PROCESSING YOUR ANIMALS INTO MEAT

This letter was sent out last year to all our customers at that time. These questions keep recurring, so here it is, with the prices updated for 2019.

We get questions about how to order meat from us and how much it costs, and my answer is, "it all depends." In this email I'll clue you in to what it depends ON.

Birthing season is almost over in the barn! All the goat does have kids, and only one ewe has yet to lamb. She's heavy in the belly, or maybe just really fat. A couple years back, another ewe never went into labor and had to be c-sectioned when we observed her in distress, so I'm hoping that doesn't happen again (because that ewe didn't survive, although the lambs did, and it was draining emotionally). If no lambs appear soon, this ewe will make really juicy "sheepburger."

We don't sell any meat by the cut, which is covered by a whole different set of licenses, permits, regulations, inspections, and expenses. You must buy the whole animal from us.

LIVEWEIGHT

Our order form can be found here, just scroll down under the chickens (and piggy) and click on the download button. At the top of page 2 on the form, the bold letters state "all animals sold by the liveweight". Liveweight is the same as "on the hoof" and means just that--the animal is weighed on the scale in our barn live. If you plan to process your own animal (off our farm, not legal to do on our property), you will be here to pick it up and we will weigh your animal together. If we are taking it to the locker for you, let us know if you want to be present when we weigh, usually several days beforehand. Otherwise you have to trust us to be accurate and honest.

You see on the order form that the minimum price for a lamb is $125 and for a buck kid $100, no matter how small it is. Once a lamb is over 55.5 pounds or a kid is over 40 pounds, it will be over that minimum, based on the per-pound weight. 

Each ewe or doe on the farm needs to more than pay for her keep, which she does by raising twins. If she doesn't, she goes on the cull list. Culls are animals who don't measure up to our standards and will be sold. 

Now, say that a lamb weighs 100 pounds, which is pretty high for our medium-sized Katahdin breed of sheep, but it makes the math easier. This year's price is $2.25 per pound live, so the customer pays us $225 for that nice, big lamb. If the customer is doing his own processing, we make sure the animal gets safely loaded in his vehicle or goes outside of our gate, and that is all the expense the customer has. If we're taking it to the locker in Ivesdale, it goes in the back of our truck or on our trailer. We've learned the hard way to require payment from a new customer before taking his/her animal to the locker. The order form and website also clearly say that the locker's/processor's fee is not included in what you pay us for the animal.

HANGING WEIGHT

Once the animal is dispatched at the locker, the skin, head, entrails, hooves, and other parts considered inedible are removed, and the carcass is required by state regulations to hang for 24 hours to chill. The locker typically saves the liver for you, and will save the heart and kidneys of sheep and goats if you ask first and then remind them several times. My family and I think the locker throws away a lot of good stuff, such as minor organ meats, large bones that can be stewed for bone broth, and hooves that can be boiled for gelatin. If you want these, you'll need to watch YouTube videos and learn to do the job yourself! 

The meat is now at the "hanging weight" stage. A 100-pound lamb will have around 52 pounds "on the rail" weight; the rest goes in the offal cans for use in dog and cat food, or animal by-products.  Many farms charge by the hanging weight. However, since we had a meat inspector here at the farm tell us point-blank that the only legal way for a farm to sell a slaughter animal is by the liveweight, we'll keep to that practice. If you took the carcass home at this stage for a whole barbecue, it would have cost you $225/52 lbs = $4.33 per pound, plus what the locker charges.

BOXED WEIGHT

This is also known as "retail" or "take home" weight. Actually, the locker doesn't put it in a box for you, but sometimes they have extra boxes you can use! After sheep and goat carcasses hang for a couple days (NOT 10 days like a beef steer), they are furthered processed into retail cuts, which the customer ordered just as soon as she knew her animal was leaving the farm.

How much meat you get depends a lot on what you order. Boxed weight is commonly 60% of hanging weight, so your 100 lb. lamb is now down to 31 lbs.  and costing $225/31 = $7.26 per pound plus locker fees. Part of the shrinkage here is that the carcass loses moisture as it hangs. Part is also that if you order boneless, the bones will be cut out and thrown in the scrap bins. Since the locker charges on the "hot hanging weight," whether you order boneless or not won't change their income, but it will greatly lower the weight of what you receive. If the cutter is having a bad day, some of your meat may go in the scrap bin with your bones. I recommend always leaving bones in--give them to your dog after you're finished cooking if need be.

If you ask, the locker can cut any excess surface fat from your meat (grassfed animals probably won't have excess fat), also lowering your take-home weight. We never want the fat thrown away! It's useful in cooking and making soap.

CURRENT LOCKER FEES

The locker in Ivesdale is now called Arends' Meats and we're happy to have a good relationship with the new managers. They've decided to charge flat fees for sheep and goats this year after losing their shirts processing very small lambs/kids from another farm. If you want your animal whole and chilled only, perhaps for a barbecue, the charge is $80; if you want it cut up, wrapped, and frozen, it is $110.

SUBMIT YOUR RESERVATION NOW

Half of the lambs and half of the kids are already reserved! Many thanks to you early birds! Our first locker date is scheduled for June 26 for the largest lambs and kids. 

When we receive a deposit in the mail, we write the customer's name on our herd/flock list next to a specific animal and that one will be yours.  The deposit is subtracted from the final price of the animal. The order form, once again, is at our website.

There are no yearling ewes available. Two mutton ewes are available in July or later.

We are taking payment online at this time, but you can also mail the order form with a check, visit us with a credit card, or bring cash--those all work!

Customers are welcome to visit and physically choose their lamb from those still available, but it will take some time! All the animals must be herded into a small enclosure for inspection and to read their IDs. If you want to do this, wear mud boots and a warm coat, and be willing to get dirty! Customers who arrive at the farm wanting an animal that very day without a reservation are not guaranteed to get one. If you are not ready to leave a deposit, we cannot reserve an animal for you. Waiting until the lambs are bigger may mean finding they are all "spoken for."

Whew! This was a long message. Thanks to husband Les for website help! It’s is a bit less of a mystery each time.

Penny at Joy of Illinois Farm