JANET URQUHART, The Aspen Times
BASALT, Colo. - It's one thing to grow a few backyard tomatoes. It's another to raise a pig and serve it up as ham on the dinner table.
For one thing, most people don't call their tomatoes by name.
But as the local food movement gathers steam and municipalities around the Roaring Fork Valley ponder the ramifications of letting residents raise chickens in an urban environment, Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt is offering a series of hands-on classes focused on the slaughter and butchering of farm animals.
They are the first such workshops for the educational ranch, an adjunct to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, said Amy Hutton, livestock and wild lands manager at Rock Bottom.
"This is one of the most important things about local food production — being able to source meat from right next door," said Hutton, who slaughtered and ate her first rabbit recently as a precursor to the Pasture to Plate butchering series.
Rock Bottom Ranch raises a variety of livestock, some of which is butchered. Chickens are slaughtered and processed at a USDA-approved facility in Delta so that they can be sold (the sale of meat without the USDA stamp is illegal). But with no slaughterhouse particularly close to the Roaring Fork Valley, area residents who'd like to raise their own livestock for consumption might find it simpler to handle the task themselves.
The series at Rock Bottom Ranch will be taught by Emma resident Derek Miller, who raises goats, rabbits and chickens for his own use and has been processing animals — including livestock and wild game — since he was a youngster.
Killing an animal is definitely the hardest part, said Miller, who will show participants in the classes how he uses a short-range rifle to slaughter an animal quickly.
"It's not a fun thing," Miller said. "I've been hunting for a long time, so standing behind the back of a gun and pulling the trigger isn't that hard for me."
Slaughtering livestock gives one an appreciation and additional measure of respect for the meal that results, added Miller, who prefers to know how the meat he puts on his table was raised, fed and processed.
"If you're eating an animal and you actually know its name, the kids don't seem to leave much on the plate," he said.
The butchering series begins with the slaughter of a cow, which will be split and hung to age, according to Hutton. Slaughtering and processing a chicken also is on the agenda.
On Dec. 10, the slaughter, splitting and hanging of a goat and a pig are scheduled, plus the butchering of the cow.
On Dec. 17, butchering a goat and pig is planned, plus smoking meat and making sausage from the cow.
"Students can decide how much they want to be involved," Hutton said. "They can stand back or get in there and get messy."