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Maceration not working

Discussion in 'Skulls and Skeletons' started by EricG, Jan 6, 2015.

  1. EricG

    EricG New Member

    I am in need of some advice or direction to proceed. I attempted a whitetail deer maceration project recently, and it is not working. I think the skull has been in the water for close to a month now. Most of the flesh has been removed, but the rear of the skull near where the lower jaw connects and around where the spinal cord enters the brain cavity still have alot of soft rotted meat on them. Some areas are very stuck to the skull and will not pry off easily with a knife or scalpel. Almost like the membrane is glued to the skull.
    Here is the process I followed maybe someone will notice a mistake. I cleaned the skull (probably more than I needed to) removed eyes, jaw, fat behind the eyes etc. The skull was sitting out in my garage for a couple weeks at below freezing temperatures. I then brought it in the house for a day to thaw it. I placed it in an insulated bucket in the garage with just plain tap water and an aquarium heater. The water was 108 degrees for two weeks. After 4 days I changed half the water.(which may have been a mistake), and when I pulled it out after a week nothing really rinsed off with a hose. I learned that 108 degrees was a bit too warm so on December 18th I changed the water and turned the temp down to about 85 degrees, and added some small chunks of raw meat. After a week or so I checked it again and there was no progress, It was still not clean and nothing rinsed off since the membrane seemed to be stuck on the skull. I then thought maybe the wrong bacteria got started and stopped the maceration. So I dumped the water, washed my bucket out with soap and water really well, soaked the skull in clean water overnight, and then returned the skull to the insulated (cleaned) bucket at 85 degrees for two weeks, and added some small chunks of meat. I pulled out the skull this morning and nothing had changed. The skull has been in the water for over a month now and it has made no progress since the first time I pulled it out of the water after 4 days and changed the water. I thought that could have been the problem so that is why I attempted to start over with the clean bucket and fresh raw meat, but it didn't make a difference. I have searched the archives here extensively and have not found anyone else with a similar problem. Any advice would be appreciated.
  2. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    I think macerating in the cold weather like that is going to slow it down quite a bit. If it were summer, it would be done by now. With it being that cold it's going to take a super long time because the cold is slowing down the growth of bacteria. You could get a heater or wait for warmer weather, or let it take its time.

  3. akvz

    akvz New Member

    Soak in ammonia for a few days, it may make the flesh easier to remove by hand, if not, it should be easier to macerate off. I used to macerate in the summer only, with bins outside in the hot Texas sun, and while it worked for bobcats and other small mammals, I did notice for larger animals it would just stop working after a while... Ammonia soaks soften the tissue, though, and may help to re-start the process.
  4. 689

    689 Well-Known Member

    If you have heated water at 85.put some ammonia and wisk in there.leave it for a week or two.had a skull come in that was boiled.you dont need to put anything in there like meat..
  5. Raphite01

    Raphite01 New Member

    Do you have any pond or river water you could add? Sounds like a good bacteria community just isn't getting started. Maybe the meat you're adding is too sterile to overcome the chlorine in the tap water.
  6. lokireptiles

    lokireptiles Member

    You can always try to get some freshwater aquarium starter bacteria that they sell in powder or liquid.
    It may inoculate the bucket with enough bacteria to start the process. Part if the problem is you may have inadvertently slowed the process by changing out the water and also by rinsing the skull. The best thing to do is leave it alone. Let the bacteria build up and do their work.
  7. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    What you describe is really odd. The 108 was a bit warm but once you dropped it down to 85 it should have restarted and finished. Typically this is done in a week, less than two. You might want to just give it a soak in ammonia for a few days to help kill some of the smell and soften up what is there and then go after what is left with a knife. Make sure you wear gloves and do not get cut.

    Changing half the water at 4 or 5 days is ok as long as you don't hose off or disturb the skull and the water you add is close to to same temp. I only do that myself if the smell is really bad and the water is turning black. The raw meat was added to try and get some rotting going and restart your bacteria. Did you notice if the raw meat disintegrated? If so, the bacteria went after that and for some reason the remaining flesh on your deer head isn't being affected. Possibly it might have been slow cooked by the warmer than needed temps. You might find that the flesh that is left pries away from the bone in large chunks and it cleans up without a lot of effort.

    If you can post some pictures it will help.
  8. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    I misread it and though you were keeping it cold. Yeah, Seawolf is right. Also, I don't know that 108 would have cooked it too much since it gets that hot here in the summer, but it might have cooked it enough to harden the meat and make it harder to fall apart or get eaten by bacteria. I'd stick with what Seawolf says. He knows more than just about anyone on here about skulls.
  9. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Just a comment here - Sea Wolf is a female, and spends a LOT of time answering questions here. I wouldn't have the time to spend that she devotes to this site.
  10. joeym

    joeym Old Murphey

    Raise your temperature to 90, and forget about it for at least 30 days. I suspect your water temp is cooler than you think.
  11. marshtaxi

    marshtaxi Member

    I have had this same problem with a few skulls, ended up bagging them in a heated room and it finished them.
  12. EricG

    EricG New Member

    Thanks for the replies everyone. Some of the mistakes that could have caused this may have been 1) I used tap water from a city source (too much chlorine?) 2) After changing half the water after 4 days, I hosed the skull off, (thinking since I cleaned the skull really well, it may all come clean)
    The meat remaining on the skull is very slimy and grey, not dried at all. (yes I do have pictures and will try to post them later)
    The meat I added after attempting to restart the process was gone, so the bacteria must have liked that. I think I am going to have to soak it in ammonia and then attempt to cut the remaining away. I was periodically checking the temp of the water with a meat thermometer since this is my first skull and we have subzero temps now, so I wanted to make sure the insulation on the bucket was enough to hold in the heat, and it was always around 85 degrees. I will attempt another skull soon and am hoping it will work out better than this. I think I will use some river water and not change the water. My question regarding that is, after a week in the water do you attempt to spray the skull clean with water? The reason I ask is because if it doesn't come clean will there be enough bacteria to finish the skull in the bucket?
  13. AH7

    AH7 New Member

    Why do you keep spraying it and changing the water. Set it and forget it! Better still - add a fresh head to the bucket of something else to get all of the good meat enzymes and bacteria back into the mix. 85-degrees should be fine - I do mine hotter, but that's because I macerate and degrease at the same temp (in different buckets).

    The chlorine shouldn't be a huge deal unless you keep chucking out the bacteria as you keep doing for some reason.
  14. Sea Wolf

    Sea Wolf Well-Known Member

    LOL .. but I didn't spoil his fun. I think a lot of folks on here think I'm a guy. I don't mind. I do a drive by when I get home from work but I wish I had more time to stalk the posts here. I usually miss the good stuff that pops up in the For Sale section. One of these days PA, I'll have some extra time to say hello when I pass through on Rt 99.

    This was why I had him toss in a couple of chunks of raw meat. It vanished so the bacteria were there, just not working on the head for some reason. In your next try, using pond water or rain water can't hurt. Try leaving it for a week before messing with it. Then just drain off half the water and refill. Don't hose off, scrub or otherwise bother the skull. If you look at the pictures posted on my beaver skull thread, you will see that grey, nasty, slimy flesh. Another few days in the bucket got rid of it. I still can't fathom why you still have stuff stuck to yours. You will also notice that maceration bucket in snow. If you have a heater and insulate to some extent, you can macerate away in freezing weather with no problems. Even better as the neighbors windows are closed and no one notices the smell.