Custom-exempt Slaughter and Processing

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In some areas, inspected slaughter is not available either from USDA or state equivalent plants. Another option that farmers can use is sale of live animals followed by custom-exempt processing. There are a number of restrictions and requirements with this method, but many farmers use it successfully.

With custom-exempt processing, the farmer must sell live animals. Farmers can sell an animal to more than one customer, but an animal must not be slaughtered and processed until the entire animal is sold. Verifying the sale of whole, live animals becomes complicated if an animal is divided among many customers. The MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division recommends the following guidelines for sale of animals for custom processing:

  • Sell quarters, halves or wholes of beef and bison animals and of large Cervidae animals such as elk.
  • Sell halves or wholes of hogs, sheep, goats, and smaller Cervidae animals.

The MDA Dairy and Food Inspection Division recommends that farmers have a system to track animals and verify sale of live animals. Animals should be ear-tagged or otherwise identified so that customers can make their choice. With custom-exempt processing a customer’s choice of an animal substitutes for official inspection at the time of slaughter, so farmers must offer customers the opportunity to select their own animals. Customers should be given a form to sign stating that they selected a particular animal, or that they declined to select and instead authorized the farmer to select an animal for them. View Sample Form.

Farmers should sell live animals by live weight. Farmers who do not have livestock scales available can take a payment from customers before slaughter, and then base the final price on hanging weight of the carcass.

Farmers can arrange slaughter and processing for their customers. However, customers pay the farmer for the animal and pay the processor separately for the processing. Farmers should not handle customer payments to custom-exempt processors.

Customers should pick up their own processed meat. Farmers can do occasional delivery to customers who are unable to pick up their own.

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