Monday, January 23, 2012

Butchering Dairy Goats for Meat

 We are entering our fifth year raising dairy goats. Initially we did not intend to ever eat our goats. Our plan was to raise does for milk (make cheese), keep two bucks for breeding and sell all the wethered males as pets, pack or companion animals.  At first we wanted to find good homes for the boys and didn't want to sell them for meat except as a last resort. From where I stand now, the flaw in this plan is that there is a low demand for wethered (neutered) male goats, and lack of people who will actually take good care of a non-producing goat. Our experiences have been that people don't take good care of male goats. Potential buyers come out to visit the herd, they talk about their barn, how they'll buy good hay and feed them grain, etc. On one occasion I got a call mid winter that one of the wethers died overnight. They had no idea why. After further investigation, it looks like they didn't have warm enough shelter, and were underfed, so a combination of death by starvation/freezing. After a couple of negative selling experiences we decided that it would be better to sell the wethers to someone who is going to butcher them responsibly as opposed to selling them to owners who are not going to care for them properly.

In the last five years we have gone from eating a mostly vegetarian diet to eating lots of locally and self raised meat, chickens, ducks, turkey and then game given to us, moose and caribou making up our red meat. So, it only made sense that we take the next logical approach and try our own goat meat. This summer we butchered our first goat for meat. She was a three year old doe who had never had a noticeable heat cycle. She was our first goat that we did not breed the first year and we fed her grain when she was younger. I suspect that she got too fat, and it affected her ability to go into heat. 

I'm not going to give a step by step of how to kill and butcher a goat. And you don't have to keep reading if you don't want to go here. However I will go over the basics. My brother does my dirty work. We separate the goat from the herd, offer them tasties, weeds or grain, then he shoots them in the back of the head with a twenty-two pistol, and slits their throat. The next step is hanging them up, skinning and gutting them, which I help with. Our first doe went from alive to wrapped and packaged into the freezer in about four hours. This fall, we let the wether carcases sit in a cool area overnight before cutting them up. In the future, I think that we will butcher goats according to the outdoor temperature, so that we can age the meat for two to three days or more before cutting and packaging.

Our plan from now on is to keep a handful of wethers. Leave them on their dams for the first ten weeks. Separate them into their own pen and feed them hay and garden trimmings until late October/early November. This next year we are not going to neuter them, as they should grow faster and bigger. We'll just have to experiment and see if the young bucks are more flavorful than the the neutered males. 

I should have written this post while the details of cutting up meat was still fresh in my mind. My brother played around with different ways of cutting the ribs. Usually a bone saw is used to cut the ribs and get goat chops (lamb chops) My brother used a hand saw with a blade for cutting wood. This worked pretty well.

 When it was all said and done we had 65 pounds of bone in meat from two seven month old wethers. I am guessing we got close to the same amount of meat off the three year old doe - maybe fifty pounds of bone in meat. As far as taste goes, we have been surprised and honestly, thrilled at how tasty the meat is (never having eaten goat before).

Some key details to keep in mind when thinking about butchering and eating goat meat, is that the goats are small compared to cows and moose etc. So most of the cuts have bones in them, lots of bone surrounded by a little meat. Most of the cuts are better slow cooked in stews, braised roasts, curries or ground up. All of our slow cooked goat meals start the same way, well salted and peppered goat roast seared in oil, on medium high heat all around. Then add garlic, onions and liquid, chicken stock, beer or wine. My favorite flavorings are a little molasses, fresh rosemary and thyme, dijon, whiskey and chicken broth. Other favorites are BBQ pulled goat meat, and red wine and fresh thyme braise with vegetables. When I'm not in the mood to deal with bones at the dinner table, I follow the same steps, but pull the meat out and after it cools, cut all the meat off the bone and return chunks of meat to the pan and reheat before serving. We have done a couple dry leg roasts in the oven that have turned out good. The key to keeping it tender seems to be to cook it to medium rare. I might even try a salt brine the next time we do a dry roast, to increase juiciness and flavor.

We have eaten some cuts; ribs, tenderloin, backstrap, goat chops, cooked fast and hot on the grill or pan seared and finished in the oven. These cuts, seasoned well and cooked fast, are our favorites and come closest to being steak like in texture and flavor - only we are usually gnawing around a bone at the end.

A note on goatiness/ game taste. The meat usually doesn't taste very goaty to us. The exception to this is when I reheat leftovers and there is an excess of fat. To remedy this, I cut most the excess fat off before cooking, and then after a braised dish cools down, I skim the fat off before reheating. Some of the fat on the better cuts tastes milder and is good enough that I often find myself tasting bits of fat to check if they are goaty or not before discarding. Some of our friends and family appreciate the goaty/ gamey taste. My brother has hunted Dall sheep over the last few years. When I taste the fat on the Dall sheep, it tastes very buck like to me. I don't care for it. I did render down a batch of lard from our first doe who had armloads of fat inside. I have yet to use it. I am planing on making soap with it and trying it in pie crust for meat pies.

Final thoughts. Local goat meat is selling for around five to six dollars a pound at Home Grown Market. When local goat owners sell live goats for meat, I believe the hoof on price is $1.75 a pound. Given that we are working towards a self sufficient lifestyle and that we are meat eaters, it only makes sense that we eat our culled animals. The most difficult part about eating goat, is actually killing the animals. They are intelligent and friendly animals. They can easily become pets and close friends. They are also expensive to feed and house. They are time consuming to care for. The more pets, animals, livestock, goats you have, the less attention each animal gets. As a herd owner, I think that butchering and eating your extra wethers is doable, worthwhile, practical, and while not the easiest decisions to make, it sure is nice to have a stockpile of your own red meat in the freezer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


What do Fairbanksans do in January? We either escape to warmer locations or hunker down and survive. Just about all our close friends and family are or have been in Mexico, Florida or Hawaii this month. January is the month to leave, after the holidays, dark and cold. The best timed winter vacations are when you get back and there is noticeably more light which is why the population of Fairbanks takes a dive in January.

Those of us who remain here toughing out the most dreary days of the year, well we hunker down and survive bouts of cabin fever. We just came off a couple weeks of twenty to forty below zero. The last few days have seen single digits in either direction which have felt balmy. It was a lovely break from the brutal cold, which is back where we are headed. D spent the warm weather wisely, stocking us up on water and wood.

I forget how much work it takes just to survive thi time of year. A significant portion of each day is spent feeding, watering and caring for all the animals. We've got close to a few feet of snow, and the steep narrow trails turn treacherous this time of year; step six inches off the packed down path and end up in a snow drift up to your thigh. The snow is pretty but it makes for so much more work, clearing stairs and paths, knocking and brushing snow off the hay shelters and then there is the quarter mile long driveway. D spends a couple hours a day outside chopping and hauling wood indoors and hauling and pumping water for the house. Survival.

My inner candle is still burning brightly. As much as I would love to transport myself somewhere tropical for an indulgent dose of sunshine, well I've been treating myself by taking it easy. I am usually cooking up elaborate meals this time of year. Instead, I've been spending my free time reading young adult fantasy novels (no laughing please - my husband teases me plenty). In my defense, it has been a lovely escape, and much cheaper than a tropical vacation.

This is the month for dreaming and resting. Next month I'll start planning a little more seriously, placing seed and chick orders etc. I am just getting around to picking up the seed catalogs. Today the kids and I looked through the first catalogs and they showed me what flowers they want to grow this year in their gardens. Their lists are long and are going to entail quite a bit of negotiating. Noah wants to grow watermelon which has been a temptation for me for some time. I'm drawn to the white and apricot fruited varieties. I'm thinking we may have to try one of the shortest cold season varieties, in the greenhouse inside another greenhouse:) My main thoughts are more shelling peas, pumpkins, some different flower varieties and more medicinal herbs.

Considering the fact that the kids have only left the house twice since Christmas, they are surviving these dark days in good spirits. We have been putting together lots of puzzles, playing lots of card and board games, and having daily lesson time where Noah and I work on math or reading and writing. We have a couple simple science projects in the works, he is keeping watch over some beans that are growing and avacados sprouting in water. We've also been having music time weekly where I pull down the instruments and we all play, dance and sing.

The sun is so low on the horizon that we are getting daylight from about ten to three p.m. Our property hasn't seen the sun since I can't remember, late November I think. But I know when it comes back; about February eleventh it will peak over the tops of the south row of spruce and hit the greenhouse and chicken coop for a half hour, and then it is noticeably sunnier from there on. Someday we will face south, and bask in the sun even on the shortest day of the year. For now, our wood stove and Christmas lights bring cheer into our home, and of course, our inner candles are burning brightly still.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A year in pictures

Here is a collection of pictures from this past year. If you've been following along for a while, you've probably already seen most of these. But I thought I'd share some of my favorites again, starting with this goat walk picture from last spring.

Ah, last winter's get away.

I took this picture yesterday. Can you tell my cheeks are cold? It is about twenty-five below zero outside.
Best wishes to you all in the coming year.