October 12, 2006: In 1994 after years of
war, three brothers—Stjepan, Zlatko and Dzevat—left
the Bosnian countryside near the Serbian border where their
family had farmed as long as anyone could remember.
“The war, it destroyed our farm, our way of life. We
took our families to the United States so our children would
be safe,” said the eldest brother in a heavy accent
as he anxiously glanced toward the barnyard where the calves
were standing. “But here, in the grocery store, veal
is too expensive for us to eat like we did in Bosnia and they
don’t sell the, how you say, the things you throw out.”
Earlier that day, I had received a call from the owner of
a European market catering to immigrants where less than a
week previously I had posted a business card on their bulletin
board. “You have veal?” she asked. Indeed I did,
but the calves were about 100 pounds shy of my normal butcher
weight, I explained. “No, we want them that size,”
she replied, and I gave her directions to the farm. Within
hours, the three brothers had arrived.
After we agreed on a price, they fashioned a halter out of
a piece of baling twine and began leading the calf toward
their SUV that had been lined with plastic sheeting in the
back. “Is OK we take live calf? We want to butcher.”
Veal calves are fairly new to our farm on which meat goats
are the primary crop. After hearing stories from some of our
goat customers about neighbors calling the police during a
backyard butchering, we began allowing on-site slaughtering
to experienced customers. I offered the three brothers the
same opportunity after seeing they were prepared to butcher
at home—a large ice chest, buckets, a bone saw and knives
were stashed in the back seat.
“Is OK?” Their faces lit up. With the deftness
of any professional butcher, the three brothers had slaughtered,
cleaned and quartered the calf in less than an hour. Not even
a feed sack of offal was left after they packaged up as much
of the calf as possible, including the head, feet and most
of the innards.
Their smiles, warm handshakes and promises to return proved
they were satisfied customers. The cash in hand with minimal
expenses was confirmation that the decision to allow customers
to slaughter on-site added to the profitability of my livestock
Many customers also want to be able to slaughter “kosher”
or “halal,” which are religious dietary laws for
Jews and Muslims. But, with the influx of immigrants, a number
of urban areas have passed ordinances banning backyard butchering.
Residents of Sanford and Monroe, two North Carolina cities,
face a $50 fine if caught slaughtering within the town limits.
Many immigrants, like the Hmong from southern East Asia,
have strong cultural beliefs regarding fresh meat. Txong Pao
Lee, executive director of the Hmong Cultural Center in Saint
Paul, Minnesota, explains that Hmong women routinely consume
fresh meat the first month after having a baby for health
Not for everyone
Be advised—allowing on-farm slaughter is not for everyone.
There are a number of considerations to take into account
before choosing to provide the opportunity for customers to
The first and most important: Can you mentally deal with
slaughtering? If you routinely butcher your own livestock
or even game, then letting customers butcher their own animals
won’t pose much of an emotional dilemma.
“Although we eat our lamb, we’d always taken
it to the butcher shop,” said Betty Anderson, who had
raised market lambs for nearly 20 years. She only allowed
customers to slaughter on-farm in accordance with their religious
laws once. “I didn’t want to watch and they were
quick about it, but seeing the blood in the grass bothered
me and my dogs got into what they left [the offal] making
a terrible mess,” she said when explaining why she didn’t
allow further on-farm slaughter.
If you are comfortable letting customers dispatch and clean
livestock on your farm after they buy it from you, here are
five things to keep in mind for health, safety, liability
and happy customers:
Withhold feed for 24 hours. Prior to any slaughtering,
especially on-farm, keep the animal off feed for 24 hours
prior but provide access to water. Because many customers
will want to keep the stomach and intestines, this will make
cleaning much easier.
Provide a site that is clean, grassy and discrete.
Provide customers with a dust-free area with good drainage
for their slaughter location. A grassy area is recommended
to avoid contamination with dirt or manure. It’s also
a good idea to slaughter out-of-site of herd mates.
Provide tools, table and waste collection. Any successful
businessperson will tell you that happy customers return.
After reaching out to customers interested in slaughtering
on-farm, we’ve provided additional tools to enhance
their ability to complete their job with efficiency, safety
and cleanliness. This includes a place to properly hang the
carcass for cleaning, running water, containers for offal,
a sanitized table (preferably stainless steel) for on-the-spot
cleaning of organs and entrails, and waste disposal.
We also go the extra mile by providing specialized items.
For example, the first time our Moroccan customers slaughtered
at the farm, they asked if it was OK to build a little fire
on the ground to burn the hair off of the head to make it
easier to prepare for cooking. We provided an old Weber grill
that was scheduled to be on the next trip to the landfill.
Keep different holiday dates in mind. Understand
that many ethnic customers’ holidays do not follow the
Western calendar. Consider that the Muslim calendar is 11
days shorter, meaning their holidays will appear earlier as
the years progress.
In addition to holidays, customers who are happy with your
meat may ask to slaughter several times a year to provide
year-round meat to their families. On-farm butchering in America
traditionally occurs in the late fall when temperatures drop
to the 40s during the day. When customers slaughter in warmer
weather, require them to come prepared with chests stocked
with lots of ice for cooling down carcasses to prevent spoilage.
Know your customers—and your risk. Don’t
allow anyone who does not know what they are doing to slaughter
on your farm. According to Farm Bureau Insurance, allowing
on-farm slaughter is a slippery slope of liability.
After a survey of several insurance companies offering agricultural
policies, none of them underwrote any type of policy covering
customers who slaughtered on-farm. The companies suggested
separate coverage for a commercial butchering operation, which
would be cost-prohibitive to a small-scale family farm and
thus would prevent the customers themselves from butchering.
Get to know your customers before making the decision. In
most cases, you’ll find that those customers wanting
to do their own butchering are quite experienced. Ultimately,
the decision to allow on-farm slaughtering for is a personal