Heather Ridge Farm

We spent a couple days at Heather Ridge farm

We spent a couple days at Heather Ridge Farm in Preston Hollow, New York (right in the beautiful Catskill Mountains). We Interviewed Carol Clement and John Harrison, and they talked with us about their animals and methods of production. They are excited to have us follow their animals from the farm to humane slaughter and processing. They welcome transparency! Heather Ridge is luckier than most farms because they can take their animals to the SUNY Cobleskill Meat Lab to be slaughtered and butchered by instructors Eric Shelly, Clint Layne, and their students.

We also enjoyed our time in the pasture with the goat herd.  Carol makes wonderful products from the goats’ milk, including very delicious and nutritious cheese.

In addition to maintaining a marvelous farm with pigs, chickens, cattle, goats and sheep, Carol and John run a small cafe that features all of the products from their farm. It was wonderful to sit at the outside tables and view the Catskills while having an amazing dinner cooked in this kitchen.

Lunch Menu Today: Heart and Tail Stew

Today the students cooked some of what they slaughtered.

Elliott Orwick, a student in the SUNY Cobleskill Meat Processing Program, cooked Beef Heart & Tail Stew in the parking lot outside the Meat Lab. The heart and tail meat was from the cattle that were slaughtered the week before.

On this very beautiful day, instructors Eric Shelley and Clint Layne took their students outside and had a wonderful picnic under a tree in the shade. They ate the heart and tail stew that Elliott made.

I was very ambivalent about trying the stew, but I promised Elliott that I would after he said he would be honored if I tasted it.  It was rather delicious, once I unwrapped my mind from the idea that I was eating a heart and tail flesh from a cow I met last week.

Pig Processing at SUNY Cobleskill

These large, black pigs were slaughtered today.

Pigs were the last animals on the slaughter list for students at the Meat Lab. We’re usually accustomed to thinking of pigs as pink, so it was quite interesting to get to know these black, hairy pigs before they were slaughtered.  They were quite curious and friendly, and were very large (about 400 pounds).

It’s still hard to watch an animal being disassembled even when you know that it’s dead and can’t feel anything.  It gets easier to observe the less it looks like an animal and the more it starts to look like a meat carcass. All in all, though, I’m glad to have observed that the instructors and students treated both the live animals and carcasses with careful regard.  I never got the impression that they were working with factory objects. They were making it possible for animals to become our food and to do so humanely and safely.

Eric Shelley spends a lot of time with each student, showing them how to cut into the carcass. He often guides their knives with his own hand so they can get the feel of how to do it the correct way.

I thought that watching this evisceration would be upsetting and nauseating, but it was really rather interesting since a pig’s organs are so similar to our own.  Eric Shelley took a lot of time teaching the students about each of the organs and how to remove them.


Cattle Processing at SUNY Cobleskill

Students learn how to slaughter cattle.

Although it was difficult to watch, we filmed the slaughter of cattle today. We got quite an education listening to Eric Shelley explain each step of the process. Such care was taken to assure the humane treatment of the cattle and the safety of the students.

The atmosphere were very, very somber as an animal would come into the “knock box” to be stunned with a captive bolt pistol. This rendered it unconscious so it could not feel the pain of being hoisted onto the bleed rail to be bled out. Students took turns learning how to operate the stunning equipment.

Afterwards, the animal would be placed on a work surface so that it could be skinned.  Eric very patiently taught each student how to properly work with the knives and to know how to keep the exposed areas free from contamination by the hide. Seeing this cow go from live animal to carcass helped me to understand and respect the procedure of how meat can be processed humanely.

One of the most dangerous aspects of working in a slaughterhouse is using the powerful saws. This one is able to cut a cow carcass in half.  Due to the unwieldy nature of this saw, Eric stayed by the side of any student operating it and assured that they did it correctly.

Cattle Arrive at SUNY Cobleskill

We observed cattle being unloaded

We observed cattle being unloaded the day before they were to be harvested. These healthy cattle from local farms in the Hudson Valley were raised on pasture by very mindful and conscientious farmers. It was bittersweet to get to know them a bit before they would be processed into meat the next day.  The bitter part is, of course, that they died. The sweet part is that I know they had happy lives and that their deaths would be humane.

Lamb Processing at SUNY Cobleskill

During our first visit filming at SUNY Cobleskill, we observed students learning how to slaughter, cut and package lamb.

SUNY Cobleskill harvests cattle, pigs, goats, and sheep through their United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved meat processing facility. The program attracts interested students from all over the country. They learn the latest food safety and sanitation guidelines and obtain a good understanding of the steps involved in livestock processing and butchering. We observed students performing animal slaughter, cutting, packaging, and storage.

Eric Shelley and Clint Layne teach a class of ten students twice per year (June and January) in the Meat Processing and Food Safety Certificate Program. Students learn the entire process from slaughter to packaging, and they provide these services for local farms.

Clint Layne diligently looks on as he teaches Staci McCune the details of skinning a lamb. Each student is carefully monitored by the instructors throughout the entire day, in each step of the process.