Month: August 2023

24 Aug 2023

A Small Producer’s How-to Guide to Animal Processing

A Small Producer's How-To Guide to Animal Processing

As a small scale farmer, you may want to incorporate animals into your operation to positively impact your soil health, and to provide additional revenue streams for your operation. But how do you go from having animals on your pasture to meat in your freezer? There are many points to consider, and with a little planning you can make the most of the benefits your animals can bring to your operation.

What kind of processing do you need?

One of the most important questions is: how are you planning to sell your finished meat? If you are planning to sell it in a retail setting, you will need to select a State or Federal (USDA) inspected processing facility. Federal inspection is required if you are selling the finished product across state lines (common if you are shipping meat to customers). If you are processing animals only for your own consumption, or plan to sell only to customers who will work with the butcher directly, you may instead choose a custom exempt processor.

If you are processing animals for your own consumption only, on-farm slaughter could be an option for you. Consider buying a copy of Adam Danforth’s book Butchering, which provides very thorough step-by-step information. There may also be butchers in your area who will harvest animals on-site for you on a contract basis. Ask around at your local 4-H, extension office, butcher shops, or ask other local farmers to see if anyone nearby is offering this service.

How to find processors in your area:

Be sure you start your search early. While each processor has their own timeline, some slaughter appointments are commonly made a year in advance.

Start with a Google search in your area. Another good resource is the FSIS Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory. You can use their search tools to locate butchers in your state/region that accept the species you are planning to harvest. Be sure to ask other producers in your area who is processing their animals – personal recommendations from other farmers can be the best place to start.

How to choose a processor:

Once you have identified some processing options, it’s time to follow up with each one to make sure you make informed decisions. Some things to consider:

  • Call and talk with someone at the facility. Building a personal relationship with your butcher is important.
  • Understand their fees, minimum requirements, and any other particulars.
  • Make sure they can provide the services you need – organic processing availability, label claims, retail labels with weights, etc. are different at each facility. Most processors will offer vacuum sealing, which will offer the longest shelf life while frozen (at least 1 year). Paper wrapping may also be available at a lower cost, but the product will need to be consumed more quickly to avoid freezer burn.
  • Value-added products, like ham, bacon, and sausages may help boost your total carcass value. You may want to purchase and sample some value-added products from the processor, in order to select what best suits the taste of your customers. Be sure to review ingredient lists to make sure they meet your expectations.
  • Make a facility visit ahead of time, and make sure their facility and dropoff site suits your needs and meets your standards. This is also a good time to meet their staff in person.
  • Consider travel time to their location and its related stress on your animals, and wear and tear on your equipment.
  • The processor may not accept appointments for all species at all times of year. Make sure to confirm that the harvest dates you have in mind align with their schedule.

Deciding what cuts and products to order

Before your drop-off date, the processor will have you fill out a form (known as a cut sheet or cutting instructions) to make sure your animals are cut to your preferences. The most important factor when filling out the cut sheet is: what do you/your customers want to eat? Are there seasonal or regional variables you should keep in mind? Are there less popular cuts you could have fabricated into more valuable items (like having chicken drumsticks made into sausages)? Make sure to work with your butcher when filling out the cut sheet, to make sure your requests are within their capability and to understand if any of your choices will incur additional fees.

What equipment is needed to transport animals to a processor?

It is very important to ensure the safety of yourself and your animals during transport. Transportation can be stressful on animals, so ensuring your equipment is properly selected and in good working order can help mitigate additional stress. Stressed animals can have a greater tendency to be injured during transport, which could lead to bruising or broken bones that can reduce carcass quality or could lead to an animal being condemned at the processor.

Small animals like chickens and rabbits may be transported in crates made for that purpose. Large animals like sheep, hogs and cattle should be transported in a livestock trailer towed by a truck. Make sure your vehicle is capable of towing the total weight of your trailer with the animals inside.

Picking up your finished product

Work with your processor to schedule a pickup date and time. Keep in mind that value-added products might take longer to produce than your standard cuts. Ask how many/what size boxes to expect, and plan cargo space in your vehicle accordingly. If you are traveling a long distance, make a plan to keep the meat cold (insulated blankets, coolers, refrigerated truck or van, etc.).

Storage post-harvest

If you are selling directly to a customer in bulk, your customer may pick up the finished product from the butcher directly and you will not need to store the meat yourself. If you are planning to sell the product in bulk at a later date, or as individual retail cuts, you will pick up the meat from the butcher and then maintain it in your own cold storage.

Acquire adequate frozen storage sized to meet your needs, such as chest/upright freezer(s), or a walk-in freezer with shelving. Consider a battery powered temperature alarm to make sure you don’t lose product in the event of an unexpected freezer failure or power outage – these alarms are often equipped with bluetooth alerts, which can be useful if your storage is in a less frequently visited location. Have a backup power plan (such as a generator) in the event of a power outage.

Find a storage organization method that works for you. Keep an inventory list to make sure you know what you have available to sell, and the date the product entered your inventory. In general, it is best to sell vacuum sealed meats within a year of packaging.

If you are selling meat to others, you may be subject to Health Department standards for inspection, safe storage and handling. Be sure to check with your local jurisdiction for accurate information in your area. In general, refrigerated meats must be kept below 40ºF and frozen meats must be kept frozen at or below 0ºF at all times. Raw poultry must be cooked or frozen within 9 days of slaughter (slaughter day is day 1). In general, other meats should be frozen with 10-14 days of packaging in order to maintain quality.

Data collection post-harvest

You may find it beneficial to track some data post-harvest, to better inform your management decisions in the future. Data you may consider tracking in a simple spreadsheet may include:

  • Animal weights pre-harvest (if available).
  • Animal hanging weights post-harvest.
  • Weights of the product received back from the butcher from each harvest. You can use this to calculate your total carcass yield. You can also decide what your profit margin needs to be, and work backward to determine your retail pricing per pound/cut/animal.
  • Your sales over time, in total and per cut. You may find it useful to track this information at different intervals for comparison, for instance each month, quarter and year. This data may help inform the way you fill out your cut sheets for future harvests, as you compare your sales vs. your inventory.

There are many considerations to keep in mind when deciding how to harvest animals, which can be overwhelming at first. If you have questions that we haven’t addressed here, please reach out to and we will do our best to help.

07 Aug 2023
International Grasslands Congress attendees (about 20 individuals total) visiting Greenacres, standing in pasture having a group discussion

International Grasslands Congress

International Grasslands Congress attendees (about 20 individuals total) visiting Greenacres, standing in pasture having a group discussion

International Grasslands Congress Tours Greenacres

Researchers, policymakers, and industry leaders from around the world came together in Covington, Kentucky at the International Grasslands Congress this past May to discuss the latest developments in grassland science, management, and policy. This was the first time the Congress was held in the United States since 1981.

Greenacres Foundation was thrilled to welcome Congress attendees to our Indian Hill and Brown County locations to share our grassland restoration practices which are based on the principles of generative agriculture. These principles are designed to promote biodiversity, improve soil health, and help develop more sustainable farming methods. Greenacres’ approach emphasizes the importance of working with natural systems and closely mimics the bison grazing ecosystems. These ecosystems naturally sequestered carbon for thousands of years and built extremely fertile soil which helped make the United States the agricultural powerhouse it is today.

“Our goal is to help restore degraded grasslands and create thriving ecosystems that sequester carbon to benefit both people and the environment. Having experts from around the world see the important work that our community is doing in the field is an important step in making Ohio and Kentucky a leader in this space.”
Carter Randolph, Greenacres President

International Grasslands Congress Attendees touring Greenacres' Indian Hill pastures

Greenacres was a sponsor of this year’s event and hosted a booth at the Congress where attendees came to learn more about our work and interact with our team of experts. We also participated in several panel discussions and workshops, where our team shared insights on topics such as grassland restoration, community engagement, and sustainable agriculture.

“It was such a pleasure to connect with colleagues from around the world and learn from their experiences,” said Randolph. “Healthy grasslands are an important piece of the climate change puzzle, we were happy to welcome our local media figures to come learn with us during the event. Together, we can work towards a more sustainable future for all.”

About Greenacres Foundation

Greenacres Foundation is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preservation, land stewardship, and promoting sustainable agriculture. The Foundation works to restore degraded ecosystems, promote biodiversity, and educate local communities through innovative programs and partnerships.

About International Grassland Congress

The International Grassland Congress (IGC) is a worldwide gathering of leading scientists, students, industry, extension and primary producers that meet every 3-5 years to share their research results and their experiences.

07 Aug 2023
Cattle grazing in pasture with tall trees in background

Greenacres Foundation President Chosen as Farm Foundation Round Table Fellow

Cattle grazing in pasture with tall trees in background

Greenacres Foundation President Chosen as Farm Foundation Round Table Fellow

Greenacres Foundation President, Carter Randolph, has been selected as a Farm Foundation Round Table Fellow for the Farm Foundation. This recognition highlights both Carter’s and Greenacres contributions to sustainable agriculture and land preservation.

As President of Greenacres Foundation, Carter has demonstrated unwavering commitment and leadership in promoting sustainable agriculture practices and environment stewardship. His selection as a Farm Foundation Round Table Fellow is a testament to his dedication to advancing agriculture policies and practices in the United States.

The Farm Foundation, renowned for advancing the agriculture industry, selects a limited number of accomplished individuals as fellows each year. This fellowship will provide Carter the opportunity for collaboration, knowledge sharing and policy development with leaders and experts from diverse backgrounds in the agriculture industry.

Carter Randolph headshot in green polo

“I am humbled to be selected as a fellow for the Farm Foundation. I look forward to engaging with fellow industry leaders and driving impactful change in agriculture for the betterment of our environment and communities.”
Carter Randolph, Greenacres President

Greenacres Foundation is proud of this achievement and confident Carter’s participation as a Farm Foundation Round Table Fellow will further their mission of fostering sustainable agriculture and land preservation.

About Greenacres Foundation:

Greenacres Foundation is a leading non-profit organization dedicated to land preservation, sustainable agriculture and education. Through strategic partnerships and community engagement, Greenacres Foundation works to protect land, promote sustainable farming practices and educate the public on the importance of environment stewardship.

About Farm Foundation

Farm Foundation is an accelerator of practical solutions for agriculture. They leverage the power of collaboration between food and agriculture stakeholders with diverse perspectives to spark beneficial solutions advancing agriculture in positive ways. Their unique approach combines the trust and reliability of a “think tank” with the impact and urgency of a “do tank,” helping turn ideas into action.