Butcher with a heart
Mobile slaughter operator takes pride in offering a humane service
George Westbrook has 17 years’ worth of butchering experience.PHOTO BY MELANIE MACTAVISH Meet the meat man:
For more info, search for George’s Custom Meat Co. on Facebook or call 530-283-3726
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Beverly Chandler surprised herself seven months ago when she began assisting her brother-in-law, George Westbrook, owner of George’s Mobile Slaughtering and Custom Butchering, with his business out in the field.“It didn’t bother me in the slightest,” she said, referring to the duo’s work slaughtering farm animals.Interestingly, that wasn’t the case for Westbrook, who said it took him quite a while to adjust from the job of cutting meat in a butcher shop to the front-end job of actually taking the life of animals raised for consumption. That was 13 years ago, and based on Westbrook’s work today, it’s clear he remains respectful of livestock.Last Tuesday morning (Feb. 11), Westbrook’s schedule had him in a bucolic Durham neighborhood of gentleman farms. Here, a customer hired him to slaughter three spring lambs that were closing in on being a year old.Westbrook and his assistant, Beverly Chandler, use a bolt gun during the slaughter process.
“The job I am providing will be a humane job,” he said, just before going into a barn for a wether, a castrated male sheep.Slaughtering an animal is not for the faint of heart. However, as Westbrook said, the sheep did not appear to suffer. As he held the wether, Chandler rendered it unconscious by carefully positioning a bolt gun to its head and pulling the trigger. The stunned animal fell to the ground, and moments later Westbrook used a butchering knife to make a deep slit at its throat.The sheep made no sound throughout the process, although its legs, due to its nervous system, did flail for a short time. Westbrook reached down and patted the animal as it bled out, just as one would do to a pet dog lying on the ground.“I’m always sure to give thanks to my animals,” he later said about that interaction with the sheep. “It makes me feel a little bit better about what I do.”When the animal was still, Westbrook used the knife to skin its hocks—the elbow region of the back legs—where he placed large hooks connected to a hoist mounted to his rig, a Chevy truck with a boxed-in cargo area used to hold carcasses. The sheep was pulled up off the ground and Westbrook and Chandler then set to work on eviscerating—removing the organs—and skinning it.
All told, the process took about 15 minutes. As he later explained, hogs take him about 20 minutes, while cattle (which are shot with a .22 rifle) take about 40 minutes.
The 32-year-old Westbrook got into the butchering business somewhat by happenstance. He’d been a student in environmental studies at Feather River College in Quincy, hoping to go to work for the U.S. Forest Service, when a dearth of jobs led him to work as a butcher. He learned his craft while working in Cottonwood, his hometown, for Bowman Meat Co.After a couple of years, he decided to open up his own shop, George’s Custom Meat Co. in Quincy, and the mobile operation helped him to bring in more business. There, in addition to cutting meat of domestic animals, he also butchers big game—an estimated 300 to 400 deer, elk, antelope and bear each year.Because Westbrook’s own shop is so far from many of his customers, he delivers to their meat cutters of choice—businesses all over the North State or further. The next day, in fact, he was heading to Reno, Nev.On this day, the carcass of the wether and of two other sheep from the Durham farm would be dropped off in Oroville at Foothill Meat Co., where they would be aged for about 10 days and then cut and wrapped for the customer’s personal consumption. As Westbrook explained, he’s an exempt butcher, meaning the animals he works with are not intended for resale.The duo then drop off the animals at a butcher shop.
During his outing Tuesday morning, Westbrook pointed to the grassy areas the sheep had eaten down, noting that livestock on small farms like this one are fed well and raised free of hormones.“I just appreciate people who raise their animals right,” Westbrook said.He said that animals killed at their home are under much less stress than they would be at an unfamiliar slaughterhouse, and because of that, he insists the meat is a better quality. “The meat, I believe, is more tender,” he said. “A happier animal is more flavorful.”Westbrook said some of his customers stay inside their homes during his work. That was true on this day. When asked if anyone has had a last-minute change of heart about employing his services, he acknowledged that it does occasionally happen. “Every once in a while the person can’t take it and they end up keeping the animal as a pet, which is fine with us,” Westbrook said.But there are also many who want to be present at those end moments.“A lot of people like to be there for their animals to make them feel more comfortable,” he said. “Most people grow up this way—raising the animals [for food]. It’s the way of the farm life knowing you’re going to take one life to feed many others.”