Meat from Your Home-Reared Livestock
During the filming of Programme Four of “Sheep on Your Smallholding” we visited a small, traditional village abattoir with Adam Henson, who, with the owner/butcher, talked through the process of taking animals to slaughter, especially with the smallholder in mind.
Abattoirs vary considerably, from a small village abattoir to large industrial scale plants. Some specialise in organic produce, and are accredited by the Soil Association, and others specialise in Halal production to satisfy the ethnic market. To find your nearest abattoir contact your local Animal Health Department at your Council Trading Standards offic, or visit the Food Standards Agency website. For a lost of UK organically certified abattoirs, visit the Soil Association website.
The abattoir is where your livestock will be slaughtered and 'dressed'. All abattoirs are supervised by Official Veterinarians (OVs) of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). They ensure that all Food Business Operators (FBOs) comply with rules for:
- meat hygiene
- animal welfare
- statutory regulations
It’s important to discuss with the abattoir how you want your animals dealt with, and the costs involved, before you take them in. Consider the following points:
- Transport – see if you can arrange a date with another smallholder taking the same species to save money on transport. Remember, when moving animals, you must transport them in a way that won’t cause them injury or unnecessary suffering. Read the livestock transport regulations on the DEFRA website.
The transport of livestock to the abattoir must be recorded according to the regulations for the type of animal. Also, remember that you’ll need to collect the meat/carcasses, which also take up a lot of space.
- Age of animal – if a sheep (or goat) is over 12 months old (identified by dentition) the abattoir must ‘split’ the carcass to prevent TSEs [Transmissible Spongiform Encephalitis] entering the human food chain, and this adds to the cost of slaughter. There are also regulations applying to cattle over the age of 30 months (referred to as the OTM rule).
- Day of the week – some abattoirs kill certain species on specific days of the week, also, think ahead when you want (and are able) to collect the carcase(s).
- Hanging (maturation) – all ‘red’ meat should be hung, that is kept in a carefully controlled chiller room to mature, which develops the flavour and tenderises the meat. Fat covering plays a large part in the time meat should be hung: very lean meat will dry out faster than meat with a good fat covering, and from a commercial standpoint that means loosing weight. Consequently, the meat sold in a supermarket will rarely have been hung for any appreciable time and will lack the depth of flavour of traditionally hung meat. Our lambs are usually hung for 10-12 days; beef is generally hung for 21 days (though some beef producers hang for longer, and some hang selected cuts longer for extra succulence); pork is hung for around 7 days.
- Skins – lambskins from most breeds make lovely rugs or throws, and if you have a ready market, can add considerable value to the carcass. Ask your abattoir to ‘salt’ the skins (they may make a small charge for this), and re-do the salting very thoroughly yourself at home. You must have arrangements in place to deliver them to the tannery, and will require a “Commercial Document for transport of Category 3 hides/skins under the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005” (which you can download from the Defra website) to enable you to legally transport skins.
- Butchery – most, but not all, abattoirs have either a butchery department or an arrangement with a local butcher who can provide a cutting service for private clients. If not, you will have to locate a freelance butcher to prepare your meat for sale. Tell the butcher what your requirements are when you book the animals in; if you’re determined to keep costs to a minimum, you can learn to butcher your own animals (we will shortly be releasing a new DVD featuring a master butcher demonstrating how to butcher a lamb), or you may have sophisticated customers lined up who will pay a premium for specialist cuts, such as a ‘Guard of Honour’.
- Customers – it’s inconvenient to sell anything less than a ½ lamb or pig, so make sure your customers’ freezers are ready for delivery and they are aware of the date for collection, or delivery to their home, if you offer this service. Check whether they have any specific cutting instructions, which may incur an extra charge.
- Pricing – research prices, which are subject to seasonal changes, and price your produce accordingly. It should go without saying that you will already have calculated your costs! Consider whether your breed, or method of production (eg. organic, grass-fed, etc.) can command a premium that people are prepared to pay.
Having decided what you need, book your animals in with the abattoir, and get on with the paperwork (with due regard for current legislation):
- Withdrawal Periods – check that the animals you plan to take to slaughter are outside all veterinary medicine withdrawal periods
- Clean Livestock Legislation – means that you have to present ‘clean’ animals at the abattoir, so for sheep, this means removing dirty wool from behinds
- As of 1 January 2010 food chain information (FCI) – is required for all sheep, cattle and goats sent for slaughter for human consumption. In the case of sheep and goats, this information will be merged on the AML1 (animal movement licence) form – so make sure that you use the new forms when you take your animals to the abattoir (download from DEFRA). They Food chain information (FCI) proves that the meat is fit for human consumption. FCI provides slaughter house operators with information about where the animals have come from, the health status of the individual animals and of the flock or herd on the holding and of any veterinary medicines that may have been administered to the animals due to be slaughtered. There is no statutory format for providing FCI so please check what information is required by the abattoir. You should also ensure that the information is provided either before the animals arrive at the slaughter house or at least travels with them. for further information see the AHVLA website.
- Livestock tags - make sure your animals are correctle tagged (or slap marked for pigs) before going to the abattoir - they will be rejected if not identified correctly.
- Notification of death - this is carried out by the abattoir.
HOME SLAUGHTER - If you are interested in slaughtering your livestock yourself, please read the current guidelines on the Food Standards Agency website. The law currently permits home slaughter on your own property for your own personal consumption or that of members of your immediate family living with you.
ADDING VALUE … As with any consumer product, there’s the ‘cheap’ end and the premium end of the market. Our sheep are pedigree Hampshire Down. Pedigree sheep cost more to produce (Breed Society registration fees, scrapie genotyping, MV accreditation, Signet Recording, costs of showing, etc., etc.!) and our breed society (www.hampshiredown.org.uk) have gone to considerable lengths to promote the breed, both as a terminal sire and as a breed that produces fine, flavoursome meat naturally reared off grass.
If you produce ‘speciality’ or rare breed sheep, tell people what makes them special (and why it’s worth paying a little extra for it)! Then think about what else you can do to make it even more special: cutting (butchery) is an obvious way, and we always include a large bunch of rosemary and a jar of homemade Green Farm ‘Damson & Port Wine Jelly’ with each box of lamb – it’s a personal, ‘local’ thing that people like. We also add the new season ‘Simply Beef & Lamb Recipe Book’ (available to producers of beef and lamb from www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk) to each lamb box.
And finally, if you’re sending boxes by courier, consider using environmentally friendly sheeps’ wool insulation:
Revised February 2014
For further enterprising information, see 'Sheep for Business, Enterprise & Profit', programme 4 in the series 'Sheep on Your Smallholding'.