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Serving: IN
piece of pork with local branding Tom J. Bechman
SPACE CRUNCH: Local butchering facilities have long waiting lists of people wanting to have animals butchered. This carcass and the live animal were inspected before slaughter.

Pandemic sends consumers scrambling for local food

The waiting list at some local butchering facilities approaches 12 months.

A friend wanting to have a hog butchered called a locker plant on April 20. “Sure, we can schedule that pig … for April 1, 2021.” It wasn’t an April Fools’ Day joke.

People already raising locally produced meats say the trend was hot before COVID-19. Once people saw empty meat cases, some got their first inkling that they had taken the constant supply of cheap, safe food for granted.

Some reacted by hoarding products, and not just toilet paper. Others sought out their own supply of food, including meats.

When some commercial packing plants closed temporarily and news reports indicated farmers had nowhere to go with market-ready hogs, more people wondered if they could latch on to a hog for their own meat supply. Phones in local butchering facilities went on overload.

Butchering at home?

Phones began ringing at the Indiana Board of Animal Health, too, notes Denise Derrer with BOAH. “People wanted to know where they could find someone to butcher animals,” she explains. “Soon, they began inquiring if they could butcher in their back yard. We had several calls asking if we had handouts on how to butcher your own animals.”

If you’re wondering if that’s legal, Derrer says it is if you only use the meat for your family and don’t sell or give it away. State law stipulates home-butchered meat must be consumed in your own home. A few farmers, in fact, still butcher their own animals.

However, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s smart for everyone. If you’re a consumer doing it in town, you would want to check local zoning regulations first. And if you need to ask for a handout to guide you, perhaps you ought to think twice before doing your own slaughtering.

Derrer notes that wait lists were growing at local butchering facilities even before the pandemic occurred. Most of these businesses have limited cold-storage facilities where meat must hang, and many also have a limited labor supply. The increase in demand for local meats was already pressuring them before the pandemic, and before packing plant closures sent people looking for places to butcher animals.

Guidelines for meat

If you want an animal butchered and you’re lucky enough to have a reservation at a facility, here’s what you need to know, Derrer says. If you’re using a custom-exempt establishment, all facilities are inspected by BOAH for general sanitation, but animals aren’t inspected. This is a great option if you’re just having an animal butchered for your own use. Because animals aren’t inspected, the meat should be wrapped in paper stating “not for sale.” You can’t sell it or donate it to charity.

To sell or donate meat, the animal must be slaughtered and processed by BOAH inspectors. The carcass must be inspected, too. Meat packages get an Indiana inspection stamp and can be sold or donated. Some Indiana facilities also qualify for federal inspection and a federal label.

BOAH has a limited number of inspectors, but the agency is doing its best to accommodate the needs of local plants that have increased their capacity, Derrer says.

Here is a list of approved butchering facilities. Here are guidelines on sale of meat and poultry at farmers markets. Contact the market master for specific requirements.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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