Things to Make and Do, part 3: Butchering a Wallaby
November 3, 2009
Today, we’re going to be taking a wallaby apart. Specifically, a Bennett’s wallaby, the larger of the two subspecies of the red-necked wallaby Macropus rufogriseus. I was delighted (though of course also saddened) to get a call on Saturday afternoon from the very same mini-zoo that had given me Charlie the monitor — Dick Whittington Farm Park in Longhope, Gloucestershire. They have a small group of seven wallabies sharing a paddock with goats, and one had died — most likely from being butted by one of the goats, although there were no external signs of injury.
This is going to be the largest animal I’ve prepared the skeleton out of — I measured it at 123 cm from snout to tail and 10.5 kg total weight, which compares with 75 cm and 12 kg for the badger, 100 cm and 5.2 kg for the fox and 111 cm and 3.4 kg for the monitor. Yes, the badger was heavier, but the awkward shape of the wallaby makes it all-round “bigger” and harder to deal with. Both the badger and the fox would, just, fit into large plastic toy-boxes which I buried and will exhume after a suitable time has passed, but that wasn’t going to work for the wallaby. I needed to take that baby apart:
I was pleasantly surprised at what good condition the guts were in (compared with the horrible state of Charlie innards) — nice and fresh. If I’d had time, I’d have attempted to learn something from a proper dissection, but as I was pushed for time (trying to get this done in my lunch break) I had to push on. I discarded the guts and started to carve up the remainder.
The knife is a Norwegian fisherman’s knife — very sharp, and short enough to be easy to wield. It’s perfect for dismembering a carcass this size, even though previously I’ve only used it for slicing sushi rolls. It was a Christmas present from my employer, Index Data, a few years ago.
My plan was to carefully divide the animal into seven portions (head, torso, tail and four legs), remove as much skin and muscle as I could without risking damage to the bone, and to process the parts separately.
After some thought, I decided to prepare the skull and the left fore- and hind-limb by boiling, and to bury the rest in the box. Here are the relevant divisions:
Then I put the pot through an hour’s simmering, peeled the skin off the skull and feet, and removed what meat I could; then I simmered a second time and removed more meat. By this stage, I was able to remove the three most anterior cervicals, which had been attached to the back of the skull — but they are still so covered with attached flesh that they’re not much use yet. Here’s how the simmered material is looking:
And here is the skull as it looks now, after a little more flesh-picking (but not nearly enough):
I think that it (and the other boiled bones pictures above) would benefit from a third simmer-and-pick session before I put them out somewhere for invertebrates to deal with. While that’s going on, I’ll prep out the foot and the forelimb, which have also been boiled twice but phalanges are a right nasty piece of work.
And then I have to decide what to do with my big yellow box that has the rest of the bits in. Plan A is still burying, but it is kind of tempting to simmer these parts, too, and get the whole thing completed much more quickly.
On the other hand, now is not a good time for such an effort: I will be away from home all week on a mission of utmost importance, and of great relevance to this blog. Details to follow!
Finally, I leave you with your weekly sauropod-vertebra goodness!