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 venture.
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 reasons.
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 slaughter on-site.
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
“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:
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.
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
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.
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 choice.