Farmer Overview of Selling Meat

Inspected Slaughter and Processing

A farmer using this method will have animals slaughtered under inspection at a USDA or state equivalent plant. That means that an inspector will be present at the plant during the slaughter and will inspect every animal. Inspected slaughter has benefits for the farmer and the customer. Inspection assures that the animal was healthy at the point of slaughter, and gives farmers several options for marketing:

  • Meat from inspected slaughter can be sold by the quarter, half, or whole animal. The farmer need not wait until the whole animal is sold to have an animal processed. If there is a sale for half an animal, the farmer can have the animal processed and hold the remainder in approved storage until it can be sold.
  • Meat from inspected slaughter can be sold in amounts smaller than a quarter, half, or whole.
  • Farmers can sell individual cuts of meat from inspected slaughter. A food handler’s license is not required if the product being sold is just the meat from the farmer’s own animals, with no added off-farm ingredients. If off-farm ingredients are added (sausage seasoning, for instance) then farmers must have a food handler’s license to sell the product. Labeling is required for sale of cuts of meat or packages of processed meat products. The label must be approved by the inspector at the processing plant. It must include the farmer’s name, address, and zip code; identification of the product; a safe handling statement on raw products; and any other label requirements. For more information on labeling requirements, contact the Dairy and Meat Inspection Program of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at 651-201-6027.

Farmers need not have on-farm storage for meat in order to sell cuts of inspected meat. Meat can be stored at an approved facility such as a locker plant.

Farmers can pick up and deliver meat from a cold storage facility to customers. Mechanical refrigeration is required for storage of meat, but it is not required for short-term transport of meat. There must be insulated storage that keeps the meat frozen during transport, and transport must be completed within four hours.

Farmers who want to store meat for sale on their farms must have an inspected storage facility that meets stringent requirements similar to a requirements at a grocery store.

There are many details of marketing meat that can differ from farmer to farmer. Farmers should contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Dairy and Meat Inspection Program at 651-201-6027, to discuss their marketing plan and find out what they can do.

Custom-exempt Slaughter and Processing

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 Meat Inspection Program 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.

Note that the above recommendation are guidelines only, not regulations. If you have an adequate system for tracking the sale of whole animals prior to slaughter to multiple customers, you can use the custom-exempt sales method for smaller quantities than these.

The MDA Dairy and Meat Inspection Program 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. Download 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 separately for the animal and 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.


Poultry farmers can process and sell up to 1000 birds per year without a license. The processing must be done on the farm and under sanitary conditions. The birds must be sold directly to individual customers who come to the farm premises. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture requires that operators desiring to sell under this exemption be registered. There is no fee and no inspection will be conducted unless a complaint is received.

Poultry farmers can process and sell up to 20,000 birds per year without a license, if they have an indoor on-farm slaughter facility that is inspected and approved by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The processed birds can be sold to individual customers at locations other than the farm premises, such as at a farmers' market. Processed birds must be labeled with the farmer's name and address, the exemption statement, and a safe handling statement. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture requires registration by farmers using this exemption from licensing.

Form to register as an exempt poultry producer

Poultry farmers can pre-sell live birds to individual customers, and arrange for those birds to be processed at a custom-exempt processing plant. The customer must own the birds before they go to the processing plant, and the plant must process each customer's birds under that customer's name. There is no annual limit to the number of birds that can be sold to customers in this way.

Poultry farmers can have birds processed under inspection at a USDA or Minnesota Equal-To processing plant. Birds processed in this way have an inspection symbol on their label. Farmers can sell an unlimited number of inspected birds per year to individual customers, grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and other food facilities. If the inspected processing is done at a USDA plant, the farmer can also sell birds across state lines. No license is required for the farmer unless off-farm ingredients (such as salt or spice blends) are added to the processed poultry. The farmer must have cold storage and/or transportation facilities that are inspected and approved by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Farmers can get an inspection report from the MDA to show to a buyer in lieu of a license.

Poultry processing and marketing regulations are very complex. Contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Dairy and Meat Inspection Program at 651-201-6027 for detailed information.