A traditional Sunday roast, a lazy summer BBQ or just a good old fry-up; for many people, meat is a big part of their diet. In recent years, more emphasis has been placed on knowing the origins of the meat we eat. For most of us, that simply means making a conscious decision about where we buy our food and understanding a bit about labelling. However some people prefer to take matters into their own hands and fully embrace the ‘farm to fork’ concept by rearing, butchering and eating their own meat. But what is involved in doing this and could it be for you?
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So you want to be a farmer?
The main reason people turn to home grown meat is so they can be safe in the knowledge that the meat they’re eating comes from animals that have been well cared for throughout their life. With the desire for the idyllic country lifestyle intensifying due to the pandemic, more and more people are now aiming to achieve this smallholder status. When most set off down this path, they are probably only aiming to rear a few cattle, a small flock of sheep, a couple of pigs or a couple of dozen poultry in order to feed their family and maybe friends and neighbours. But no matter how many animals you own, there are an awful lot of things to consider; such as the legalities, welfare standards, space and costs as well as the possible emotional involvement.
What do I need?
Firstly, the most obvious requirement is space, be it on your own land or renting land from someone else. The land must be secure and you must be able to provide food, water and shelter as needed. You will also need to register the land as an agricultural holding. Once you have chosen and bought your stock, you will need to register them too.
It is a good idea to enrol with a veterinary practice before your animals require any treatment. Depending on how you will go about the slaughter process, looking into local abattoirs and butchers early on can be useful.
It is also vital that you learn as much as you can about keeping livestock in order to ensure their welfare is maintained. This information can be obtained from your local farm vet or smallholder group. In some locations, training courses may be available.
What happens at the end?
The ultimate goal of home-rearing livestock is usually to produce good quality meat that you know has been raised ethically and to the highest standard. The end of the animal’s life is just as important to get right and here you have a few options.
- The only situation in which home slaughter is permissible is if the meat is only going to be eaten by you and your immediate family, on the premises.
- Home slaughter can be carried out by yourself or by a licensed private slaughterer. But the meat must not be sold, gifted or used as part of a business eg. for Bed and Breakfast. And must not leave the premises other than as animal by-products.
- This means that any butchery must also be done on-farm.
- All animals must be stunned before being slaughtered.
- No Specified Risk Material (SRM) is allowed to be consumed and must be removed, stained and disposed of as a category 1 animal by product. Specified risk material includes body parts such as the spinal cord, tonsils and parts of the intestines; which are most likely to carry a risk of infection to humans with diseases like BSE.
- You should also provide your local authority with advance notice of the home slaughter.
Home slaughter is not a light undertaking. It is essential that anyone carrying out the procedure has undergone appropriate training in order to prevent any pain, distress or suffering to the animal. It is also worth noting that the animal and subsequent carcase will not have been through any kind of inspection to ensure they are fit for human consumption. Therefore the risk of disease transmission is higher than for private slaughter.
- Private slaughter means sending the animals to an approved slaughterhouse where they will be humanely killed and the carcase dressed or fully butchered.
- Meat produced in this way can be consumed by any other person as the carcase will have undergone inspection by the Food Standards Agency and will have received a health mark.
- Thought must be given to how the animal is to be transported safely and legally to the abattoir.
- Arrangements ought to be made with the abattoir well in advance in order to avoid any delays that may compromise animal welfare.
- You will need to take into account the costs involved. As a guide, these may be in the region of
- sheep – around £20 for slaughter or £40 for slaughter and butchery
- pigs – around £30-70 for slaughter or £70-120 for slaughter and butchery
- cattle – around £110 for slaughter or £300 and over for slaughter and butchery
Once the animal has been slaughtered and processed, there is also the storage of the carcase or meat to consider. In particular, cows are rather large animals. Even a butchered whole lamb will generally take up more room than is available in your average fridge freezer!
We’ve all seen ‘Babe’…..
Almost everyone who owns or looks after animals will form some sort of attachment to them. Rearing animals for meat is no different. But sometimes this connection can make that final part of the process a little bit harder. However it’s worth remembering why you are doing it in the first place; to know that the meat you are eating has come from an animal that has lived its life happy, content, safe and doing what it loved to do. To know it’s character, to give it a name, to care for it if it gets ill. In fact, if you don’t feel any emotional attachment to the animals you spend months or years looking after, then maybe home grown meat is not for you.
Of course, not everybody has the opportunity to raise their own meat. But by supporting those that do or simply by supporting local farms and farm shops, we can raise awareness of the importance of knowing where your food comes from. It is also a great concept to introduce children to. And may even inspire the next generation to push to improve animal welfare standards further still.