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  • Writer's pictureKatheryn

Harvesting Mini Zebu: Start to Finish

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Here at Sugar Hill Homestead we try to do as much of our own meat processing as we can, without the need for a butcher. That means when we want some beef we have to go out to the pasture and harvest it, butcher it and preserve it. We don't have a huge tractor to hang the carcus, or a walk-in cooler to let the meat age. We don't have a band saw specifically made to slice through the thick cow bones. We do everything with the barest basic tools and it takes my husband and I a full day to get everything done from start to finish.

As you may know, we raise mini cattle, specifically the mini zebu. This is one of the reasons we can harvest our own beef without the use of special tools and equipment. Even with a small breed of cow, we still recommend a few basic tools that aren't too expensive to make harvest day go a lot smoother. Below is a list of everything we use to get the job done:

That's it, it's a pretty short list and I'm sure you can get the job done with less but we wanted to put in as little back breaking work as possible. I can't imagine doing this without a hoist to hang the carcas for skinning and gutting, but there are plenty of large game hunters out there that do it every season.

In the next few paragraphs I will be describing how to harvest a cow, which may be too graphic for some readers. If you don't want to harvest your own beef (which means shooting a live animal) then I suggest you read no further. I will try to include pictures that aren't too graphic but once again this post may be disturbing to some people. If you still want to raise your own beef without home butchering, look into a local butcher that can do it all for you. We know plenty of people who deliver their cows to a game processor or butcher and a few weeks later get neatly packaged beef in return. That works for them and is a great way to enjoy your home raised beef.

Now that my little disclaimer is out of the way, the first step in home processing is to dispatch your steer, bull, or possibly cow. We do this by calling the cattle in for feed. Once they’re eating happily at their trough, heads down in their feed and properly distracted, we take aim at the bulls head.

The spot you want to aim for is on their skull between the eyes a few inches below the horn ridge. Imagine you draw an "X" from the right horn to the left eye and the left horn to the right eye, the center of the "X" is where you'll be aiming. Do not angle the gun toward the throat, but instead down towards their jaw bone and away from yourself. Once you pull the trigger the bull will fall and begin to spasm. At this point the bull is dead.

After the bull falls we cut the jugular so all the excess blood can drain easily. We drain the blood so it doesn't pool in the muscles resulting in irony tasting beef. Once the jugular is cut we bring the game hoist over and hang the carcas by the hind ankles to finish draining while we begin the skinning process.

mini zebu harvest for beef

Skinning a cow is much like skinning any other animal. Start with the hind legs around where the ankle is. You'll want to cut the skin without cutting into the muscle and tendons beneath. this is where a good skinning knife comes in handy. Work your way all the way down to the neck. Once we reach the head we cut the hide off.

Once the hide is off we cut the head. We don't save any of the meat from the head. We usually find a large ant hill out of the way to place it on to be cleaned and come back for the skull about a week later.

After skinning, it's time to gut the animal to remove all the internal organs. If you've ever done this with deer or rabbits etc. the process will be essentially the same. It's helpfull to place a large bucket, tub or wheel barrel under the carcus to catch the organs.

Using the skinning knife and being careful not to cut the intestines, slice from the anus to the sternum to open the abdominal cavity. Once the cavity is open, the intestines will drop into the bucket. Here we like to open the pelvis using a bone saw and a bit of muscle to reach and cut the anus out.

The kidneys, gallbladder, and diaphragm will be exposed and need to be cut out. First cut the kidneys and gallbladder out, then cut along the rib cage around the diaphragm to remove it.

The lungs are next. This part gets a bit sticky and slimy. Reach down around the lungs, grab the esophagus, pull and lift everything out and into the bucket.

Once the organs are removed, I sort through and cut out what I wish to keep. I keep the, heart, liver, and as much fat as I can pull out. Place in a cooler or run them to the fridge to start cooling.

Splitting and quartering the beef is much easier with two people. So if you've got a second pair of hands, this next step will go much more smoothly and significantly faster.

Choose one side of the spinal column to cut. Using a bone saw begin working your way down the spine through meat and bone until the cow is split in half.

Chris is usually the one that does the sawing while I steady the carcus. We found it too difficult and time consuming to try and saw down the center of the spine in order to save more prime cuts. (Besides, we prefer to prep most the meat later on into ground, fajita, and bulgolgi) saving the time and energy is worth it to us.

After the carcus is split in half, we cut each half into forequarter and hindquarter. Place the quarters into large trash bags and bring them in to cool in the freezer while we work with one quarter at a time.

At this point we rejoice in the coolness of an air conditioned kitchen (we live in Florida and it can get hot even in the winter). If we lived somewhere dependably cold we would stop our processing here and age our beef in a garage or shed that stays just barely above freezing. This process is called "aging" and develops the beef flavor. We don't have frozen winters nor a walk-in cooler to age our beef so we skip right on to the next step and begin processing the beef one quarter at a time.

It's really up to you as to how you break everything down. What we do is take as much meat from the bones as possible. I then determine what portions will be cut into roasts, what will be sliced thin, and what will be ground. The first two times we processed a bull we also portioned out steaks, but they are humorously tiny and not really worth the extra effort. The bones are saved for canning broth and the fat is turned into tallow.

We do highly recommend watching this video by The Bearded Butchers. The video takes you through where to cut each quarter for traditional cuts of beef on a standard sized cow. The process is the same you'll just be working on a smaller scale.

If you decide to give butchering your own cattle a try, let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you! If you found this blog post helpful, subscribe to my site to keep up with everything we do on Sugar Hill Homestead.

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Zach Hall
Zach Hall
Jun 13

Really interested in the size of the steaks. This is the only source I have found on mini zebu meat.

Jun 13
Replying to

To be honest, the steaks are very tiny, and going forward, we don't intend to cut steaks. Instead, we break it all down into ground, fajita, and stew. But, to give you a better idea, I could hold an entire porter house in the palm of my hand (maybe 5-6 inches from the bone to the tip and 3-4 inches at its widest across).

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