TITLE: Basics on Butchering a Buffalo 27/07/17
By Elaine Hemingway
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“With forty plus farm labourers to be fed, you need to learn butchering. They need some ‘vleis’,” said my new husband.
Back in the 1960’s in recently independent Zambia, I was a farmer’s wife learning that the transition from city girl to farming necessitated some up front learning. I was taken on an educational weekend. We were to camp out and check the area he had in mind for food on the hoof. I was to learn about meat that had not come from a shop.
The first day was easy as camp consisted of the basics; tent, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, light clothing and some firearms. From my experience in the police, I was used to being armed and had already been schooled in the art of taking out a snake in a mango tree. We tootled around a little, and having been informed that I would be responsible for guinea fowl when they roosted at sunset, I shot one. It was put to hang overnight; this much I could manage. It was the heavier stuff that bothered me.
My husband’s intention was an early start the following morning and he would be taking his larger calibre Mauser hunting rifle ready for eland, kudu or even Buffalo.
Sunrise was the signal for sweet coffee, mealie pap porridge, and a sortie with our car into the heavy bush surrounding our camp. Game would be found – and shot. It wasn’t long before we came across kudu, majestic and beautiful creatures, one standing stark against the skyline. With his head held high, he was positioned for a perfect shot. But he was allowed to live for another day as my husband saw the head of his companion rising from the long grass. Her large ears rotated, one up and one down as if she was listening. With binoculars we watched entranced as the male, his striking horns spiralling back and outwards bent his neck along her back. “He must be about three years old,” my husband whispered, “and he’s wanting to mate.” How glad I was that this would not be the one to introduce me to meat preparation and later grace the table.
Quietly we moved on, later finding three young buffalo grazing on a flat plane. It was a mistake to move in for a closer look. Like calves, they were still young and agile enough to know their game plan. Our vehicle was fair game as they sensed our presence and decided to make sport of us. It was a nerve-wracking and bumpy ride across the veld as my husband, expert driver though he was, strove to keep out of their path. I was amazed at their ability to gauge where we were going as over and again one then another tried to head us off. What a relief to escape their challenges and reach a safer terrain, leaving behind more escapees from slaughter.
It was late afternoon after a wonderful day of game viewing that we came across more buffalo. They were grazing in thick vegetation near a water pool and quite well spread out. We left the vehicle and crept stealthily closer. As adults, they are deceptively ungainly creatures, the massive horns protecting their brains making a head shot difficult. Their colossal weight and bulky bodies create difficulty in finding a position for an optimal shot. A miss or a debilitating hit will only serve to make an angry and aggressive enemy. One bull had his right side quartering towards us and had not sensed our presence. He offered a perfect chance for a good shoulder shot to pierce his lungs and hopefully the top of his heart. I dared not move and held my own breath much as my husband must have done. Willing the creature not to move before the blast was heart stopping. The shot shattered the afternoon air and scattered the herd away from us. Our target ran with them and for a breath-taking few moments, I visualised a further trek through the bush to find and kill a wounded and dangerous animal. Then the group veered away from our stumbling trophy, as we watched him fall to his knees before keeling over onto his side. Imagine about 1,500 lbs of meat waiting for attention! The labourers would receive a good meat ration. But where to begin? We were a good hundred yards away from our vehicle.
Firstly I was instructed to go for assistance. The nearest town being approximately an hour’s drive away over rough terrain for the first thirty minutes or so, it was doubtful there would be much time to spare before my return with a neighbour. Following a tense drive, I was back before dusk to receive further instructions for the second stage of my experience. While I had been away some on-site work had been completed and our camp knives put to good use.
The smell of blood was heavy in the heat and vultures circled lazily knowing their turn would come.
A fore quarter was loaded onto the back seat of the car while hubby and neighbour would transport the rest of the beast back to camp on a Land Rover. “Get the boys to help you carry this into the kitchen. Hang it overnight and cut what you can in the morning. We’ll be there with the rest by 10.00 o’clock!”
I was busy in the kitchen from day-break using my sharpest knives and trying to work out the grain for buffalo steak. My prowess with the saw was laughable and the arrival of the menfolk brought a final message in the art of butchery.
“You’ve got this all wrong,” I was told with little sympathy for my hard work. “Steak is cut across the grain, bearing in mind muscle usage.”
I improved with experience slaughtering our own beef but I did not enjoy eating my first attempt at butchery. Too tough! Even the cats couldn’t eat it.
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