Meat Processing

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Meat cleaver on old scratched wooden cutting Board. Dark background. Top view. Copy space.

October Week 3 Lesson 1 Meat Processing


Language Arts


  • Have your child tell you about their favorite meat to eat.
  • If you feel your child is ready, tell them how that meat would have been processed in pioneer times. 

Grade School/High School 

  • If your family is processing meat, label the packages.
  • Write instructions for processing one or two kinds of animals.
  • Pretend you are teaching someone who has never done it before. 



  • If you are processing animals, or know someone who is, let your child see the internal organs and feel them.
  • If you don’t process your own meat, use a store chicken and examine the organ bag that is included with the chicken. 
  • Teach them what each organ does. 

Grade School/High School 

  • If your family is processing animals, help with it.
  • Pay attention to the internal organs and see how they fit together.
  • Research the different body systems of animals you process or might process.  



  • Introduce simple percentages like 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%.
  • Use a picture of an animal to represent 100%, then divide the animal into four parts (with lines – it will not be exact percentages).
  • Look at a thermometer and show your child the temperatures that meat should be kept at.

 Grade School/High School 

  • Figure the dressing percentage on different animals.
  • Calculate the amount of meat you could yield from various animals.
  • Find a general live weight for the animals you choose, then calculate the meat yield.
  • Use this site Printable ho help you>>> The Butcher Stole My Meat
  • Do you think the pioneers would have worried about the live weight and the hanging weight of the animals they processed?
  • Why or why not? Discuss this as a family.

Meat Processing

Does your family raise meat animals or hunt? Do you process the animals yourselves, or take them to a processor? The pioneers, for the most part, processed their meat themselves. 

What kind of animals do you think the pioneers were skilled in processing?

Some animals that might have been around the homestead were

  • cows
  • chickens
  • pigs
  • sheep 
  • goats
  • turkeys
  • ducks

Depending on where they lived, they probably hunted

  • deer
  • elk
  • moose
  • bear
  • squirrel
  • rabbit
  • birds

Printable >>>>Deer Hunting Coloring Page

If the pioneers lived near a river, creek, or lake, they would surely process fish of all sorts. They would not have done all of these all the time – it would depend on what they raised and what they hunted successfully. 


Keeping Meat at the Right Temperature

Fresh meat goes bad quickly when the temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is why most of the meat processing happened in the fall. If the temperatures were between 33 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the animal would hang for 12 hours to a week to give natural enzymes a chance to break down muscle fibers. If it wasn’t cold enough outside, the pioneers would need to cure it or smoke it right away. 

This is a very general overview of processing an animal like the pioneers did. The details depend on what kind of animal was being processed. Once the animal was killed and bled, it was hung up and the innards were removed.

Depending on the animal, the skin might be removed. Then the meat was taken off in cuts and smoked or cured. Wild game was field dressed as soon as it was killed. Field dressing includes opening the body cavity and removing the entrails, heart, and lungs. The body cavity would not be washed because it would speed up spoiling. Wild game would be taken home as quickly as possible and hung, cured, or smoked. 

Organ Meats

While processing an animal, there wasn’t much wasted. The pioneers would eat the brain, heart, tongue, liver, and even intestines would be cut up and put into something.

The fat was rendered (another lesson this week) and used for cooking, making candles, or for making soap (both candle and soap making are covered in future lessons). The meat was cut according to how the family would use it. The pioneers might have referenced Miss. Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book written in 1846 to determine the cuts of meat they wanted.

Miss Beecher’s Domestic Recipe Book  is available free here. 

Fall Butchering

Fall butchering was an all day process and if possible, neighbors helping neighbors. A chilly day would be chosen – possibly sometime in November.

A large kettle (40-50 gallon) full of water was hung outside over a fire to scald the carcasses. They had a second kettle for preparing lard. They slaughtered the animals early in the morning so the meat could be ready for curing by evening.

Meat was pickled, dried, smoked, or salted. Pork got put in barrels of brine, and the hams, sides, and shoulders were cured in the smokehouse.

Printable>>>>> Meat Butcher Cuts

Meat from hogs might be processed into sausage, bacon, or head cheese. The feet might be pickled. Beef might be dried or smoked. There was a very short amount of time to get the meat processed so that it would keep all winter. 

If the pioneers did not raise many animals, or they could not get much game while hunting, they did not have much meat for the winter. Depending on where the pioneers lived, they might be able to find some game during the cold winter days, but they could not rely on that. 

Butcher Vs Home Processed

If your family has meat processed at a butcher, here are some differences from pioneer times.

  • The animal would have been weighed live first.
  • Then the butcher will determine the hanging weight.
  • The hanging weight is taken after the animal has its internal organs removed.
  • With these two weights, the dressing percentage can be determined.
  • The dressing percentage tells the weight of the meat and bones compared to the live weight. 
  • Dressing percentage helps determine price.
  • Knowing the hanging weight and the typical percentage of meat returned from that type of animal will help you estimate how much meat you can expect from your animal

Weekly Bible Verse

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. 

When we have conversations, we should use life-building words. If our conversation is seasoned with salt, it will build others up. Our words should show thankfulness and kindness, not judgement. We need to give grace to others, especially our family!


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