My second day on the job was just like anyone else’s in the corporate world. I was given the standard-issue office supplies and equipment:
- Honing steel
- 6 inch boning knife
- 5 inch skinning knife
- Cut-resistant (not cut proof) gloves
- Water-resistant apron
Mingling with my new coworkers and conversing mostly through hand signs and broken Spanish, I tried to fit in as best I could. None of the regulars were wearing their issued gloves so I quickly ditched the cut resistant gauntlets and moved into “blend in” mode. Let’s be honest with ourselves, our greatest human instinct is to fit in. Who doesn’t want to fit in? If he jumped off a cliff, would you?
Next came the heavy equipment. I got a quick lesson in band saws and single-trees and believe me when I say that hoisting a carcass on a lift can be just as difficult as fixing a broken copy machine. I’m sure of it.
By afternoon, I had pretty much figured out the workflow – more like a dysfunctional assembly line. There was hollering and unnecessary altercations, all in Spanish. Needless to say, six college semesters of Spanish as a foreign language did not prepare me for what I was hearing on that processing floor.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT TO FOLLOW
The workflow goes something like this:
- Before the carcass gets to me, it is drained of most of its blood, the ears, horns and front hooves.
- The sternum is then cut so the carcass can be readied for clean out.
- It is then strung up on an overhead pulley called a "single tree" for gutting.
Sidenote: I want to point out here that all of the by-products such as blood, intestines, and bones are an important part of the meat packing industry. It’s a tough business to be in, and anything that can turn a profit is used. Personally, I like that nothing is wasted. This is the way our ancestors provided for themselves. Each animal’s life is sacred, and we honor that by using every piece and part of it.
- Next is capping. Capping is the process of removing the hide from the carcass. Everything about the capping process has to do with technique and on day two I certainly didn’t have the technique … but Primo did. I worked along side Primo watching him skin from tail to neck in a quick 25 seconds. He made it look like slicing soft butter. When it was my turn it took me over two minutes. In my defense, I wanted to go slow and make sure I didn’t cut any holes in the hide because holes mean less money from the hide man. And besides, who wants to cost their boss anymore than they have to?
In case you were wondering, I’m now just as fast as Primo.
- Once you’ve removed the hide, the only part left is to remove the tail. This process is left for green-hand gringos, so I was the man for the job. Once again, if you know the technique it’s easy. If not, you’ll be hacking at bone for three hours. Finally, the carcass is split, washed, and placed in the cooler.
- After the harvesting process, Jefe and I would head out to the hide house. I quickly learned to dread this stage of the process. Working in 105-degree heat inside a raggedy old barn that has a 96% chance of collapsing on top of you isn’t my idea of a day in the park. We would pick fresh-skinned hides up and sling them so that they were spread out on the ground of the barn and then salt them down for preservation. This “hide slinging” is a technique I have yet to master. I’m 6’2” and there were moments where I would be holding a hide above my head, arms shaking from the weight, and I would still be tripping over a hide dragging between my feet.
Then we would salt the hides to take out the moisture and preserve them. After washing up, we would head back to the plant to help work the meat market until the end of the day.
So in review, my new job was just like every other graduate's in the corporate world.