Home Butcher Guide

How To Butcher Beef

The Ultimate Butchering Experience

Cattle are one of the largest animals to butcher at home and provide the largest amount of meat. For an amateur home butcher it is the ultimate butchering experience!  Once you learn the skills you will find that its fairly easy.  You can achieve success in butchering beef at home with a few essential tools and equipment. 

Slaughter tools

Getting Started

Before you begin butchering any animal, it’s a good idea to gather your supplies, tools, and equipment. Slaughtering beef at home doesn’t require a lot of tools and equipment but there are a few essentials to make the process simple. 

Your supply list should include the items you see above. This is literally ALL you need to butcher a cow. 

  1. A bucket of knives and a sharpening steel. Have a hot pail of vinegar water available for washing off the knife and your hands/gloves occasionally. 
  2. A gambrel or meat hooks to hoist the beef for skinning. 
  3. Two 4×4’s to hold the animal in place when beginning skinning. You can use old fence posts, nothing fancy is needed. 
  4. A portable electric bone saw used for splitting the beef. 
  5. Chains for dragging the beef from pasture to butcher area. 
  6. An extra clean five-gallon pail for liver, heart, tongue, or any other organs your are interested in keeping. If not for you, then the cats and dogs will enjoy the snack.  

What is a Gambrel?

Gambrel. A gambrel is a tough piece of steel that holds a hook on each side and an eye in the center to hang it and balance the weight of a butchered beef. This gambrel was custom fashioned to hang from a bale fork used with a skid loader or tractor. The long steel pipe slides onto the fork for easy lifting. The gambrel can be easily removed from the pipe to bring to the beef then hooked up.

Butchers Hook

Butchers Hooks on a Tractor Fork

Butchers Hooks or meat hooks are a great alternative to owning a gambrel. You can hoist your beef with your tractor and set two butchers hooks on the tractor forks and lift the beef by it’s gambrel tendon. The hooks will stay taut with the weight of the beef and you will have options as to how far your want to split the legs. Meat hooks are also used to hang your split quarters in your cooler. 

Butchers Saw

Carcass Splitting Saw

A Reciprocating Breaking Saw or meat saw is used for splitting the carcass into forequarters, brisket opening and primal cuts.  It is a must-have when butchering beef at home. These saws use an electrical outlet so have one nearby and only weigh about 8 pounds. Most home butchers around us use the Jarvis brand. 

Butcher Knife

A butcher knife is the bread and butter of butchering. A good carbon steel butcher knife will last a lifetime. Consistent sharpening with a butcher steel will reduce the blade over time but it will not reduce its usage. Your butcher knife will be used for skinning, making precise cuts and removing fat.

Killing Methods

Stun Method - Gun

Best Way to Kill Beef for Butchering at Home

Begin slaughtering by stunning the animal. The best method for killing beef for butcher is to begin with stunning the animal. Stunning the animal is a blow to the brain. Exsanguination and lack of oxygen, via blood to the brain is the cause of death but stunning keeps the heart pumping while its insensible which allows a good bleed when the throat is slit.  Stunning reduces the discomfort of the animal in its last moments of life. Be sure you have two effective methods of stunning available to ensure safety if one fails. Checking equipment ahead of time to make sure it all works properly will reduce accidents but prepare for an ineffective stun because at some point you will miss or something else will go awry and you will need to re-gain composure and try again.  There are different ways to stun beef. 

Gun Method. This is the best method for the at-home butcher. A marginally skilled marksman will achieve a shot from afar with a projectile-loaded gun. A .22 mag rifle with iron sights or a shotgun with a slug works well for killing beef. When the slaughterman keeps his actions calm and relaxed and makes a series of clicks or strange non-threatening noises, the animal becomes curious, resulting in looking directly at the slaughterman, where then he is able to shoot the animal directly in the head. The ‘flight zone’ of cattle is the area in which they remain calm and stationary is limited. Invading this safe zone causes the animal to flee in a safe direction. Therefore stunning beef at home is usually done from a distance to keep the animal calm. 

Knife. Having stiff blade boning knife nearby after stunning is necessary. After checking for insensibility, a clean cut across the neck, that severs the carotid artery and jugular veins,  trachea and esophagus will kill the animal. The heart will be pumping copious amounts of blood, 6-10 gallons to be exact.  Its important to consider where you will drop and cut to allow for this. The more complete the bleed, the more resistant the meat is to spoilage. 

Ax or Hammer Method. When the animals head is secured, stunning with an ax or hammer is done properly without it moving around. Owning a chute works well for this, or an old stanchion used for milking cows. A heavy axe or hammer will drop the animal.  A mechanical stunner is a simple way to achieve this as well, but they are expensive to own and a home butcher probably wouldn’t own one of these. 

Stun Kill Shot Placement

In order to locate the brain to stun cattle from the exterior you will have to connect the dots. Connect the edge of the left horn with the right eye and the right horn with the left eye. The stunning spot is located just above those lines. If you aim too low you hit the sinus cavity resulting in a bloody nose and excruciating pain to the animal. Aim too high and you hit the skull but not the brain. A stunned animal will collapse immediatly and will fall to the ground full weight. A soft landing reduces bruising so consider where you will drop your animal. 

Insensibility Indicators

Copious amounts of research has been done into the indicators of insensibility and well being of the animal during slaughter. Required conditions of the animal to suspect insensibility are listed.  

  • Head and neck will be floppy with some neck flexing but the neck should relax within 20 seconds. The legs may kick. 
  • Eyes should be wide open with a blank stare. No eye movements including a blink in response to touch. 
  • The tongue should hang out but if the tongue curls or goes in and out this is a sign of partial sensibility. 


Butcher hoist
Butcher hoist

Transporting Beef to Skinning Area

Heavy equipment is necessary for hoisting beef. Tractors, skid loaders, backhoe or any mobile machinery is a solution. The machine has to rise high enough to get the animal off the ground and be able to carry several hundred pounds. Transporting the beef to the space provided for skinning and evisceration is done by wrapping a chain around the animals leg and carefully dragging it. 


Hoisting Beef For Skinning

Skinning is the removal of the hide from the animal. For beef cattle, hoisting allows you to get around the entire animal.  When the animal is hoisted your better able to let gravity do it’s job and let the hide drape down. Beef are hoisted by their feet to bleed and by their gambrel cords (a very strong tendon able to hold the weight of the carcass) during skinning and evisceration. Insert a hook in the space between the gambrel cord and the calf muscle, then hook it to your gambrel. Make sure your gambrel gives you adequate support and spread of the animal. 

Beef Skinning

Skinning Your Beef

Removal of the hide is done methodically starting with situating the carcass correctly for skinning. This can be done by rolling the animal onto it’s back and putting a 4×4 on either side of the carcass, situated closely to the spine to give stability and to prevent movement. Using object that are low to the ground like cinder blocks, old tires or the aforementioned 4×4 fence post.  Nothing fancy needs to be made or purchased for this. 

Hoisting for Skinning

How to Remove the Hide From Beef Cattle

Remove head

Remove the head. Continuing where you left off when slaughtering the beef remove the entire head now. Toss aside. 

remove hooves

Remove the Hooves. The hooves are very dirty, get rid of them first. When you slide your knife below the surface of the hoof and stop at the carpal joint and remove the skin, you will see the carpal joint and will be able to cut through the ligaments. Pop the joint and cut through the underside. 

Skin Beef

Remove the Hide. Slide your knife underneath the hide and cut along the middle of the carcass being careful to avoid the pizzle of male and around the udder if female. Keep the hide taut and pull the hide away from the body as you cut. 

Skinning Beef

Remove Genitals. For Bulls, hanging testicles are removed where they join the abdomen. For female mammary gland removal, find the soft gland under the hide, surrounded by fatty tissue and connected by a tendon. When you hit the tendon proceed slowly following the surface seam around the gland and sever the tendon near the groin. 

Remove Esophagus. Separation can be done by hand by severing the attachments surrounding the esophagus and the trachea. Hold onto the end of the esophagus being firm to remove. 

Split the Brisket
Split the Brisket

Split the Brisket. Best to split the brisket on the ground because it’s easier to saw through horizontally. Find the middle of the sternum and cut through the fat to find the bone. Start sawing or cutting where the sternum sloped toward the neck keeping the saw at a low angle to avoid puncturing the rumen. 

Remove tail

Remove the Tail. Sever the joint and cut around the base of the tail, separating it from the hide and pulling hard to remove it from it’s hide. Save for Oxtail soup. 

Skinning the Back

Finish Skinning Your Beef

Hoist the animal to finish the skinning process in order to remove the hide on the back, abdomen and forelegs. Peel it away by pulling down and away from the back being sure to leave as much fat on the carcass as possible.  Once your beef is skinned you can begin gutting it.