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An upside to raising, slaughtering your own meat

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Posted: Saturday, August 11, 2012 11:37 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Wed Apr 10, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Pink slime? There is no chance Deanna Thornell (aka Dr. Dee) will find that icky substance in her ground beef.

That’s because the local veterinarian and her partners are raising their own beef in a feedlot on Peger Road. A long-time supporter of 4-H programs, Thornell sees this as a natural extension of her helping students raise animals. She has long let 4-Hers use her place for turkeys and geese, and when her son was in FFA, he raised steers.

“Anyone can do this,” she said. “I look at the big picture of America and what would happen in an emergency. It’s common sense to raise your own food.”

Thornell put the word out to friends and neighbors who banded together to buy eight Angus steers from Brasier Farm in Delta Junction. The partners are called shareholders and all split the costs and duties of raising the animals. They work together to process the meat, doing their own butchering and packaging as a team.

Butchering began a few weeks ago and will continue until all the meat is in the freezer. The shareholders process a couple of steers each weekend.

The steers were born in April 2011 and purchased by Thornell in October right after being weaned from their mothers. “It was a crying mess here the first few weeks,” she said.

Before the animals arrived Thornell had a hefty pen erected. Some of the shareholders bring hay from Delta Junction, and they purchase grain in bulk. A special ration specifically for steers is made from Alaska barley with a touch of corn. “I’m from the Midwest so there is a little corn,” Thornell said.

Manure from the animals is used in Thornell’s gardens and greenhouse, and the rest is given away to folks willing to haul it.

The steers survived the harsh winter in their 30-by-100 foot pen without a barn, standing under a tarp to get protection from the snow.

“I learned you can raise steers pretty efficiently in Alaska,” Thornell said. “It is the best black Angus ever for $6 a pound.

“It is so worthwhile,” she said. “You just need a section of property, and you’ve got to have a good fence. Ours is a community project, which is so beneficial, and it’s an easy way to get food. Just throw them hay and give them grain.” Thornell advised checking on zoning laws before considering raising animals.

One kink that had to be worked out was keeping the animals watered. Thornell settled upon an electric water heater for the winter, and she filled the tank twice per week.

All this type of project takes is one farm girl or farm boy in the crowd, Thornell said. “I’m a phone call away if the animals start looking a little funny.” But one key ingredient is the fence. Hers is 6-feet tall and placed solidly in the ground. She also has a chute to load the animals into a trailer for transport.

One more piece of advice is not to name the critters. “I am like a regular farmer and I call them by number. I don’t get personal.”

At slaughter each steer weighs around 1,200 pounds and is 60 percent meat. “We get 400 to 600 pounds per steer at least,” Thornell said, including rib steaks, prime rib, New York steaks, liver, heart and lungs. The crew grinds up meat to make burger.

The animals are chemical-free, Thornell is proud to say. “I didn’t even have to worm them.”

By her own admission, Thornell loves meat. “I’m a Midwestern girl. By butchering and taking care of the animals, I have a real appreciation. I’m a spiritual person and say thank you and I care for the animals as best I can.”

One of her fondest dreams is that children could be more involved in food production. “I wish kids could be there for the kill so they would know the respect we should give food. When they see a little package at the store it’s not the same.”

Thornell is considering adding chickens to the mix next year. “We’ll keep going and see how it goes,” she said.

“It can be done, and it’s not that big of a deal.”

This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at ntarnai@alaska.edu.

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