HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Local meat - how is it butchered?

This might seem a bit odd, but it is something that's been on my mind. I've been making a significant effort to eat as much locally produced food as is possible. My question is when it comes to meat, if something is locally produced, where is the 'processing' taking place? Is all processing taking place in large plants? I recently watched the movie, Fast Food Nation, and was really affected by some of the images. While it's not a problem for me to stay away from meat at low quality fast food places, I'm trying to figure out if buying organic meat at my local farmers co-op is any better or if that meat is processed along everything else.

Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It depends on where you live, each state has different rules and some places may be "grandfathered in" so that they can process right at their farm instead of taking elsewhere. The only way to really find out is to ask the person you're buying the meat from. If they don't know, don't buy from them. Everyone at my farmer's market can tell you exactly where their meat is processed or what they do with it, how it comes to them, etc.

    1. Some smaller producers use certified butchers that actually have butchering trucks. I've seen it on TV that in order to make it cost effective to butcher one or two heads at a time, the butcher is brought onsite. They sanitize the entire inside of the truck, using either commerical sanitizers/bleach, or natural ones if they are for an organic ranch. Then they butcher the animal to the desired specifications and then wash and sanitize the truck/equipment again. I can't recall where I've seen it.

      1. The USDA requires that all meat offered for sale be slaughtered in a certified slaughterhouse. Some chicken farmers avoid this issue by selling you a live chicken, then killing it as a free service. Needless to say, this doesn't work for a steer or a hog (unless you've got a really big freezer to fill).

        As ESNY notes, there are a (very) few "mobile" slaughterhouses that will process an animal on location. Most, however, are transported to a fixed location for slaughter. A responsible producer will ensure that the process is conducted humanely. Like RR1 says, talk to the person who's selling the meat. It's the best way to fight back against the commoditization of our food.

        2 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          Thanks - I appreciate all of the information. As someone who has always eaten meat, I'm a little caught off guard by how this has affected me.

          1. re: alanbarnes

            USDA inspection requirements apply only to meat sold across state lines. Meat sold intrastate can be under USDA rules or state rules, which vary as noted by rockandroller1 earlier in the thread.

          2. also: usda organic meat must be processed by a usda certified organic processor. this comes along with special inspections, paper trail, rules & training. there are a few big facilities that do organic meat but chances are good, depending on where you live, that the place will be smaller. some small plants do both organic and conventional meats, and must do a complete deep-clean between processing conventional and organic. in practice it generally means that they do the organic meats first in the a.m. and follow with the conventional product, with the deep clean at the end of the day. so no, your organic meat is not processed along with everything else.

            as others have said, farmers market meat sellers generally can tell you exactly where (and when) their meat was processed locally.

            1 Reply
            1. re: soupkitten

              Here's an interesting article about a local producer in Kansas and her views on all this.

            2. Many poultry and rabbit farmers slaughter and butcher in house, because USDA guidelines are strictest for big mammals. Some ranchers avoid the USDA by selling customers a "share" in a cow, unfortunately this requires buying a quarter or half steer upfront and freezing your meat.

              Local, small-scale ranchers often struggle to find a slaughtering and butchering facility that shares their values. There are a few organic/ethical slaughterhouses, but they are rare. This is one of the biggest obstacles facing the sustainable foods movement today. Availability varies drastically from area to area. If I were you, I would talk to the ranchers you are buying from to learn more about the specifics in your region.

              1. We actually have a small meat processor here in the small town outside Kansas City where I live. He processes for local farmers and hunters, and for the muslim community. He has a retail front as well, but I don't know if he sells to any other groceries. I've had the impression he does it only for his own storefront and for individuals rather than for resale. Certainly there are small processors in Kansas, because I see their products in co-ops as well as conventional and natural foods groceries here. I think it just varies, and you have to ask. I wonder if there are any sites who compile such information by state?

                1. Your question is a good one and I have been giving a lot of thought to this myself recently. I often get meat from local farmers and for years have never given much thought to food safety concerns. Have I been lulled into my libertarian ways by the general safety of my food? What? Me worry?

                  Lately, with more organic, humanely-raised, grass-fed, free-range, etc. meats and poultry showing up in farmers markets and increasing public demand, I've begun to wonder about everything from farming practices to slaughtering to processing of sausages and other products.
                  The food supply in the US has been remarkably safe. (Let's not get sidetracked arguing about that - statistically, it is.) We don't have mad cow disease or trichinosis, salmonella has greatly decreased, but it wouldn't take much to reintroduce any of these along with other problems.
                  As more farmers raise animals to provide for increasing demand, we will need more means of getting them to market in ways that protect the public and also the food chain. Lack of regulation can lead to serious problems but over-regulation could hurt small farmers, slowing or stopping the development of these important categories.

                  We can easily see from some of the informed posting here that the issue is very complicated. What do we need to do?

                  1. In Washington State, a group of ranchers got together and commissioned a mobile USDA approved slaughter/butcher truck (an 18-wheeler rig) that travels to the farm. At the end of the day, the farmer has a finished product that can be sold to the consumer. Prior to this, a rancher had to take his stock to a large facility with no guarantee that the final product came from his specific cows. We buy local meat at farmer's markets and some local grocery stores will sell local meat. It's slightly more expensive but it's nice to know that the farmer receives a fair share of the retail cost. And it's yummy.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: chococat

                      Thanks - I need to find something like that. I live in Minneapolis, and moved here recently so I'm not sure how easiy or difficult it will be to find, or it I'll even be able to find it.

                      1. re: bullygirl

                        local meats are easy to find in MSP! we are very supportive of our local farmers here. i'd suggest posting your specific request on the midwest board, or you can start your quest at any of the local co-op groceries. many farmers' markets are now over for the season but the excellent st. paul market is still going strong, with lots of meat products from local farms (50 miles from the market or under) to choose from. there are local meat CSAs that deliver year-round for all your carnivorous needs. you can also visit farm in the market at midtown global market in minneapolis. . . i could go on, but you get the idea!

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          How do the local farms handle the butchering in the Twin Cities area? Both for locally produced meat and for certified organic? You've got to have something in place to supply all those great restaurants and markets.
                          Also, what about grass-fed in winter for meat and dairy? Silage? Free-range for all? Maybe it will get cold sooner or later...

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            there are a number of small processors around MSP who handle the animals from small farms (though it is many times difficult to get organic processing-- easier for chickens/poultry. . . anyway.) these small processors operate in a similar manner as the processor in the article cited above by bbqboy-- the processor butchers and quick-freezes the meat, and each individual farmer rents frozen meat locker space (separated from each other) based on individual needs/volume. the farmers pick up meat as it is ordered/sold, or they deliver special orders, large orders, etc. in retail, most of our local meats are available frozen direct from the farmer, or at the store either frozen or "thawed for your convenience." you can, of course, order a whole animal, or 1/2 of an animal, from many local farms-- this is a good idea if you'll go thru the meat and if you want to specify particular cuts above other ones-- can get pretty custom orders in a lot of cases.

                            as to the grass-fed-- i don't want to generalize too much, as each farm's methods can differ-- when in doubt, talk to the farmer. . . but the answer in many cases may surprise you, & i know of many local farms that pasture year-round! it's mainly about picking a breed for winter hardiness rather than the factory-farm formula of most salable-beef-yield-per-feed-input--

                            for example one of my favorite small grass-fed farms in our area's cattle are an angus/highland cross-- see link below for pics of highland cattle-- & their cows are very hardy and can winter very well in our subzero temps with no shelter except the rest of the herd. they are only grass-fed-- they are brought hay in the winter for forage. the farmers are amazing animal husbands imo but really, this is what all farms were like a century ago. people selected animals as much for their suitability to the farm's climate as they did for their "production" value.

                            here's the highland cattle pix:

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              I asked about the winter grazing because I had spent some time on a farm in NE MN near Duluth years ago in midwinter. Brrrrr. Several feet of snow on the ground which they said would last for months. The cattle were turned out near the barns but lasted the winter on hay and silage which the family had stored for the winter from their own fields.

                              So when we talk about grass-fed beef in areas of the US with real winter, can we assume that we're not talking about grazing like we would be in the summer or on the West Coast or the Gulf States?

                              What about free-range chickens and pigs?

                              You are a great resource, soupkitten! Thanks!

                    2. This was just covered in the Washington Post about some local farmers being fined for selling meat they butchered themselves instead of at a USDA inspected site: