How to Cut Up a Deer for Dog Food: An Illustrated Guide
How to Chunk Up a Junk Deer
This is the fourth of four articles that demonstrate how to skin a deer, how to gut a deer, how to prepare a deer, and how to cut up a deer for dog food. Here I will show you one of the simplest ways to cut a deer carcass into suitable pieces for your dog's dinner. Since dogs often aren't picky and are capable of using food we can't (or shouldn't), you don't have to be super clean during the butchering process.
What Can My Dog Eat?
A deer with certain problems may be suitable for your dog. Road kill can often be salvaged and sometimes arrangements can be made with Fish and Game to acquire confiscated carcasses from poaching. Be sure to talk to your local sheriff's department and game warden before taking a deer carcass.
If blood or death bothers you, you should not continue reading this article! There are pictures of a bullet wound and butchering.
Raw Diet Guidelines for Your Dog
Any raw feeding should be done per the recommendation of a veterinarian. As for feeding animal parts to a dog, there is always the risk of impaction or choking if not prepared properly. Be sure to thoroughly understand the methods mentioned below before proceeding. In general:
- Your raw-fed dog should have 80% meat, 10% bone, and 10% organ meats. The heart is considered a meat, not an organ.
- Feed bony and meaty portions together—you can plan for this during packaging, if you prefer. If you feed too much bone, your dog will either throw it up or get impacted. Neither option is pleasant.
- Don't feed too much fat at a time, or your dog may get loose bowels. If you don't add fat, a deer carcass usually doesn't present problems this way.
Some dogs greatly enjoy antlers and the challenge of breaking up a skull.
Valid Concerns and Butchering Shortcuts
The methods shown here are not professional or suitable for human-quality food. They are normal butcher practices adapted for dog food. Dogs can handle more mess than most of us, as they have hardy and short digestive tracts. Keep in mind that you are not doing a butcher for people, and while you shouldn't be sloppy, you don't need to be meticulous, either. A happy medium on cleanliness is fine.
It isn't necessary to cut the quarters into recognizable pieces that fit a meat cutting chart—your dog won't care. Simply cut the carcass into pieces suitable for storage (freezing) and small enough so that your dog can eat them in 48 hours or less. He probably won't care about this short time frame, but you will when his breath smells rancid.
Butchering Skill Level Requirements
If you do not feel that your skills are equal to the task of professionally butchering an animal, don't worry about it. Remember that in the wild, your dog would have to cut up his own meat and wouldn't be concerned with how many round steaks he got or whether he fudged the line between short ribs and stew meat.
Why We Used Two Deers to Demonstrate
The deer featured in most of this article was confiscated by a game warden after being poached by what appears to have been a sloppy hunter. It was slightly bloated by the time it reached us and was not suitable for human consumption. It was otherwise in fine shape, except for a bad bullet wound.
A second deer is shown in this and its companion article, "Cutting Up a Deer for You and Your Dog." This one was intended partly for human consumption, so the cuts are more precise and the carcass is basically clean.
So that each demonstration can stand on its own, I chose to double up photos here. The butchers were done close together and in the same location. I apologize for any confusion this creates.
Below, you can see how much tearing and clotting took place. The wound site suggested a lack of ethics in hunting.
The Bullet WoundClick thumbnail to view full-size
Supplies and Tools That You Will Need
- Favorite medium-length knife (very sharp)
- Meat saw
- Reciprocating saw (optional)
- Cutting board or other surface suitable for cutting on
- Tarp or piece of clean sheet metal (if working outside) for laying the carcass on
- Rags and dish soap for cleanup or disinfectant (optional)
To Hang or Not to Hang the Carcass?
No doubt, hanging a deer to butcher can make the process easier, but you do not need to age a deer for feeding to a dog. But whether or not you hang your deer for processing depends on several factors.
- How Is the Weather? When the pictures for this article were taken, the weather was bitter, and we were glad to be able to process this deer in our kitchen which was none-too-warm even with a wood cookstove at our backs.
- Do You Have a Place to Hang It? Do you have a suitable place to hang a carcass? Not all of us have understanding neighbors who believe hunting and meat processing can be done ethically.
- How Big is the Deer? We live in Colorado where the deer may reach 200 pounds and be too tall (long) to hang from an average rafter or tractor bucket. Big trees aren't usually handy, either. We've normally been able to rig up something suitable, but a big deer makes hanging a challenge.
Sawing the Shanks
The cut is made in the above location because there is no meat to speak of. Also, this provides cartilage for your dog to chew on along with the bone.
Removing the Front LegsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Front Legs
To cut off the front legs, lie the carcass on its side. Start at the elbow and twist the joint as you cut. Your knife should follow a line along the top of shoulder joint and give a clean cut.
These are hunks of shoulder meat. Chunk them down however you wish, first following the bones. Leave meat on the bones so your dog can digest them easier.
Separating the Rib CageClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cut out the boneless section behind the ribs including the back part of the belly. Throw them to the dog or set them aside. Cut the ribs from the rear quarters straight behind the rib cage and through the spine. Make angle cuts near the spine (as shown). Start at the front or the back of the ribcage, whichever is easier. Ribs are easy to package when cut in half.
Separating the Shoulders
Start between the highest ribs to cut the shoulders away from backbone. Cut the spine sections into steaks, starting at the front and cutting between the ribs. Leave it attached to the hindquarters for stabilization.
Piecing Out the Back QuartersClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Back Quarters
- Cut through the middle of the center bone until it opens up.
- With the carcass belly-down, start at the flank and cut off the legs by following up and over ball of the hip joint, then almost straight back.
- Slice bone-in steaks, thin or thick, as you think best. Your dog needs 10% total diet in bone.
Meat ChunksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Steaks or Roasts
These steaks (or small roasts) are ready to either package or feed. There needs not be any waste when feeding a deer to a dog. Some portions will be chewier than others, but your dog will probably enjoy them all.
Apportion meat and bone selections in packages corresponding to your dog's needs.
You'll probably want to aim for one package per feeding. The size of feedings will depend on how often you feed. If you prefer to feed once or twice a day, plan accordingly. If you prefer to allow your dog to binge, then skip a day or two as some authorities believe this mimics natural conditions more closely. If this is the case, you will want to make bigger portions.
Leave Some Bone
Aim for a bit of bone in most feedings. Your dog will probably eat most of the meat first, then happily gnaw the bone long enough to make him feel satisfied. Gnawing bones is to him what eating crunchy snacks probably is to you. Bones gives him great nutrition as well as a calmer disposition.
If you wish to use plastic wrap and freezer paper to package the meat, please do, but double wrapping doggie meals in plastic grocery bags and thawing them in a bowl works well too, provided they aren't stored in the freezer much over a year. During the initial freezing process, you may wish to protect your freezer by using a liner. (A garbage sack or feed sack works fine to prevent bloody leaks from making a mess.)
Package Meats Separately
Package organ meats separately in small portions to be fed once every week or ten days. Organ meats offer top-notch nutrition but may cause digestive issues if fed copiously. Diarrhea and excessive gas may result from overfeeding.
What About Small Dogs?
Some raw-fed dogs are tiny. If this is the case with your pooch, simply use these instructions to chunk your deer down into manageable pieces for your dog. I once saw a dog so small she went at a rabbit carcass the same way a bigger dog ate a deer or cow carcass.
Even if your dog is not so small, he or she may enjoy dining on meat that is slightly smaller than shown. If you believe it is best, you are free to modify these instructions to suit your situation. After all, there is nothing magical about meat cutting. If you can cut up a chicken for a BBQ or family dinner, you can cut up a deer for your family . . . whether canine or human.
Do I Need to Cut Up a Carcass at All?
There are some situations in which you may not need to or want to cut up a carcass for your dog to eat. He or she may prefer to have it whole and break it down themselves. Whether or not to butcher his or her meals may depend on several factors:
- Location: Do you have a convenient spot in which to leave a carcass for several weeks (in cool weather) which won't offend neighbors or create concerns? You may need to cut through thick hair or wool on the belly to help your dog get started, but he or she can probably learn to take care of the rest himself.
- Weather: If your dog is too small to clean up a carcass fairly quickly (the softest parts in three days to a week), or if the weather is warm enough to cause major spoilage in a few hours or a day, butcher at least enough to solve the problem! A carcass with the hide on will generally last longer than a naked one. Conversely, a carcass which has been deeply frozen may make your dog work unnecessarily hard to get a bite to eat. In this case, you can cut off parts as he or she needs them, allowing portions to thaw, or you can butcher and store doggie meals in the freezer (or a protected spot in an unheated shed, provided it stays frozen long enough).
- Odor: How is your tolerance level for smelly dogs? It is a fact that a raw-fed dog will occasionally develop a certain aroma which can be unpleasant. His breath will smell like whatever he ate last and tip you off to how fresh his meal was. He may also experience an urge to crawl into or even lie inside of the carcass. A carcass which has been dressed isn't so bad . . . but if he's left to fend for himself, as he would in nature, the in-between stages of "cleaning" can be unpleasant.
Can My Dog Get Chronic Wasting Disease?
According to an article on Wag.com, a dog has never gotten CWD. But if you are concerned about it, you may wish to debone the deer carcass, avoid cutting through any spinal tissue, and provide your dog's bone supply some other way. (Perhaps talk to your local butcher or locker plant.)
The Truth About CWD: History and Causes
Wyoming Population of Deer: 2016 Live Research on CWD
Future Butchering Instructionals to Come
Keep in mind that this article is a work in progress and some of the techniques outlined here are a bit sketchy. This will be remedied! At the moment, I don't have all the photos available to do what I would like.
As these techniques can be used with sheep and other similar sized animals, I will be showing the use of a reciprocating saw and a couple of other shortcuts to meat processing as I am able. We raise sheep now, and while we don't hunt deer as often as we did when I started articles on this subject, we have lambs which need to be culled each year. This culling offers plenty of opportunities for practicing what we know and for experimenting with ideas that make the whole butchering process simpler and more convenient.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Joilene Rasmussen