested is a 5-inch stiff boning knife, 7-inch stiff boning knife and a 12-inch butcher knife. Start with a stiff knife and then go onto something more flexible as your skills increase. A handsaw will be very useful to cut through bones, and a dedicated table for preparation and work is ideal. Useful tips include using the weight of the cuts to help you break bits as less sawing increases meat life (heat and oxidising agents in bone marrow).

As you get more excited about the situation you could move onto purchasing a bandsaw for further precision cuts, a mincer (which can be sourced from as little as $50) to help utilise offcuts, sausage cannons etc. The list is endless!

You should also invest in safety equipment – scabbards for knives, butchers’ gloves, metal chest plates to prevent self-injury and so on. And, critically you will want to perform the whole process to the utmost hygiene levels so the ability to have a cold room or similar to operate in will be a huge bonus. Don’t underestimate just how much meat you will end up with from the process, so knowing you have enough room in the freezer and enough packaging materials for the product will save embarrassment or wastage on the day.

Remember, lots of food poisoning occurs at point of cooking so don’t ruin all that clean preparation by forgetting the basics at food preparation time and properly cooking your meat. And when it comes to eating the product you should be prepared to eat everything – otherwise be prepared to waste a lot of meat or use it for dog food. It often comes as a surprise for people just how much meat there is and how much of a carcass isn’t T-bones or bacon.

The wrap up

So, is the process not just money saving but rewarding? The short answer is yes, it is! There is no comparison to home grown beef/sheep/pork but, you have to have the stomach for it. Even if you are not ‘going the whole hog’ and performing the butchery yourself keep in mind that it can be a different experience eating the lamb/calf/pig you’ve just raised.

Some people find this part even more rewarding, some find it abhorrent, and it’s probably not something you can make the call on until you’ve been there. When I worked in Scotland, I remember the hardest oldest farmer I’ve ever done work for telling me ‘there isnae torture like sending your ain coos tae slaughter’.

So maybe it’s not worth the hassle and heartache after all?

If you get to and enjoy the process and wanted to expand your operation, the process to follow for getting registered to kill and process your own meat for sale can be found at the Food Authority website.