By Diane Schivera, M.A.T.
Getting your livestock to the butcher or processor is not just a matter of walking them onto a trailer and driving there. There are procedures to do first and best ways to transport in order to produce quality livestock products.
Planning and Delivering for Slaughter
You need to contact the processor for an appointment to have the animals slaughtered. The lead-time required depends on the species and the time of year. Turkeys to be processed in an inspected facility (allowing sales at a farmers’ market) should be scheduled at least the winter before. Some processors require that beef animals to be processed in the fall be scheduled a year in advance. It is easier to get an appointment for a cow in the middle of June. The slower season for processors is January to June.
When deciding which processor to use, consider the distance to the plant. The longer the trip, the harder it is on the livestock. Most plants have facilities to hold animals overnight, so you can drop them off the day before. This may be difficult if you are emotionally attached at all to the animal, but it will give the animal a chance to acclimate to the environment, calming down so that it produces less cortisol, a stress hormone. This will improve the quality of all meat and, particularly, of swine – especially of pigs with the recessive gene for susceptibility to porcine stress syndrome, which results in pale, soft exudative muscle (PSE). It is a good idea to visit the processor first and ask to tour of the facilities so that you will be familiar with the procedure.
When an animal has a relatively empty stomach, the operator does not have to work around a full stomach inside the animal’s abdomen, so he will be able to do a neater, cleaner job. This requires that the farmer withhold food from the animal for at least 12 hours before slaughter. This does not include water! Animals must be well hydrated at all times.
Bringing in animals clean and free of mud or manure will reduce the chance of contamination, so the processor can more easily produce a sanitary carcass in a cleaner slaughter facility. Be sure your animal is labeled with a tag, tattoo or otherwise marked to enable the staff to identify it.
Timeliness is very important to processors. They operate on a tight schedule and are paying staff to work, not to stand around waiting for you to arrive. If you do not bring your livestock to the plant the day before, arrive at the appointed time on the day of processing!
When loading an animal into the truck or trailer, stay calm and quiet and be patient. Remove distractions that may cause animals to balk – such as seeing people blocking their way; maneuvering a steep loading ramp; dogs; rags or other items hanging from fences; and shadows or reflections from water. It is easier to move animals from a dark area to a well-lit area than to try to move them into a dark truck or trailer. Again, keep the animal calm to reduce its stress and cortisol levels. Loading does not always go as planned, so leave plenty of time. This will contribute to your prompt arrival.
Storing and Labeling Meat
Once the meat is processed, pick it up promptly with your payment in hand and have a plan for storing it. Generally you pick it up frozen. Do you have enough freezer space? Or, if it is fresh, do you have enough refrigerator space? If you don’t know how much space is needed, ask the processor.
Labeling is the next hurdle after you’ve got the appointment for your livestock. Labels can be generic or require approval, and labels can be based on using a USDA-inspected or a Maine state-inspected plant.
According to the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service, “FSIS’s meat and poultry regulations permit certain labels, including those that are not likely to present significant policy issues that have health or economic significance, to be ‘generically approved’ without having to be submitted to the Agency’s headquarters-based labeling staff, as long as the labels comply with the regulations. Although not submitted to FSIS, generically approved labels are approved by FSIS by being in compliance with applicable regulations.” (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/labeling/labeling-policies/faq-generic-labeling)
Guidelines for generic and approved labels are the same for state and federal plants, but if you are using a USDA-inspected plant, you must submit your label for approval even earlier than if you’re using a state-inspected plant, because it can take up to six months or more to receive approval for USDA inspection.
This site has a very clear PowerPoint presentation that is a simple starting point: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/1364c48d-214b-41bf-bab8-6289f951cb31/Generic-Final-Rule-Overview-Industry.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
This site – https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/labeling/Labeling-policies – has all the needed information about federal approval of labels, whether generic or those requiring approval, plus more information.
The application for federal label approval is at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/4aeeca8c-8ba6-4288-a222-e6ca8764a9f7/FSIS_7234-1_Approval_of_Labels.pdf?MOD=AJPERES, with instructions on the last page.
Randy Trahan, the consumer protection inspector with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations, is in charge of label approval in Maine for state-inspected facilities (207-287-4437; [email protected]).
Generic labeling need not be submitted for approval – but be aware of requirements for generic labels. A list of allowed claims for generic labels is included at the end of this website: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/bf170761-33e3-4a2d-8f86-940c2698e2c5/Comp-Guide-Labeling-Evaluation-Approval.pdf?MOD=AJPERES. Be aware that allergens must be listed.
Labels requiring approval include any label using temporary claims (only important to large companies that do big testing trials and must have labels for the product)
• religious exemption
• exports with labeling deviations
• special claims
A complete list of special claims, such as “organic,” “grass-fed,” “pasture-raised” and “natural,” is posted at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/bf170761-33e3-4a2d-8f86-940c2698e2c5/Comp-Guide-Labeling-Evaluation-Approval.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
A good way to start creating a label is to look at existing labels. A label may include logos or drawings, but the contrast must be effective if you use colors. All labels must include name and address of responsible party. This can be either the processor or the farm, e.g., produced by [farm name] or processed by [plant name].
• common name of product
• list of ingredients if more that one
• handling instructions, e.g., “keep frozen or refrigerated”
• safe handling instructions for raw meat and poultry
• net weight
• date of slaughter (poultry only)
• mark of inspection, state or USDA, or poultry exempt status, including plant number and “Not Processed under continuous inspection”
The label must be sized to fit on the principle display panel of your items.
When your sample label is complete and you think it meets the generic label guidelines, visit an inspector at the plant you intend to use and ask if he or she agrees with your label’s status. If you decide to use a generic label and there are any problems with the label, you will be required to recall the item, to collect it from any points of sale and either to eat it (literally) or bring it back to the processor for relabeling.
Remember, you only need to do a sketch or mock-up on the computer to submit a label to the USDA or state for approval. Don’t have labels made until they are approved. If you want to save money, you can have a space on the label where you can write or stamp the name of the product. This is possible only if you are producing single product items.
If you produce certified organic product, the label must also be submitted to and approved by your certifier, e.g., MOFGA Certification Services LLC, BEFORE the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (MDACF) or USDA approves it.
Diane Schivera is MOFGA’s organic livestock specialist. You can reach her at 568-4142 or [email protected].
Many thanks to Henrietta Beaufait, DVM, of the MDACF Red Meat and Poultry Inspection Program for her time a patience helping me getting the labeling information correct and to Donna Coffin, Extension professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, for other additions.