Killing a Goat at the Lewis Farm

A lot of you probably know that every year we close the restaurant on July 4th, and a bunch of us go to Bird Park to cook out, watch the fireworks and hang out with our friends and neighbors in North Park. (If you’re nearby on Saturday, please stop by and say hi.)

Naturally, one of the most fun things about planning the cookout is deciding what to cook. Because we’re eating the food ourselves instead of selling it, it’s one of the only times we get to explore things in real depth and not be subject to USDA regulations and so forth.

This year, in planning the meal, we found ourselves in very good fortune. Our friend Albert Lewis, who operates the only grass-based livestock farm I know of in Southern California, had a couple delinquent goats that he needed to cull from his herd: Cooler Kings who kept escaping the moveable electric pen which controls grazing on the pasture. And our colleague Martín had, as a child, learned from his father the traditional art of butchering and dressing a goat.

So yesterday we went to Albert’s farm in Wynola and got ourselves educated in how a live goat is crafted into goat meat. It was, unsuprisingly, awesome, in the literal sense of the word.

We took a lot of pictures so we could share it with you, but I wish I could better capture the fluidity and naturalness of the dance between the carver and the goat. Stills don’t do it justice, but that’s what we have.

So, as best as I can relate, here’s how to kill and dress a goat on the farm. If you’ll look closely, you’ll notice that I’ve interleaved pictures from the butchering of two goats, so that I can articulate the process sequentially.

Here’s the goats, in their moveable pen on natural pasture.

The Lewises raise their goats with love, and so the goats are comfortable interacting with people.

The kill itself was swift, almost casual. Martín was walking the goat and put a knife in its back, and then bled it from the neck.

We saved the blood to make, along with the stomach and some of the tripe, a salumi-like item called pancita.

After 3 hooves are removed, the head is skinned. The 4th hoof was left on until the animal was hung, that way the leg could stay in contact with the ground and the meat wouldn’t get dirty.

The head is removed and saved also for many possible dishes, or you can use the brain to tan the hide. We’re going to make food with it.

Albert, naturally, was very interested in the process and helped out.

Ethan, like all of us, was pretty transfixed.

The man carrying the goat is chicken farmer Curtis Womach, whose chickens share the pasture with Albert’s goats.

The skinning, like any skilled craft in action, was marvelous to watch.

Once the animal was skinned, it was time to gut it.

There is a system for cleaning and pulling the intestines (for sausages, of course), the pluck (destined for haggis), the stomach, everything. And everything was used. Even the contents of the rumen were saved to be returned to the pasture.

When the goat was totally cut, we put it in the ice chest.

That wasn’t all, though, there was still the matter of the hide. Nothing should go to waste.

Steph helped out with the salting. We are going to put the hide away and learn how to tan it. With all the talented people here (I’m looking at you, Reese) I’m sure once it is tanned it will be crafted into something very worthy.

In the age of industrial farming, so many of us have grown up in a world where animals are treated like protein machines, mindlessly killed for just one small part of their meat like their loin, and the rest of them is discarded. The waste and tragedy of that process, repeated millions and millions of times, is tragic.

To see the opposite of that, to me, offers so much hope. Animals which are respected and loved when alive, and respected in death through the skilled touch of a human hand, and through using every part of the animal for something valuable and meaningful.

Giving this kind of individual attention and skill to each animal we eat would make meat crazy expensive. But, if that kept us attuned to the preciousness of life and the value of each being, maybe it would be a good thing. Maybe it would be the best thing.