A day in the life – harvest day edition
Far and away, the biggest request I had when saying my ‘see you laters’ on instagram, was that I dive a little deeper into how the nitty gritty stuff works. While I’m not up for instructional stuff, I’m happy to share how we do things and what a harvest day might look like for us on our small farm in the backwoods of my kinda’ heaven. It should be that given that this was a harvest day, the images will be of an animal harvest. No likey, no lookey.
We started the day at 5:00. A good pot of coffee, a little reading, some sleepy conversation followed by some planning and organizing of the day. Coffee is presently on the table, always half decaf, always organically grown (coffee chemicals are so wretched) and brewed with dried, wild mushrooms, some dollops of raw cream, and often, some organic MCT oil. Our coffee game comes and goes, changes, loses some ingredients, gains some adaptogens or something, but this morning, there was coffee. Two, in fact.
After coffee, as is always the case, we made our first electrolyte waters of the day. Each jar holds 2 litres. We drink 2-3 a day. I don’t know how people that sweat or move live without drinking added electrolytes. Drinking a shit-ton of water all day just dilutes your mojo more, people! We use 1 tsp of good salt (yes, there’s bad salt, go look it up under my salt posts), 1/2 tsp potassium chloride, 200 mg magnesium, and some various adaptogenic herbs. Today it was eleuthero which is the bomb for a clear mind and clean energy.
After coffee, I headed out to clean the coolbot hanging/aging cooler we built. I use cleaning vinegar, just a higher acetic acid % over regular vinegar, for most anything that needs some sort of disinfecting juice. The walls are all metal clad and easy to clean.
While I was working on cleaning the walk in cooler, hubs was getting the necessary chains and other harvesting tools in order. I did morning chores, including feeding and watering cattle, two different chicken houses, checking on broody hens, walking out to the duck pond to let out the ducks and geese for the day, feeding the dogs and barn cats, and feeding and watering piggies.
I spent a couple of hours the night before sharpening our harvest knives which are quite different from our butchering knives (that’s probably obvious).
By this time, my anxiousness is starting to build. Same goes with my husband. This year we were harvesting Henry. He’s four years old now, a fine steer of the Jersey clan. He’s a very big boy, and, as it turns out a very, big, golden boy (as you will soon see). A life long lived, well lived, and properly lived as any animal life should be – in his herd, treated with reverence, handled with care, and forever held in our hearts with gratitude.
As these things often go, here’s what happened next. Henry stepped out of his herd, walked to the gate on the fence line and stood looking at me. While we had anticipated having to separate him and lead him to a separate field, he, instead, had separated himself. All I had to do was walk up to the gate, open it and he followed us to a different field where we let him feast on his beloved alfalfa under the same blue sky that blanketed him throughout his life. And in an instant, he was gone.
Immediately after we shoot, we must “stick” the animal. People do this in different ways. Some slit the arteries in the neck, we do the aortal arteries, right above the heart. We then lay our hands on our animal and speak to it, praying gratitude and peace as its spirit leaves its body. It’s always a very intimate, beautiful, painful moment for us, but it’s also mystical and spiritual and deeply connecting. Mostly, it’s a profound honour that brings me clarity and wonder at the abundance of this beautiful world our Creator has given us.
Our prayers for each animal are specific to them because I have come to know them. I don’t know where they go, but there is a tangible moment after which the departing life force is gone and what is before us has become sustenance and nourishment, the meat that will feed us. The being that was has left.
After the animal is indeed dead, the work begins. It’s skinning, gutting, retrieving organs, tongue, cheeks, and other usable pieces from the head, going through the guts to take out tripe and fermented grasses for winter feeding of poultry/dogs/cats, some for us, then splitting the carcass and, finally, hanging it to age for a minimum of three weeks. With a proper fat cover, you can go longer, but to be frank, we don’t see the point of it in our set up. We already harvest mature animals with a good, fatty finish so while we love aged meat and the subsequent tendering the aging process offers, going past the three week mark does little more than create more fat/meat we have to trim off when butchering. We watch the meat and may go a few days longer, but our experiment to go 6-8 weeks wasn’t worth it for us. Maybe keeping a primal in there for that long, but otherwise, nah.
All of the following pictures should be viewed with shock and awe at the beauty of a mature animal, properly finished, that lived his life on grass. No filter, just nature’s magic. He took my breath away. A golden boy if ever there was.
At this point, it’s around noon and I have to run inside and get us breakfast and our second rounds of water/electrolytes. So I run in, put together some food as quick as I can and get a beef roast, some bone broth, and some fresh herbs into a dutch oven to braise for supper while we work. I bring our food outside, leftovers mostly with some smoked oysters, and some beautiful, smoky lardo wrapped around some summer sausage. We sat down on the woodpile, laughed at the antics of two barn kitties getting high on wild catnip, and marvelled at the meat Henry had given us.
After splitting, we washed down the carcass with water and then let it dry out in the sun for a few minutes. No better antibacterial. From there, we quartered the carcass and brought it into our meat cooler to hang. I headed back out to the gut pile and got to work cutting and filling bags (as mentioned earlier). Stinky, messy job, but I never regret it come winter when I am hero to the turkeys/chickens/ducks/geese that get to feast on it. Whatever wasn’t taken by me, gets put into the bucket of the tractor and delivered to the piggies who lose their minds in glee.
At the end of the day, when the meat is hanging, the unusable bits are being feasted on by the domesticated and wild critters of our land, and we are sore but satisfied, we head inside, peel off our filthy clothes and enjoy a shower the way only good, exhausting work allows one to enjoy a shower. Afterwards, as is the custom here, we delight in a slow pleasure. Because pleasure is only truly delicious when it comes from earning it.
When our muscles are exhausted, our skin tingling from too much sun and wind, and our spirits high from working together to do what we need to do to feed our family for another year (well, yes, there’s still much to do, but we must celebrate all the steps on the path, not just the finale, yes?) – that is when a simple delight feels like a monumental luxury. All clean and sweet, we made ourselves an iced decaf organic coffee and mushroom latte with great dollops of raw cream. We sat in our porch, the one wrapped in an ancient apple tree, and we enjoyed the stillness together. A good book, nature’s song, a diligent hummingbird feasting on the hollyhocks, and us, a part of it all. Riches beyond our wildest imaginings.