Ben’s Butcher Shop Model

Ben’s Model of our Butcher Shop

To show his grandparents at Christmas what we have been up to this year our son Ben built a model of our on-farm Butcher Shop. I snapped some photos while he was in the early stages of working on his project. He made his model out of layers of plywood which he routed out using a hand drill to carve the shape of each room from the layers of wood. Using Ben’s model I can give you a guided tour of our new on-farm butcher shop, slaughterhouse and smokehouse.

Similar Perspective View of Floor Plan

The massive yet compact structural building is now finished, that is to say it is closed in and the interior is no longer exposed to the elements. This allows us to continue construction work through the winter on the interior details. We finished the structural building in the beginning of December, putting up the last ring of walls and the flat poured concrete roof.

We have poured a total of approximately 1.6 million pounds of concrete. Like with our cottage, almost all of that thermal mass is inside the insulating envelope. This will make for a very thermally stable structure where it is easy to heat the administration and abattoir (red) sections while also being easy to cool the reefer (blue) section of the building. In fact, we’ll be transferring the heat from the heat of the carcasses and machinery from the cold reefer section to the warm portion of the building. Waste not, want not.

Open the Roof and See All the People!

With the roof ripped off lets take a peak inside…

To the near right, that is to say the south west corner, is the upper mechanical room and the abattoir loft. This is where the 20′ high rail will go in the abattoir, a.k.a. kill floor. The loft lets us easily and safely work on the upper part of a hanging carcass for beginning the process of skinning large beef as well as big sows and boars who are too large to fit in the scalder.

On the left is the coolth attic showing the vaulted ceilings of the work rooms. For the next several years the coolth attic will remain an unfinished space space above the the carcass chiller, raw process cutting room, fermenting cave, brine room, cooler and freezer. The whole reefer area is super insulated for energy efficiency and has a very high thermal mass. It is built as thermos bottles within thermos bottles, rather like Russian dolls.

Someday we’ll build large fluid filled tanks in the coolth attic.[1, 2] Think of them as four decent sized indoor swimming pools. Except, these tanks will be chilled down as low as 20°F below zero during the winter jumping over the energy cliff of the freeze point, also known as the heat of fusion to those who like playing with refrigeration. That would make for very chilly swimming. These tanks will be powered by Dark Panels a.k.a. Lunar Panels. The idea is to feature our farm’s biggest flaw: winter. By storing the deep cold of winter in a large insulated box and then slowly releasing it down into the reefer during the warmer months we’ll be able to use less electricity to chill carcasses and keep our building cool. Basically our reefer will be sitting under a giant super cold ice cube like grandma’s old fashion ice box that had a block of ice in the upper cabinet. The difference is that our ice will be far colder, far larger cubes and we’ll only get delivery once a year – each winter.

First Floor Work Rooms

Lifting off the upper ring of walls we find the first floor work rooms of the butcher shop. All the interesting stuff happens down here. But lets back up a moment… The process of turning pigs into pork for your fork actually begins ten months before market day with the breeding of a sow and boar. Three months, three weeks and three days later we are witness to the miracle of birth of a litter of piglets out in our pastures. After another six to seven months of growing those three pound piglets turn into 250 to 300 pound hogs who have rotated through the pastures of Sugar Mountain.

The day before slaughter we will herd the selected market age livestock into the lairage. This is a holding area just south of the abattoir where the animals can rest the night before. This puts them into an ideal calm state.

On slaughter day, which is just once a week for us, the animals will enter the kill box in the abattoir, a 16’x16′ by 20′ tall room in the south west corner of the building, one at a time for humane stunning, bleed out, scald & scrape, evisceration and cleaning all under the watchful eye of the inspector.

If we were just doing typical market size pigs we would not need such a high ceiling. The tall abattoir gives us plenty of room for a high rail with a hoist for large animals like our big boar Spot who topped out at 1,700 lbs and 12′ long – think short legged beef although he had tusks rather than horns. This 20′ high rail is tall enough to hang full size beef and other large animals we might raise in the future.

Floor Plan spun around for easier reading

Within the abattoir there are two small, isolated mechanical rooms on the left which aren’t visible under the loft. I should have flipped the pieces of Ben’s model over for the photos because the undersides show all the details Ben had carved out for the spaces such as the mechanical closets where we isolate loud or fire risk machinery like compressors and phase converters. These closets protect us from their noise and protect the machinery from the wet and corrosion of the kill floor which must be washed down with 180°F hot water and organic acids for sanitation. These do nasty things to bacteria and plain steel – thus why we use stainless steel and isolation.

After slaughter the cleaned carcasses move north along the second rail, a 12′ high middle rail, from the abattoir into the carcass chiller shown in the north west of Ben’s model and the floor plans. That room is 19′ long, 6′ wide and 15′ tall which allows for the refrigeration system to be mounted above the rail for maximum efficiency.

Overhead View before Closing in

The refrigeration engineer we are working with just visited this past week after not having seen the building for a year and a half since his initial site visit. I had brought him in early in the project to get feedback on my ideas so I could make sure I was constructing the building in such a way as to work well with his refrigeration system needs.

Top View of Construction in Progress

Last time he was here the butcher shop looked like the two photos above, about half done. A lot had changed and he was delighted. Everything was built to meet his needs with high arched ceilings that focus the heat to the evaporator getting rid of dead spots, divisions of functions and super insulated high thermal mass rooms containing all the necessary drains and conduit for refrigerant lines, electric lines, control lines and sensors. He loved the cast in place stainless steel threaded sockets in the ceilings which will make hanging his evaporators a breeze.

The north end of the carcass chiller can be sectioned off for dry aging beef for up to a month. We dry age our pork for one week by cutting last weeks pigs this week and slaughtering the pigs this week for next week’s cutting. When we start doing beef and then lamb again I want to be able to give the meat a proper aging space for maximum quality. Aging must be done at just the right temperature and humidity to avoid excess shrinkage and prevent the growth of bacteria while still allowing the meat to tenderize – something it won’t do at too cold a temperature. Thus the dedicated sectioned off space for aging separate from the carcass chiller.

Cutting Room Looking East into Cave from Carcass Chiller
In the middle of the blue reefer area, east of the chiller, is the meat cutting room where we’ll turn the carcasses into cuts, make sausage and begin the hot dog process. The third rail dips down from the middle height of 12′ to an 8′ rail used in the work rooms.

Initially we’ll be doing our meat cutting in what will later become the warm kitchen and smokehouse in order to get up and running as quickly as possible. When we move into the final 10’x14′ by 10′ tall cutting room it will feel spacious. To learn the art of commercial meat cutting we apprenticed for 18 months in butcher shops that had rooms far smaller than even the initial meat cutting room’s 5’x16′ by 10′ tall size.

Continuing east from the cutting room we find the fermenting room also known as the cave or cold kitchen. This space will be divided up into ten insulated cabinets which can be temperature and humidity controlled for making prosciutto, pepperoni, summer sausage, brawn, dry aged hams and all sorts of specialty value added meats. My goal is that each cabinet can hold 300 to 600 lbs of product. Some products take a week and some take a year to cure. An eleventh and twelfth cabinet can be used for chilling product coming out of the double smokehouse prior to slicing and packaging.

Looking at Ben’s model you’ll notice a long thin room along the north side of the building. That is where we’ll build the FCB – that is to say Freezer / Cooler / Brine room which is accessed off of the cave.

In the north east corner of the reefer, the first or east most room of FCB, is the brine room where we’ll do dry salt rubs, corning, wet brining and all those delicious sorts of traditional meat preparations for smoking and aging. This room will have space to allow us to brine whole roaster pigs so they’re ready to grill for graduations, birthdays, harvest parties and other events. We find that two of the things roaster customers struggle with is how to brine a large pig and how to keep it chilled for the required time period prior to putting it over the coals. We hope that by being able to brine roasters to customers specifications we’ll help people focus on their event and pig roasting fun.

West of the brine room is the super cooler where meat is held fresh at 27°F. Meat freezes at 25°F rather than the 32°F of pure water because of the salts in the blood and intracellular fluids. Research has shown that the quality is much higher if the meat is kept at 27°F rather than standard refrigeration temperatures in the mid-30’s F. Check out this article for details. The cooler is also where meat is pre-cooled before entering the freezer. This allows the blast freezer to more easily and quickly jump the energy cliff to frozen.

The blast freezer is the most deeply insulated space in the building at the west end of the FCB. It is the inner most sactum contained within the cooler which is contained within the brine room which is inside the reefer which is inside the structural building. Each bottle is insulated from the next one out so that the most inner bottle, the freezer, has R-100 insulation. As the refrigeration engineer said – “Wow! We’re not losing heat there!” The idea is that any ‘coolth’ must leak out through the adjacent rooms where it will be most useful thus saving energy. Our first refrigeration system will be in the freezer, pumping heat out of there and back to the administration section to heat the inspector’s office and pre-heat our hot water.

What makes a blast freezer special is that it rapidly pulls the temperature of the product down past the freezing point thus producing micro-crystals of ice rather than the longer dagger like crystals that come from slow freezing.[1, 2, 3] Small crystals better preserve the cell walls which enhances meat quality and prevents bleed out of the inner cellular fluid in the meat. You know how when you thaw meat there is a lot of fluid? Well that’s the damage caused by the ice crystals puncturing the cell walls. Micro-crystals prevent this. Once frozen it will be held in a deep freeze at -25°F which gives a virtually indefinite shelf life.

You might be thinking that the freezer is tiny. You are right. We operate primarily on the Just-In-Time farming model where the meat is harvested and quickly sold. We sell almost all of our meat fresh so there isn’t a lot of need for frozen at our farm. Thus a small freezer fits our needs. We do need some freezing capacity for our individual customers buying for home consumption who want to buy frozen meat so that their smaller freezers won’t have to work so hard. This provides them with better quality and an energy savings since our equipment is more efficient. When we mail meat it will also be nice to be able to pull it down to a very low temperature before applying dry ice (-109°F) and shipping.

Heading south out of the brine room we pass back through the cave and out of the cold reefer into the warm administration section. The smokehouse will be on the east outside wall. It will be large enough for us to smoke and BBQ whole pigs for events as well as smoking hams, bacon, kielbasa, hot dogs, trotters, hocks, ears, our meaty ribs, bones, jerky and assorted other tasty pig parts.

In the same area but to the right is the warm kitchen where we can render lard, prepare sauces, make stock, can and do other small batch cooking projects.

Last but not least is the inspector’s office and bathroom off of the entry hall.


The building is poured on a floating slab on top of the old hay shed foundation anchored strategically at the edges. The foundation of the butcher shop is isolated with insulation from the old foundation and thus from the earth. One might think we would want to tie the building to the earth ground temperatures but unfortunately the earth is too warm for the reefer and too cold for the office. The earth floats around 45°F to 55°F. A strong thermal connection would bleed heat away from the office which the inspector would like kept at 65°F and it would force the refrigeration equipment in the reefer to run constantly as we tried to avert global warming.

Bright idea! Short circuit the earth and just pump the heat of the reefer directly to the inspector’s office. This lets us keep the inspector toasty warm and the meat below 41°F as required by the USDA regulations to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

The butcher shop does take advantage of the tempering effect of the earth by nestling into the hillside so the exterior is a near constant 50°F or so year round for much of the building’s surface area. That means we don’t have to fight with the summer high of 86°F or the winter low of -45°F for those surfaces. The rest is super insulated to protect the high thermal mass of the building from fluctuations.

One funny little thing about the butcher shop being nestled into the earth is that from our vantage point looking down from our cottage it doesn’t look all that big. But from the the road side it looks, to put it in the words of several visitors, like a skyscraper. One fellow asked why we’re building a three story high butcher shop. Ben replied, “It’s complicated.

Clean, cool and cloistered is the name of the game.

The Real Deal

Doors arrived this Wednesday. Will and I mounted them the front hall leading out to the inspector’s parking area and from the abattoir to the lairage. They have full double pane low-E glazing to let in natural light. I would have liked triple pane but couldn’t find them in the specs I wanted. The new doors will improve our heat retention – previously we just had double layers of 4 mil plastic sheeting with an air gap to keep the warmth in the building. Even with only that the interior of the butcher shop is floating around 38°F at the sub-slab insulated below the reefer, 41°F at the interior floor level and 46°F at head height in the administration section. That’s pretty good. We’ll need to raise that temperature about 10°F for when we’re applying the epoxy finish. But for doing regular construction that’s toasty warm.

Outdoors: 12°F/-4°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F

Daily Spark: Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it. -Steven Wright

Okay, okay, so yes, I admit it. You caught me, I really am building a cold fusion reactor up here on the mountain… The rumors were true.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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32 Responses to Ben’s Butcher Shop Model

  1. eggyknap says:

    I’ve long been interested in curing, but never really dared try. I’d love to have hams, sausages, or (since we’re more likely to have beef to try with than pork) their beef equivalents hanging from the ceiling in a cool basement somewhere. Do you have any favorite sources for recipes? I’m particularly interested in nitrate / nitrite free versions, less because of potential health detriments than because I want to be able to do it the way my great-great-great-grandparents did 150 years ago.

    • I don’t have any recipes to share since we’re about the same level as you on this. That is to say reading and researching. We’re preparing the necessary blank spaces in our butcher shop so that once we do understand this more we’ll be able to build in the curing cabinets. So far our knowledge on curing & fermenting meats is pretty theoretical. Stay tuned and if you find interesting sources zip me a note… On the nitrates/nitrites we do some nitrate/nitrite free products such as our smoked hot dogs and smoked kielbasa but based on reading research I think that nitrates/nitrites are not as bad as they used to tell us in the 1970’s and onward. It is a matter of degree of consumption. Don’t be a lab rat who is fed huge amounts but small amounts appear to actually protect against cancer. See for some links to research.

      • eggyknap says:

        I tend to agree that nitrates and nitrites probably aren’t all that terrible, and someone pointed out quite succinctly that the risk of harm from those substances is probably pretty minuscule compared to the risk of botulism and its attendant harms. I have seen several different recipes, but not yet had the gumption to try them, but I’m told one local fellow has had quite a bit of experience curing. I’ll let you know if I find something I love. Meantime, my home-made sauerkraut absolutely rocks :)

    • micah janzow says:

      Hello, I farm and teach in missouri. We use to have a csa and grassfed beef and grassfed desert sheep until my wife went back to work full time. We also raise hogs. I have been developing our breed of hog for seven years using berkshire, hereford, yorkshire,hampshire large black and tamworth and have just recently finally gotten to the genetic goals I was looking for plus coloration. I just hauled off 7 fat hogs today for customers. I wish I could charge 3.50 per pound. The east and west coasts always are way ahead of the midwest on realistic pricing of food. I charge 1.00 per pound for our pasture raised pork. Anyway. If you want to learn how to dry cure pork (prosciotto, iberic0, salami and smoked bacon pastrami etc. you must buy micheal ruhlmans Charcuterie book. You will never buy cured meat again it its life changing.

  2. I’m overwhelmed and nearly speechless. Congrats on so much work accomplished towards your vision.

  3. karl says:

    Does the inspector have to be there during all butchering activities?

    • Yes, for USDA inspection the inspector is required to be there when we do slaughter, apply labels, use USDA stamps, or handle unpackaged product (e.g., meat cutting, slicing bacon, smoking in/out, etc). For state inspection the inspector is required to be there for slaughter and then they randomly inspect otherwise.

  4. Irene Henderson says:

    Bravo Ben! What a great idea to make a 3-d model! I love it. I am so amazed by the creativity and drive the perserverence of your whole family. I was looking back at your time line on the butcher page and your coming up on your five year annerversary on this project. I don’t think I could possibly keep going on such a big project. You are creators and just what our nation needs! Bravo to all of you!

  5. Mikey says:

    Walter you are the ONLY person I know who can say the’re building a cold fusion reactor and I would believe them. Amazing project! Can’t wait to taste the bacon!

  6. Patricia says:

    How are you handling air exchange?

    • There are ducts built into the walls and ceilings that will allow for air exchange. Later these will be hooked up to earth air tubes for tempering the air so we can bring in fresh air of the right temperature for each section. The system will be powered by a tower with a chimney effect.

  7. Wacky internet comment guy says:

    I love scale models, but I’m not sure about that one. The alignment pins look just like the full scale ones, but the walls don’t seem straight enough! A pencil, straight edge, coping saw, and a vice might give you more satisfying results than the drill alone. Hand tools make surprisingly quick work of wood. I personally like to use a brace instead of a cordless drill when I can.

    I always see your posts about working in the paddocks and have never seen any mention of a workshop. I know you use the older farmhouse for storage and have some welding equipment, is there a tool room or workshop on the farm?

    Also, I’ve never tried, but can posters put photos in their posts on your site?

    • One makes do with the tools at hand for making a quick model. We don’t have a fancy woodworking shop. Maybe someday.

    • Anna says:

      @Wacky – well that was pretty rude. I thought Ben’s model was pretty cool and as Walter said he got photos of it in progress. Maybe you Wacky have the time and money and tools to make fancy scale models but Ben is building the real thing.

      @Walter – you were far too nice in your reply to Wacky’s rude comments.

  8. David M. M. says:

    I’m impressed Ben! Its cool that you can do that much with just an hand drill. I bet your grand parents were thrilled to get a tour of all that you have been working so hard on. Maybe Wacky guy will send you a scroll saw and some other fancy wood working tools for your birthday so you can have more fun with model making!

  9. Maddy Newcombe says:

    What a fab way to give a tour of your big project! I love it! The combination of photos, floor plans and Bens model with its layers was really helpful in getting me to understand all that you are doing. Your facility is both an amazingly complex machine and yet so simple and almost solid state. I bet that will make it much more reliable and long lasting. You have obveiously put a tremendous amount of thought into everything you’ve done. Thanks for sharing. I bet other farmers will follow the trail you have blazed.

  10. David lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter and Holly, I’m constantly impressed at the depth of education you’re giving your kids! What you’re building together is probably going to be at the core of your family enterprise for a couple or three lifetimes, and letting them understand and participate in its establishment is the wisest and cleverest thing I’ve ever seen.

    A question: Does the inspection process and the presence of an inspector ever lessen for prolonged good practice? Having lived in places where market-bought meat has to be tossed in fire to kill the fly-blow, I appreciate the cleanliness we have here, but the process of enforcement seems sort of soviet.

    • The inspection process doesn’t change. There are some lab testing requirements that are more vigorous in the beginning as we demonstrate our ability to do things right and then reduce once we have a good track record.

  11. PV says:

    I am so fascinated by your project. You are doing what most of us can only dream of. You have independence and a home based productive business that involves your whole family. Bravo to the Jeffries! Bravo to Ben for the fun wooden model of the real thing hes been working on. I really love seeing all the photos of the kids working on the butcher shop. You people really do it all yourselves. You should be very proud of what you have accomplished!

  12. Edward says:

    What a wonderful tour of your shop and your thinking process! Love the model!

  13. Wacky internet comment guy says:

    Ben, please don’t take my comments as a measure of your model’s usefulness or your efforts. I love scale models, and I like your layered model regardless of it’s scale accuracy. I don’t actually think there are giant alignment pins holding the full scale butcher shop together nor do I think you were trying to produce a perfect scale representation. In addition to poorly using humor, I was trying to offer another way to build a wooden model while expressing my love for hand tools. A coping saw can get work like that done quickly, if you have one.

    I’m disappointed at the offense that has been taken to what I though was a well labelled wacky internet comment. I like to participate. I overvalue concepts like sarcasm, facetiousness, and satire and when used on the internet I get misinterpreted more than I’d like. It keeps happening, so I’m not shocked, jsut dissappointed

    Walter, I enjoy visiting your site because of your fine family, your expressed values, the vaulted concrete creations, and all the great information you share on your site. I used to live nearby and like being reminded of my time there when I read your posts. Summer pastures, mud season, and piles of snow are all good memories for me. Without the things you and your children make, this site would be a lot different so please don’t ever get discouraged by outside opinions and comments, mine included, just keep building what you love!

  14. Diane N. says:

    Walter, I am really enjoying the new banner (chickens!). Looks to me like various color patterns of Easter eggers, maybe New Hampshire reds, and a Buff Orpington?

    • We tend to have Araucana (Easter Eggers), RH Red, NH Red, Buff Orpington, White Orpington, Speckled Sussex as the dominant breeds in our hens. I some times try some others. I like Barred Rock too but don’t find them to be survivors. Black Sex Link I have found to be too mean – so I eat them quickly. I enjoy the variety of birds. Their primary purpose on our farm is to act as organic pest control for insects, parasites, mice and small snakes. During the winter their food supply dries up and we feed them meat plus what ever they clean up after the bigger livestock like the pigs. The chickens also break apart manure patties, break parasite life cycles and provide eggs for our family as well as for your pigs. It’s a system of species who’s end product to customers is pastured pork.

  15. Brad Beck says:

    Hi Walter,
    really very interested in your Butcher Shop project.
    Is the plan to have this operational 5 days a week? or is the plan to use it seasionally?
    I guess the cost to establish possibly dictates it will need to be in operation 5 days a week???

    • We need processing year round because we deliver our pork fresh to stores, restaurants and individuals weekly all year. This is what makes building our own butcher shop a viable solution to the processing bottleneck. We will do slaughter one day a week. Carcasses will hang for a about a week to get some aging time. Then a different day we’ll do meat cutting and sausage making as well as setting the brine on things to be smoked like bacon and hams. The building is designed with this in mind. With some small changes we could switch to a full time processing mode but won’t as we also need time to farm, homeschool and other projects. You might find this post about capacity interesting.

  16. Hanna says:

    Most excellent Ben! (And family!) I love following your adventures. You all do amazing things. I nominate you for the best homeschool project ever!

  17. Norman says:

    What a NICE piece of design work, and application in fabrication. I’m impressed…I’ll follow this blog.

  18. vickiecannon says:

    Hi folks, My name is Vickie . I live in Georgia. I have throughly enjoyed ever bit of of what I have read and I am looking forward to reading more.I can honestly say I learned a few things today by reading what you have had to say about your farm. Thank you for sharing this with us. Be caught having a good time!

  19. Farmerbob1 says:

    As always, Walter, I learned a little reading this! Two things though.

    First, a question:
    What will you be preparing that needs to cure for a year?

    Second, something I noticed:
    ‘Doors arrived this Wednesday arrived.’
    Need a little editing there!

    • We won’t be doing curing, fermenting or slaughtering this year but in order to build efficiently and to build and efficient building it is best to create the complete shell first. To close the shell first we needed to pour the inner shells. Think of the butcher shop as being a set of five nestled shells that control temperature gradients naturally. Then later when we’re ready to cure, ferment and slaughter we can finish off each of those spaces.

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