The Slaughtering Roll

Slaughtering beam to open the carcass, day by day – with notches.

Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. XIX No. 2, June 1966

Editor’s note: Do not read this article if you’re squeamish.

by Mary Earle Gould

Villages of the early years commonly had a tannery, a pound and a slaughtering roll. All of this came about because of the animals on the farm, especially
the meat cattle.

A tannery was owned by one man who took over the job of tanning skins after the cows had been slaughtered and cleaned of their innards. It became a community affair for seldom is more than one pit found in a Village. In two Massachusettes towns we come across such as this; Tanyard Hill Road and Bark Haul Road, both leading to a tannery. Names of old always had a signi­ficance.

The pound was an enclosure with thick stone walls, a gate and no roof. Here all stray animals and feathered flocks of the farm were found after they had broken away from their pasture or barns. Old Sturbridge Village has a pound, a copy of an original one and posted by the gate is the following: –

All Horses, Mules, Asses, Swine and Sheep not claimed and paid for within Three Days of taking up may be paid at Public Vendue. Said Sale to be advertised with a Public Sign Post of the Town. All Geese not claimed within one day may be sold.

Horse, 12 cents and 5 mills ( 1 mill equals 1/10 cent) Mule, ditto
Ass, ditto
Each Swine, ditto
Each Sheep 1 cent and 4 mills
Each Goose 5 cents

The slaughtering roll came about after cows were used more than for their milk; for their hides, meat, hoofs and hair. This again proved to be a community job, one man learning the art and taking over the town’s slaugh­tering. The roll is generally 6 or 7 inches in diameter and as long as the opening of the barn door. Supports on the door jamb hold the roll and allow it to turn.

There were two ways of setting up a roll and using it and I have seen the working of both. In one way it was operated by a long pole. There were two holes vertically placed about 5 inches apart, two at either end, for the two men who were to operate the roll. In the middle of the roll were two pegs, fully 6 inches long. which were to hold the animal, hung by its feet, head down. The cow was previously killed by a blow on its forehead, between the eyes.

One man inserted his pole in a hole and walked. The other man inserted his and walked. The first man chang­ed to the second hole and walked, as did the other man. This turned the pole to the desired distance for the ani­mal to be hung.

Leather support used to hoist an oxen to be shod. Ropes and pulleys were fastened to the four hooks.

Then came the operation of opening the animal and removing the innards, the entrails. This was a “gory job.” The next step was to use the slaughtering beam to hold the carcass open. This resembles a shoulder yoke in being curved, but on the upper edge are notches, 3 or 4 from the middle, six in all. The first day, the narrow width was used and then as the carcass became more flexible, another notch and then another was used until the carcass was flat open.

The other method of turning the roll was with a windlass, a rope and wheel against a wall, nearby or across the floor. After the proper height had been reach­ed, a stick was set into the wheel to hold the position.

I have seen such a roll used in raising an oxen to be shod. This was in the doorway of a small barn, used entirely for shoeing oxen, with an anvil, forge and be!. lows. Torn down now, because of the passing of oxen. Oxen could not stand on 3 feet, so a sling was used with hooks and ropes to raise the ox. Commonly, they were raised while restrained in a frame with a floor and rails, ropes and pulleys used in the operation. This would be in a special shop or small barn where again were all the blacksmith’s equipment. This, too, I have seen in a neighboring town and nearby was another shop where the yokes were made. Countless yokes were lying on the floor, mute testimony of days gone by!

Another use and another name was given to the roll. My first knowledge of such apparatus on a farm came to me in New Hampshire where out in a shed, which was attached to the house, was a roll fastened below an upper loft. This was for killing a hog and was called a hog reel. The hog was hoisted alive and plunged into scald­ing water, in a hogshead below the reel. This brought about the name of hogshead! A hog was often slaughter­ed first by slashing the throat. Everything about the hog was used, “except the squeal!” Sausages -meat stuffed in the large intestine  – leaf lard  – processed from the covering of the kidney, in the shape of a leaf  – and the  resulting pork scraps, and all the meat that was used. Hams were smoked in ovens built for the purpose, in one of several places in the chimney of a house. Or in a smoke house in the yard. It took three days for the smoking, the fire being made of corncobs and hickory bark, which did not smoke. We read in the old cook books of a pig being killed, roasted and served whole on a platter, with an apple stuffed into its mouth.

No mention is made of slaughtering lambs, but doubtless the operation would be similar to the other animals, on a slaughtering roll. This would be done after the shearing season, wool being the most important.

All old cook books tell of the many parts of the animal that could be served; most of all is mentioned puddings, meaning stews. And definite ways of cooking is listed, peculiar to the days long passed.