Into the Butcher Shop


WARNING: This post includes photos of hanging meat, and meat being cut up inside a butcher shop. (NOT slaughter photos, I promise.)

If this post is not for you, please click away now.


Thank you.

The chosen one, on the left:
Monday morning, I got home with four sheep in the back of my Explorer, unloaded them successfully into the barn yard, took a shower to clean myself up, and called the butcher. I should have called the butcher before I unloaded all four and cleaned up.

“We’re doing sheep today,” the man said. “Can you have it here before seven?”

“I’ll have it there in an hour!” I said, and went right back outside to re-load the chosen one. Which wasn’t easy. But luckily Ross was here.

I arrived at the butcher shop and felt slightly confused as the place looked deserted. I’d never been to this butcher before. Previously, I’d used a butcher in Milton, but hadn’t been that happy with them the last time, so was trying a butcher in Ripley. (For those of you who are around here…. The butcher shop in Ripley I went to was Wolfe’s.) I finally found a man in one of the buildings and told him I was the one who called a little while earlier about bringing a sheep.

“Sheep?” he said.

“Yes, sheep.”

“I thought you said beef.”

“Not beef, sheep.”

“We’re doing beef today.”

“I have a sheep in the back of my Explorer!”

He must have felt sorry for me because I had a sheep in the back of my Explorer because he said he’d go ahead and take it. If you’ve never taken an animal to a butcher before, this is the worst part coming up here. You have to unload the animal–and you know when you see it again, it’s going to be packaged up in parts. The first time I took an animal to the butcher, it was quite difficult. I could hardly stand looking in their eyes. It does get easier, that’s all I can say. I didn’t know this sheep very well, having only spent a few hours with it before taking it to the butcher, which was a good thing.

I backed my Explorer up to the ramp leading to a door that opened to an area with holding pens. Since I’d failed to put a rope or halter on the sheep, I had to get him out the hard way. I didn’t want to climb into the back of the Explorer because I’d just transported four sheep in it and hadn’t cleaned it up yet. I reached in, grabbed the sheep by both ears, and started a tug of war that had the sheep halfway pulling me into the Explorer against my will. While the man just stood there.

Eventually, he said, “You want some help?”


With his help, I finally got the sheep outta there, pulled headlong through the door. A pat on the rump had him moving inside and the man directed him into a pen. Then, maybe because he already thought I was a nut job, he surprised me by asking me if I wanted to come watch the butchering. Really? Watch them cut it up?

I said, “Yes! I want to!” And I have no idea why I said that. But I did!
Thursday, I was back in Ripley watching a team of people do the job in about 15 minutes flat. They were finishing packing up a cow when I arrived. When they saw me, they said they’d do my sheep next and brought him out hanging.
A sheep is butchered pretty much like a deer, for those of you to whom that means something.
There were at least half a dozen people working on the process.
One made the major cuts to get the sheep worked up while others took what was to be ground, another was slicing chops, others dividing roasts and then there were packers.
It was interesting to see what quick work they made of the meat, and I really liked standing right there observing the process and directing the cuts and the packing.
(What size roasts. How thick to make the chops. How many chops per package. Etc.) I’ve never had a butcher shop give me the option of being there when the butchering was done, and I would definitely do it again for that control over the outcome.
FYI, I paid a total of $53 to have this done, which is pretty cheap. As they were finishing up, I brought in my cooler with ice and the packages were loaded in.
They carried the cooler back to my Explorer for me. On the downside, I was warned when I brought the sheep that they do not dispose of the “waste” on sheep. The head and hide were bagged up in a trash bag and loaded into the back of my Explorer. I KNOW.

Don’t ask what I did with these remains. I know how to git-r-done.

I did think that was weird.

Somebody’s going to ask how much meat I came away with from this sheep. I don’t know. I didn’t ask them what the hanging weight was, or even know if they weighed it. The sheep was originally probably around 80 pounds, so something less than that, of course. The way I had it cut, I ended up with around six roasts (including leg of lamb cuts), maybe around 6 pounds of ground, about 10 thick chops, a rack of country ribs, and some meaty stew bones. (I’m going on memory from when I unloaded the cooler, and may be leaving something out.)

Raising livestock for food is a self-sustainable and traditional farming practice. In the past, it’s something farmers didn’t think about twice. Today, many of us in farming didn’t grow up on farms and it can be one of the more difficult aspects of caring for livestock. I understand that for some people, it’s a bridge too far. They’d rather raise and sell the offspring than use them for their own meat. I didn’t actually raise this sheep myself, but one of the main reasons I’m acquiring more sheep is so I can raise my own meat.

I wasn’t sure when I started farming if it was something I could do, but I have butchered animals that were born and raised on my own farm now, and it’s something I have come to feel good about doing. I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat. A farm means I have the opportunity to raise my own. An animal raised on a family farm has a good life—-and one bad day, which is more than one can say for animals in most factory or mass agri-operations where meat from the grocery store originates.

Livestock on family farms live natural lives on green grass in the fresh air with petting and, around here, cookies. This isn’t anonymous meat wrapped in plastic on a foam tray. Having raised my own meat, I have found myself feeling differently about how I cook and how I eat. Eliminating waste by portioning carefully becomes more important. To scrape meat off a plate to the dog bowl or in the trash seems almost criminal. I have a respect for my food that I didn’t have before. Animals I raise to butcher sustain my family with their bodies, and I feel an obligation to honor that in the meals I prepare and how I treat those meals. We’re often so nonchalant as a society about tossing leftovers. When we grow our own food, and raise our own meat, it changes how our minds work.
I look into the eyes of meat I put on my plate. It’s a connection to my food, and a responsibility to it, that to me feels right and honest and real.

All the way to the butcher shop.


  1. Mandys says:

    I think it would be really good to know exactly where your meat comes from, I love meat but I also love animals and the meat industry in general is horrible to them. I want to be able to eat something and know that it had a great life and a quick death – hopefully without time to realize what was happening.

    I admit I don’t know how I would go with it, I felt guilty when I bought feeder fish for my axolotl today, but I’d like to have a go of it one day. I think it’s important to know where your food is coming from and I wish I could live on a farm and be self sufficient

  2. ramseybergstrom says:

    Thanks for sharing, I think it’s important to know where your food is coming from. Since I’m not lucky enough to have my own farm, I have a great butcher and he can tell me what farm this cow or that sheep came from. I have to drive 30 minutes to get to him, but it’s worth it! I am afraid being a butcher is a becoming a lost art. Get out and support your local butcher!

  3. dawdawsmom says:

    Remind me to never make you made…since you know how to “dispose” of bodies! $53 is a bargain, taking into account of how many hands were used for the process. That is about the price you would pay for organic lamb chops at the grocery store! Enjoy your bounty…

  4. GA_in_GA says:

    Beautifully written.

  5. Diane says:

    That was cool. That was great of them to let you watch the process.

    Kind of yuck you had to bring home the waste that would kind of gross me out. Glad you did not take photos of that. lol.

  6. lesliedgray says:

    VERY well said!! That is how I feel.. I don’t have livestock to butcher yet (except my laying hens .. which are still laying) but will be raising quail for that purpose in the near future and when I find a spot of land bigger than our city back yard, I am planning on raising a few meat animals for my own table. I notice that I am more careful about the vegetables and fruit that I raise myself, too… I don’t just throw things away….

  7. lattelady says:

    Very well written. No gross-out factor. I have butchered a few deer and it is good to see meat in the freezer you hunted, aged, and packaged yourself. Ditto for calves. Never have done sheep or pigs, but have seen it done.
    This meat I would eat with no problems. Good for you.

  8. lifeisgood/ Melinda says:

    My dad was 93 when he passed away two years ago and for most of my life he was a butcher. This post made me think about him and how much pride he took in his job and making sure everyone’s meat was fresh and cut just right. It was a far cry from the meat shops you see these days.
    If we really saw how our meat was processed for commercial purposes I doubt many of us would eat meat! It does make you less wasteful when you raise that animal and either butcher it yourself or have it butchered. Great post!

  9. Luv2Quilt says:

    What a wonderfully written post (not that ALL your posts aren’t wonderfully written) but it gives some insight into the process of butchering and the true meaning of sustainable farming. Thank you for addressing this hard topic. After having gone back through the archives I am loving how much you’ve grown into this “farming thing”. You should be very proud of the journey.


  10. beforethedawn says:

    I loved that they let you stay. As a non-farmer, I’m okay watching the meat being cut up. The hard part is the killing, blood, and heads. My daughter and I are wannabe farmers.(She’s 8). After reading some of Joel Salatin’s books, we started watching some videos from farmers. So far we have watched how chickens, cows, a hog, rabbits, and a squirrel even, come to the dinner table. One of my favorite Joel quotes is “how far removed we are from our food.” (not verbatim.) It does not magically appear in the grocery! I hope real farming does not become a “lost art” to factory (inhumane) made meat.

    I am jealous of that meat you got! Wish I could come out for workshops!

  11. Leck Kill Farm says:

    Great post! I am very curious to know why the butcher doesn’t “do” sheep waste. PLEASE find out. What wouldn’t the person/business that takes beef parts away also take sheep? Surely there is some value in the skin, even if they have someone that would take it away for free.

    Butchering is interesting. I have seen more deer, rabbit and squirrels butchered than I can remember. We get our beef by the half from a friend and I work closely with the butcher when he processes it. I have learned a lot over the years from him.

  12. Falmein says:

    Love this. My mom wants to get a few pigs, but isn’t sure if she can send one that she raised to the butcher. I will show her this post.

    When I was a child, I came to the conclusion that throwing out food- meat especially- is “criminal”. Something lived a horrid life and died to feed you, don’t make that life a waste. I would love to one day raise our own meat, if nothing more to know that it lived a good life, and that my money isn’t going to support any of the inhumane treatments that commercial animals receive.

    Thank you!


  13. lgoforth says:

    I was about 12 when I told my parents I was going to get some pigs and sheep and raise our own meat, something no other living person in my family had ever done. And I did (and a market animal for the fair too). I liked knowing that I gave those animals a good life and that they were comfortable and well fed and they were treated as humanely as possible when slaughtered. I’m not currently in a situation where I can have a few livestock around, but when I can again, I will.

    I think this is great.

  14. BramblewoodAcres says:

    You are absolutely right about having a completely different view of meat when you raise it yourself. We raise all of our own meat (or hunt it) and meals are more carefully planned and we actually eat LESS meat now than when we bought it. Not because we don’t have the quantity (our freezer is full!), but because of the different point of view we have about our food.

    Please tell me you didn’t throw out the skin! Tanning isn’t hard and sheepskins make wonderful rugs or throws!

  15. Old Geezer says:

    Is it not part of American Indian practice to give thanks to the spirit of the slain animal for its sacrifice? Same impulses at work here I’d say. There is a beauty to the thought.

  16. milesawayfarm says:

    LOVE this. Good for you. I’m on SE Washington State, and we have a mobile slaughter truck that will come to your farm. They kill the animal on site, skin and gut it, take it all away to the butcher shop, then age it and cut it for you. They then call you in about a week, when its ready. Would LOVE to be on site while they cut it up. I have no idea what they do with the guts/hides, but I did have them save me the fat from a goat to render into tallow to put into soap. EVERYONE should make this connection with the meat they eat at least once.

  17. Journey11 says:

    My brother-in-law used to work at Wolfe’s. We had a beef done there the year before. Their prices are the lowest I’ve found around here and they do a great job. They are so fast! I like to watch (at any butcher) the meat being cut up, because then I am assured none of it was dropped on the floor and I got all that was mine.

  18. Cowgirl Jules says:

    Tallow places (where the butcher shops around here dispose of the waste) won’t take sheep heads or spines either. I think it’s a prion disease. I killed my own sheep, and kept the hides to be tanned, and then sent the carcasses to the butcher shop to be cut and wrapped. We can do that too if we bone them out, but I wanted chops with bones, and for the money, it’s worth it just to save my back.

    For pigs, I pay a mobile butcher to come out, as I can’t hang them and it’s even worse on my back to do them on the ground. So I pay him and then he takes them to the same butcher shop. A little more expensive that way, but it works well for us.

  19. Cheryl LeMay says:

    Suzanne,you should save the hide next time for tanning. You just have to salt it heavily with a non-iodized salt for a few days before sending it in. I’ve done that with deer hides. I’d also let them know you want the hide so there may be less blood on it. It would make a great coat or rug.You’ll have to let us know how this breeds’ meat tastes in comparison to other lamb you’ve had.

  20. bonita says:

    Thanks to Wolfe’s for letting you watch. And thanks for watching and taking pix. I’m sure raising your own meat makes you more conscious of the animal as a gift. However, I agree with Falmein also: we need to be responsible with the meat we have whether we raise it ourselves or it is raised in a factory-type setting.

  21. UlrikeDG says:

    Wow! $53 seems great for a sheep. We paid $100 for a deer this year that didn’t look much larger. It wasn’t weighed for us, either, so my husband stood on a scale while holding the box just to get a rough estimate.

  22. Ramona Slocum says:

    We have had sheep butchered. One was a pet and the kids wouldn’t eat it. I feel the animals raised on the farm taste so much better than the meat bought in the grocery stores. :sheep:
    My son and family cooked leg of lamb for Easter. It was sooooo good.

  23. outbackfarm says:

    Great post, Suzanne. And you’re right. The hardest part is taking the animal to the slaughterhouse. I hate doing that. But I know they have had a good life.

    I do think more about how I eat too. And where all my leftovers and scraps go. To the pigs! I have found someone who will come to the farm and kill the pigs here, then take them to his slaughterhouse. I will gladly pay the price for someone to do that with pigs. But sheep I can haul in the back of my Trooper. And we talk all the way there. And I cry when I leave them. And I appreciate their lives and what they meant to me and my family.

  24. BuckeyeGirl says:

    That really is an extremely thoughtful article Suzanne! It’s great that you still have small butchers around you, our best one has gone out of business, the family drifted away from the business, so now it’s much more difficult to get meat processed. It looks like Wolfe’s is a gem and the fact that there are other local options too is even better!

    This is the difference between animals raised for meat on a smaller farm that lets animals out to pasture to live in a herd as opposed to a cramped, filthy, concrete feedlot or tiny pens where they live in their own waste without room to turn around etc. Without wanting to be at all flippant about it, there’s a quote going around again, (it’s actually an old one that farmers have used for years) that they give their animals a darn good life, with one bad day right at the end.

    I have had friends who are varying levels of vegetarians who decry that saying, but I don’t find it contradictory at all. I look for grass fed, locally raised and processed meats as much as possible. Yes, it’s more expensive because the factory feedlots are able to ‘speed-feed’ and process meat so quickly and so reduce the cost. That is why, even though I can’t raise it myself, at the very least the cost makes me more careful with my choices. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I do still shop sales to some extent at the grocery store. All we can do is keep doing our best though, even if it’s one step at a time.

  25. Remudamom says:

    We pick out two steers and fatten them before we take them in for months. We always pick two, because then when the day comes we don’t have to load up just one. They stay so much calmer when they have a friend with them. It makes it just a little easier on them.

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