Slaughtering, Cutting, and Processing

Slaughtering, Cutting, and Processing of Amenable Meats:

Selling the Live Animal Direct to Consumers as “Freezer Meat”

There is a very important exemption from federal inspection for livestock producers that market freezer lamb, beef, goat, and hog. This is the “custom exemption” which allows the owner of an animal to slaughter the animal himself/herself or deliver it to a custom exempt slaughterhouse for slaughter and processing. The meat and byproducts cannot be sold. Instead, their use is limited to the owner’s household and nonpaying guests and employees.

In New York, it is assumed that a person owns an animal when they purchase it. Thus, a customer can purchase a lamb, goat, steer or hog from a farm or live animal market, take ownership of it, and either slaughter it themselves or arrange for slaughter and processing through a custom slaughterhouse.

The customer does not have to pick out the animal himself or herself. Instead, the farmer or custom slaughterhouse operator may select an animal for them after receiving the customer’s order for a live animal or portion thereof. The farm owner or custom slaughterhouse operator may act as an agent for the owner and arrange transportation of the animals or carcasses.

“Freezer” animals may be priced for sale by the head or by the pound. Halves or quarters may be priced by the pound, although their actual weight will not be determined until the animal is slaughtered. The weight of the animal or a portion thereof, must be determined on a certified scale if the animal is sold by weight. If a certified scale is not available, then the animal can only be sold by the head or portion.

Cutting orders must be directed by the owner of the animal. The animal must be identified throughout the slaughter and processing operation as belonging to that particular customer. The custom slaughterhouse and any agents for the owner are required to have the name and contact information of the customer.

Although there is no official inspection of the live animal or carcass, all animals slaughtered under custom exemption must be unadulterated (i.e. fit for human consumption). The meat must be stamped ‘not for sale”.

Farmers can advertise that they offer freezer meat for sale, but must have an agreement that shows that the animal or the portions were sold in advance of slaughter. “Freezer meat” is not the same as USDA inspected retail cuts, and individual “freezer meat” cuts cannot be sold by the farmer.

As in several other states, New York State officials interpret the custom exemption to allow a farmer to pre-sell portions of the live animal. This interpretation allows the farmer to sell halves or quarters of a market animal prior to slaughtering between a given number of individuals. If halves or quarters are sold prior to slaughter, the new owners can agree to send that animal to custom slaughter, but only if all agree that the meat will be used for their own personal consumption. Cutting instructions should be provided for each owner.

In some cases, New York custom slaughterhouse owners will allow customers to slaughter their own animals and bring the carcass in for further processing. It is best to talk with the owner/operator of the facility to see what he or she will allow and whether they require the animal to be skinned and quarter before being accepted for further processing. Many custom slaughterhouse operators prefer to come directly to the farm to slaughter swine and cattle. The operator will then transport the carcasses in as sanitary a manner as practical to their custom meat plant for further processing. Sheep and goats are generally butchered on the meat plant’s kill floor but can also be slaughtered on-farm by the custom operator. Again, it is best to call well ahead of desired slaughter/processing dates to discuss these arrangements.

It is important to note that some states take a strict interpretation of the custom exemption and consider the owner of the animal to only be the person who actually raised it. Therefore, it is very important that custom red meat from amenable species never show up in commercial or retail outlets in order to assure New York officials that our state’s interpretation of the custom exemption poses few health risks.

For more information on selling live slaughter animals on and off the farm, see the later chapter on marketing.

On-Site Slaughter for Entire Animals Sold Live

In New York, the farmer can also allow the customer to slaughter and process the animal on the farmer’s land. Farmers may not help the new owner with butchering unless the farmer has a custom exempt operator’s license. The exception to this is in cases where the animal is not successfully killed and the farmer must intercede to prevent animal suffering.

A sanitary 3-sided shed with a drain to an approved sanitary system has been required by some inspectors, though it is not required. Substantial liability insurance may also be advised.

Resources related to on-farm butchering are provided in a later chapter.

A helpful resource on humane on farm Halal slaughter was produced by the Northeast Sheep and Goat Marketing Program is available from Cornell University. It can be found on line here:

Offal Disposal and On-Farm Composting

Offal disposal is a major consideration with on-site slaughter. However, on-site composting of offal is legal in NY if done properly with a high carbon substrate such as wood shavings or straw and without chance of contamination of water sources. Farmers can allow the skinning of the animal on the farm, but those customers taking carcasses with the hide still on are encouraged to contact the DEC for guidance of how to dispose of the skin.

A helpful resource “Natural Rendering: Composting Livestock Mortality and Butcher Waste” is available on line at:

The New York State DEC Solid Waste Management Regulations, 6 NYCRR Part 360 1.7 (b) exempts carcasses from permit requirements. However, revision of this rule is in process to include a subpart for animal and contaminated food supply waste management facilities checking for updates.

If Selling Amenable Red Meat Wholesale, Retail and/or Direct to the Consumer

Slaughter Requirements

In New York all red meat for resale from amenable species must be slaughtered at a USDA inspected facility and the animal must be inspected before and after slaughter by a FSIS inspector. This is not true throughout the entire Northeast United States. For example, in Maine, Vermont and West Virginia an amenable animal can be inspected and slaughtered at a “USDA Equivalent” state facility and the state inspected carcass (or meat from it) can be sold within that particular state. In Delaware, Maryland and Virginia an animal may also be slaughtered under inspection at a Talmadge-Aiken plant.

At the USDA slaughterhouse the animal:

  • Must be humanely stunned and rendered unconscious prior to killing unless the slaughterhouse has a religious exemption in which case it must be humanely killed within religious constraints
  • Must undergo ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections
  • Must be identified as one of the species that a slaughterhouse will be slaughtering on the slaughterhouse’s application for federal inspection.

Some amenable species, with the exception of cattle, may be field-harvested on-farm under extreme conditions with prior approval from USDA officials and only for custom exempt processing. This is not a common practice and is greatly frowned upon for amenable species.

Information on the requirements for field harvesting is provided in a separate section.

Because the returns from slaughtering small ruminants are generally less than for doing cattle or hogs, some slaughterhouses no longer apply for federal inspection for small ruminants. Thus, a farmer could not take a lamb to a USDA plant for federal inspection if that plant does not have sheep listed on their approved slaughter list. In general, the large rails used for doing large animals will also work for small ruminants; however, a slaughterhouse that is only set up to handle small ruminants may have its rails set too low to be suitable for hogs and/or cattle.

Custom meat must be kept separated at all times from inspected meat. During deer season, carcasses brought in by hunters must be kept separate from USDA inspected meat. Depending on the size of the slaughterhouse and their cooler capacity, the FSIS inspector may ask plants that process meat for hunters to accept no domestic livestock during deer season or to store deer carcasses in separate coolers.

Farmers can sell USDA inspected meat direct from their farms with the following provisions. All inspected meat intended for sale or resale must be transported and stored at temperatures 41۫ F or less. Meat may be transported in a clean cooler with adequate ice packs. Frozen meat must be transported and stored at temperatures 0۫ F or below. Inspected meat must be kept separate from non-inspected meat. It must either be stored in a separate freezer/cooler from non-inspected meat or stored in a separate area of the freezer/cooler to minimize any risk of contamination. For example, if stored in an upright freezer, inspected meat should be stored on the top shelves to avoid any leakage from non-inspected meat.

More on storage and safe product handling in a later chapter.

Amenable Meat Processing Options

Processing of meat covers a wide range of operations. It includes simple operations such as deboning meat, the repackaging of larger packages of meat into smaller sized packages. Processing also includes complex procedures such as the production of beef stock, the manufacturing of bolognas, or the canning of a hash.

Amenable meat must be processed at a USDA meat plant under federal inspection if it is to be sold wholesale. It can be processed in a state certified kitchen (also known as a 20-C licensed facility in New York) if it is to be sold direct to consumers or from the farmer’s on-farm stand or retail store. Amenable processed meat can also be sold at the farmer’s stall at a farmer’s market and in limited amounts to off-site restaurants. However, meat products that are cured, smoked, cooked, or marinated at a 20-C facility cannot be sold to off-site restaurants.

Keep in mind that the marketer of the meat must hold the 20-C license. Shared-use kitchens are legal in NY as long as each operator has obtained a 20-C license from NYSDAM.

The butcher shops in most supermarkets and meat shops operate under 20-C retail licenses rather than USDA federal inspection. This license allows them to process USDA inspected carcasses into retail cuts and to repackage wholesale packages of inspected meat into smaller retail portions for sale to customers.

It is important to remember that if amenable meat is processed in a state certified kitchen it cannot be transported to another state for marketing. In addition, processed amenable meat products are held to the same transportation and storage requirements as amenable meats.

An on farm restaurant may process meat products and package them for sale at farmer’s market or at an on-farm store. This may be permitted if the restaurant has a 20-C license or if the restaurant permitted under the Department of Health (DoH), has a scheduled process filed with both the DoH and NYSDAM. All other regulations, such as labeling and packaging requirements are applicable.

Organ Meats and Specified Risk Materials

The customer can request various organ meats at a USDA slaughterhouse. The USDA FSIS has specific regulations outlining the procedures required for cleaning, preparation, and packaging of various organ meats. Typically, USDA meat plants will return heart, liver, tongue, and kidneys to customers upon request. Parts such as the tongue, spleen, thymus, testicles, pancreas, esophagus, stomachs (tripe, etc.), as well as hog heads may be more difficult to acquire in part because processors may be less familiar with the procedure requirements for cutting, cleaning or packaging them. Some of these by-products such as testicles, pig snouts, etc. can be marked for sale as edible products but cannot be used as ingredients in a meat product.

Some animal parts are not available as either edible products or meat products. This is because they have been identified as Specified Risk Materials (SRMs). Most SRMs are associated with Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), a family of diseases occurring in man and animals characterized by a degeneration of brain tissue caused by prions (misfolded proteins) that build up in the central nervous system and kill nerve cells. There are several examples of TSEs in humans including Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD). Livestock examples include Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” in cattle, Scrapie in sheep and goats, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer and elk.

Because the transmission of some of these diseases is not completely understood, the possibility of transmission from animals to humans and vice versus has not been completely ruled out. Therefore, animal parts such as the brain, skull, tonsils, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, dorsal root ganglia, and vertebral column (excluding vertebrae of the tail, the transverse processes of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and the wings of the sacrum) of cattle 30 months of age or older which may harbor any BSE prions, are not available for consumption and must be properly disposed of.

The age of cattle should be determined by age documentation such as birth records if available. However, dentition (examination of the teeth) is the final determinant in cases where no age documentation is available or the inspector has serious concerns about the age documentation records.

Tonsils from any species and the distal ileum portion of the small intestines of all cattle regardless of age have also been identified as SRMs and are unavailable for human consumption. The USDA regulations declare lungs as inedible even though they are not on the SRM list. Generally, organs and parts not fit for consumption are marked or dyed in a non-edible substance and taken off the facility.
Currently there is no official offal disposal requirements for the different species, although it is recommended that parts which may have the potential for any type of TSE contamination (BSE, scrapie or CWD) be sent to public landfills and buried. Composting is an accepted method of disposal in the State of New York for amenable species. Rendering companies may collect offal and then cook and separate the components for later use in animal feeds. As a result, some renderers may refuse Specified Risk Materials.

Edible by-products may become part of FDA-regulated human food or cosmetics. However, SRMs such as the brain, spinal cord, and eyes of cattle 30 months of age or older, the distal ileum portion of the small intestine of all cattle, and the tonsils of all animals are prohibited. Edible by-products may be used in dietary supplements and other human food including casings, soups, stocks, flavorings, extracts, collagen, and amino acids.

Slaughtering, Cutting, and Processing of Non-Amenable Meats and Poultry

The handling of game animals such as bison, deer, rabbits, pheasants, etc. is not covered by either the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act. Thus, these “exotic” animals and birds are considered “non-amenable”. However, the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 does provide for the voluntary inspection of game animals and birds by federal inspectors for marketing situations where meat and poultry products from them must bear a USDA mark of inspection. In addition, states that provide “USDA equivalent” inspections of livestock and carcasses can mandate the inclusion of specific non-amenable game species in their inspection programs and provide them with the same mark of inspection as amenable livestock and poultry. Again, New York State does not have “USDA equivalent” slaughter and processing facilities.

The FDA has authority over any meat and poultry products entering commerce that are from non-amenable livestock that have not been “inspected and passed” by federal or state inspectors. At this time the Food Safety Modernization Bill is being debated. The final wording of this bill should it be signed into law, will likely be applicable to those raising, slaughtering or manufacturing product of non-amenable species.

All product, regardless if it is amenable or not, must still come from an “approved” source in order to be sold to retail stores, restaurants or wholesalers. In New York State exotic animals are amenable to New York State Agriculture and Markets Law Article 5-A.(This is why a NYS licensed 5-A plant is an approved slaughtering and processing facility in New York for these exotic animals.)

Most non-amenable meat and meat products offered for sale are derived from farm raised (or “farmed”) game. However, some states do allow the sale of hunter harvested game (as opposed to “farmed game”). New York does not allow the sale of hunter harvested deer or rabbits. It does allow for some marketing of small game animals such as opossums. Hunter harvested deer and rabbits in NYS can only be used for the hunter’s personal use. Curiously, hunter harvested meat from a state or country permitting the marketing of this meat, can be harvested and processed in that state and then sold in New York.

The venison donation program under the jurisdiction of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, is the only exception. This program allows hunters to take legally tagged and properly field-dressed deer to participating processors and have the venison processed under custom exemption for distribution by specific food banks and soup kitchens.

States can mandate stricter regulations for non-amenable meat and poultry products than those outlined above. Non-amenable meat can be sold in commerce, both in and out-of-state but only with approval of the importing state and adherence to that state’s slaughter, processing, and inspection requirements. It is important that game farmers know the regulations of the state where they are planning to market the meat.

NYS Requirements for Large Farm Raised Game

Large non-amenable “farmed” game such as bison, elk, and deer can be harvested on farm by the consumer for their own personal use. This is essentially what occurs at a shooting preserve. In addition, large game can be harvested on-farm by the consumer or by a custom processor and then transported in a sanitary manner to a processing plant for custom processing. The meat must be labeled “not for sale” and is limited to use by the consumer’s household and nonpaying guests and employees.

In New York, if the meat is being sold to an end consumer or retail business, then deer and other exotics can be slaughtered and/or processed at either a 5-A non-amenable meat plant without carcass inspection or at a USDA plant under voluntary inspection However, if the meat product is being sold to wholesalers within New York for interstate trade, it must be slaughtered and processed under voluntary federal inspection at a USDA facility.

Because there is no mandatory USDA FSIS inspection for non-amenable livestock, federal tax dollars cannot be used to pay for the inspection. Instead, the farmer must pay a certified USDA FSIS inspector out-of-pocket to inspect the carcasses. The rate for 2010 is $51.35 per hour with a 2-hour minimum visit. The USDA federally inspected plant must first apply for and receive approval to process “exotic” animals. The mark of inspection for game animals is triangular rather than circular as for amenable livestock.

These inspections are covered in Title 9 of the Federal Code under Section 352.

Large non-amenable livestock such as bison, elk, and deer pose special challenges for producers and processors in terms of handling, loading, transporting, and confinement. The USDA FSIS has made special provisions for these difficulties by permitting on-farm harvesting of large non-amenable species. In order to qualify for on-farm harvesting, the game farm must have a separate area in which to present the live animal(s) to a licensed veterinarian or USDA inspector, before being dispatched on the property.

There is no provision for a USDA facility to accept an ante-mortem inspection by a non-USDA employee. Therefore any animal that is destined for USDA inspection must have an ante-mortem examination performed by a USDA employee. USDA will not accept an ante-mortem exam performed by a non-USDA veterinarian.  New York State will accept a veterinarian certificate for those animals delivered to a NYSDAM licensed 5-A facility. The game farm must pay for the on-farm live animal inspection.

The veterinarian or inspector must approve the designated harvesting site and indicate that 1) the animal is wholesome, 2) the harvest is conducted in a manner minimizing the possibility of soiling of the animal, and 3) the transport vehicle is as sanitary as practical. After harvest, the animal is bled out and transported to a USDA or NYSDAM licensed 5-A facility. The animal must be accompanied by the veterinarian signed ante-mortem report and should arrive at the designated destination within two hours but must arrive by law at the plant on the same day that it was dispatched.

If large non-amenable livestock are brought live to the slaughter facility, the slaughterhouse must have a holding pen where the federal inspector can observe the animal without approaching it. The top rail height should be 6 ft. minimum to contain these animals. Deer, elk, or other large non-amenable animals can be killed in the holding pen rather than in the stun box. Section 352.10 allows for an FSIS inspection to be performed on the truck thus permitting an animal to be dispatched while on the transport vehicle. Farmers need to make sure that the USDA or NYSDAM 5-A facilities they plan on using has prior approval and adequate facilities to work with large non-amenable livestock.

Some species of deer and all elk are susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease, a debilitating disease of the nervous system. There are no known cases of transfer of CWD from animal to humans. However, as a precautionary measure to minimize any human health risks from CWD, specific cutting techniques are required for those deer and elk. Hand boning is required and parts that may be potentially infectious such as the brain, spinal cord and specified lymph nodes must not be severed, must not appear in any end product, and must be disposed of in a municipal landfill. According to the NYSDAM CWD monitoring program, all slaughterhouses (custom, 5-A, or USDA) operating in NYS and processing deer or elk must have an offal disposal plan on record with NYSDAM. Additionally, meat products from deer and elk must be tested and negative test results received prior to the meat being released for sale. Testing is not required if the meat is processed under the custom exemption and marked “not for sale”.

NYSDAM’s CWD Program is on line at:

NYS Requirements for Farm Raised Rabbits

The most commonly “farmed” small game animal in the United States is the domesticated meat rabbit. Although rabbit processing is similar to that of chickens, rabbits are not included in either the Federal Meat Inspection Act or the Poultry Products Inspection Act and thus, none of the exemptions that apply to amenable poultry apply to rabbits. In addition, just like larger non-amenable species, federal tax dollars cannot be used for their inspection.

The FDA has jurisdiction over shipment of rabbit meat in interstate commerce, and in New York the Department of Agriculture and Markets regulates intrastate sales of exotic animals under 5-A. Other states that operates a “USDA equivalent” inspection program may mandate rabbit inspection. States vary widely in their slaughter, processing, and inspection regulations for rabbits.

If the exotic meat is to enter commerce and be sold for resale to wholesalers in interstate trade, then the producer must pay the voluntary inspection fee for live animal and carcass inspection at a USDA facility. Under voluntary inspection, each rabbit and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The “Inspected for Wholesomeness by USDA” mark of inspection ensures the rabbit is wholesome and free from disease. Inspected rabbits are stamped with a circular mark and may even be graded.

Voluntary inspection for rabbits is  covered in Title 9 of the Federal Code under Section 354.

Rabbit meat products, that are to be offered for sale in NY State, may be slaughtered either under USDA voluntary inspection or at a NYSDAM 5-A establishment. Whole rabbit carcasses and rabbit cuts which have been slaughtered at a 5-A slaughterhouse may be sold direct, (this includes sales of rabbit at farmers’ markets), to retail outlets, and to distributors.

As of May 2006, NYSDAM allowed rabbit carcasses slaughtered at either a USDA facility or a 5-A facility to be further broken down into whole muscle meats at either a 5-A or 20-C establishment. (Note: Before using a 5-A plant to process rabbit, NYSDAM should be contacted to ensure that the plant’s particular license allows them to process rabbit.)

A restaurant that is located right on a rabbit farm, may slaughter their own rabbits and then process them in their own 5-A facility for serving at the restaurant or for sale in their own farm stand. A 20-C license is not acceptable for the slaughtering of any species.

In New York, rabbits may be purchased live from the farm by a consumer and processed under custom inspection for the new owner’s personal use.  Alternatively, rabbits can be sold live from the farm direct to the consumer and butchered on-farm by the consumer with the farmer’s permission. Even though rabbits are not listed in the NY regulations, the farmer cannot actually do that slaughtering for an on-farm customer, as is done in some other states.

Because rabbits are easy to handle – unlike large non-amenable game animals – there are no special provisions permitting on-farm slaughter or rabbit meat or field harvesting of rabbits that is/are entering commerce.

USDA FSIS FACT SHEET: Rabbit from Farm to Table

NYS Requirements for Non-Amenable Poultry

The Federal Meat Inspections Act lists poultry which must be slaughtered and processed according to the PPIA. These bird species include chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, ratites (ostrich, emu, and rhea), and squabs (pigeons up to one month old). Any bird not listed is considered non-amenable poultry.

According to the USDA FSIS, the game bird industry in the U.S. raises millions of birds for sale to restaurants and direct to consumers. These include up to 10 million pheasants, 37 million quail (including 12 million Bobwhite), 4 million Chukar partridges, 1 million Mallard ducks, 200,000 wild turkeys, and several other bird species.

When the USDA calls birds and poultry “non-amenable”, it means that there are no regulations addressing that particular species of bird or poultry. In other words, the PPIA becomes applicable to non-amenable farmed game birds and non-amenable poultry when it becomes an issue, such as when they enter commerce. (See Title 9 of the Federal Code under Section 362.2(a)).

The USDA does provide for a voluntary inspection of game birds. They are slaughtered and processed under Part 381 of the Code, the same regulations governing amenable poultry. Voluntary inspection as outlined in Section 362 of Title 9 of the Federal Code refers to the importation of game bird carcasses, and the re-packing of USDA inspected product into smaller units to maintain the Federal Mark of Inspection.

Here in New York, game birds come under the jurisdiction of  the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which requires that these birds – if offered for sale – be processed under 5-A inspection, if not slaughtered, inspected and processed under USDA inspection.

The non-amenable birds count towards the limits of the 1,000 and 20,000 bird exemptions. For the 1,000 bird limit, Section 96-c (c), Article 5-A states in part “any person who slaughters not more than 250 turkeys or an equivalent number of birds of all other species raised by him on his own farm during the calendar year for which the exemption is sought”. The 5-A poultry plant is not required to fill out special forms in order to slaughter or process game birds.

Information regarding poultry regulations is discussed in a later section.

Value Added Products From Non-Amenable Meats

Non-amenable fresh or fresh-frozen whole meats, ground meat with no additives and sausage with no nitrite cures may be cut and packaged in a NYSDAM 5-A licensed facility for sale to consumers, retailers, and restaurants. These products can also be cut and packaged in a 20-C facility as well if the meat is from an approved source (either USDA inspected or slaughtered at a 5-A facility).

Value added non-amenable meat products which involve the addition of 3% or more amenable meat or 30% amenable fat or 2% cooked USDA FSIS passed amenable poultry with no bone or skin, and/or the addition of a nitrite cure may be processed in either a USDA facility or a New York State licensed 20-C or 5-A plant for sale to consumers and retailers. However, all the amenable meat contained in them must be federally inspected and passed. If sold to wholesalers, the resulting value added product needs to be processed at a USDA federally inspected facility.

Value added game meats cured with a nitrate or nitrite and without the addition of an amenable meat, meat product, or fat cannot be processed at a 20-A or 5-A NY state licensed plant or USDA facility regardless of who they are to be marketed to. Because of this, the proportions of amenable meat or poultry listed in the paragraph above are commonly added to the non-amenable product if nitrate/nitrite curing is to take place.

Non-amenable meat from the same game species that is combined under different inspections must be labeled with the lower inspection. For example, buffalo meat inspected at USDA facility and marked with the voluntary mark of inspection that is then combined with buffalo meat inspected at a NYSDAM 5-A facility cannot maintain the voluntary mark of inspection. Thus in NYS, the combined product could only be marketed to consumers and retailers; and not wholesalers.

Interestingly enough, USDA FSIS federally inspected and passed amenable meat products can bear the federal mark of inspection for amenable meats and still include non-amenable meat that has been slaughtered and processed without the mark of inspection, provided that the USDA establishment can ensure that these non-amenable meat ingredients are clean, sound, healthful, wholesome, properly identified and will not result in adulteration of products. The product name must declare the species of non-amenable meat included (for example, ground lamb with venison). The product must contain at least one of the following: more than a) 3% amenable meat, b) 30% amenable fat or c) 2% cooked US passed amenable poultry with no bone or skin. Any amenable meat used as an ingredient must be from an inspected source.

Furthermore, non-amenable meat products from one species of game animal produced under voluntary federal inspection can include non-amenable meat from another species of game animal that does not have the mark of inspection, provided that those ingredients are clean, sound, healthful, wholesome, and properly identified, and will not result in adulteration of products. This combined product can bear the mark of inspection for non-amenable meats.

USDA FSIS Notice 15-06 and 14-91

USDA TSC Q&A FSIS Notice 26-06 (clarifies 15-06, which replaces 14-91)

FDA Requirements when Raising Non-Amenable Game

The FDA has strict guidelines for the use of drugs in production of non-amenable animals. Many drugs are not labeled for these species and need approval for “off label use”. Hormones may not be used in raising game birds or game animals; however, antibiotics may be used.

Slaughtering, Cutting and Processing of Poultry

The Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) outlines the legal conditions under which amenable poultry must be slaughtered and processed. Amenable poultry species include chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guineas, ratites (ostrich, emu, and rhea), and squabs (pigeons up to one month old). At minimum, states must conform to these federal requirements. However, states can put in place regulations that are stricter than the PPIA.

Amenable poultry that is slaughtered and processed under federal inspection can be marketed through all marketing channels and across state lines. The inspection must include both ante mortem and post mortem inspections of the birds.

In contrast, there are few, if any, USDA inspected slaughter/processing poultry plants in New York that a farmer can take more traditional poultry (chickens, turkeys, etc.) to. This is because all of the USDA inspected poultry plants in New York are set up as packers processing only their own birds they raised or purchased for marketing under their own label to retail stores, restaurants, and wholesalers. They are not set up to process birds belonging to small local farmers who want to market their own birds themselves to household consumers, restaurants, retail stores, or wholesalers. Therefore, it is imperative that poultry farmers in New York be knowledgeable about the legal exemptions from federal inspection that poultry may be marketed under.

Policy makers at the USDA FSIS have developed a helpful guidebook for determining when poultry slaughter or processing operations are exempt from the inspection requirements of the PPIA. This Guidebook is under revision and the FSIS hopes to have the revised version available in 2010. The old version is located here:

The flow chart at the end of this chapter is taken from the USDA FSIS Guidebook and is an excellent tool for determining which exemption, if any, a poultry business falls under. Even when exempted from federal inspection, all poultry is legally required by the PPIA to 1) be healthy at the time of slaughter and 2) be slaughtered and processed under sound sanitary standards, practices, and procedures that produce poultry products that are sound, clean, and fit for human food (not adulterated).


Ratites are large wingless birds including ostriches, emus, and rhea. They are often slaughtered under federal inspection at USDA dually licensed facilities. These red meat facilities  are additionally approved to slaughter poultry, though typically those slaughtering ratities do not slaughter poultry exclusively. At an official establishment, these birds are subject to the regulatory requirements of the Poultry Products Inspection Act. The plant has to have requested that the ratites be included in their list of approved species to slaughter under federal inspection. Meat from these birds can then be offered for sale in any market channel. Also, carcasses or parts of ostrich or ratites not slaughtered at a USDA establishment may be delivered to a custom exempt facility by their owner for custom processing provided the birds were previously slaughtered in accordance with the requirements of the PPIA or equivalent state mandates and the product is marked “Not for Sale”.

Poultry Exemptions At a Glance

Poultry Exemptions From Federal Inspection

Exemptions are of two types, one allows unlimited processing of birds intended for an owner’s personal use. In this case, product is not being sold, but consumed directly. The second type of exemption is for product entering the marketplace and under which a financial transaction is made.

Personal Use Exemption

Under the Personal Use Exemption, a grower, producer, or owner of poultry can slaughter and process an unlimited number of their own healthy birds as long as they perform the slaughter and processing themselves under sanitary conditions and the consumption of the birds is limited to their own household and nonpaying guests and employees. The resulting poultry products cannot be sold or even donated for use to other people for use as human food. Any shipping containers used for poultry under this exemption must be labeled with the statement, “Exempt P.L. 90-492”, which identifies the product as produced under this exemption.

Custom Slaughter/Processing Exemption.

A custom poultry slaughterer is a business or person who slaughters and processes poultry belonging to someone else solely for the personal use of the grower or owner of the live bird. The grower/owner of the custom slaughtered or processed poultry may not sell or donate the custom slaughtered poultry to another person or institution. There is no restriction on the number of birds the custom business may slaughter or process.

Keep in mind that a custom slaughterer provides a service to a customer and IS NOT permitted to engage in the additional business of buying or selling poultry products capable of use as human food. However, a custom slaughterer is permitted to sell live birds to a customer. For example, a custom slaughterer may sell live poultry to a customer and then custom slaughter the birds for that customer. Furthermore, a person who is a custom slaughterer and is also a poultry grower may sell live poultry they have raised to other poultry businesses not associated with their custom slaughter business.

A custom slaughterer is also permitted to slaughter and process poultry he or she has raised if the resulting products are solely for consumption by his or her household, nonpaying guests, and employees. This constitutes an exemption under “Personal Use Exemption” and not the “Custom Slaughter/Processing Exemption”.

Any shipping containers used for poultry products slaughtered and processed under the Custom Exemption must bear the producer’s name, the producer’s address, and the statement, “Exempt P.L. 90-492”, which identifies the product as having been produced under an exemption from the PPIA.

In New York, the oversight of custom slaughterhouses that handle poultry and/or red meat is subcontracted to the NYDAM Division of Food Safety Inspection. The design of custom facilities for poultry is similar to that of the 5-A poultry plants discussed later in this chapter. Processors should check with NYDAM for more information on plant requirements.

A custom slaughter business may use a mobile slaughter/processing unit to custom slaughter and process poultry. The owner of the poultry may deliver the poultry to the mobile slaughter/processing unit located at his or her own premises or any other person’s premises provided the slaughtered or processed poultry is for the personal use of the owner of the poultry.

Poultry may also be custom slaughtered and processed at a USDA federally inspected red meat plant provided that the plant does not engage in the business of buying and selling poultry products. Ratites (ostriches, emus, and rheas) are often handled this way. Again, product would be for personal use only and would need to bear the owner’s name, address, and the statement, Exempt P.L. 90-492. In addition, carcasses or parts of ratites and poultry not slaughtered at a USDA federally inspected red meat plant can be delivered to such a plant for custom processing provided they were previously slaughtered in accordance with PPIA or equivalent state mandates.

Poultry Processed for In-State Market Channels

These poultry exemptions to federal inspection relate to poultry products destined for in-state markets as human food. The first four of these exemptions from federal inspection specifically restricts the number of birds a business can slaughter or process. The specific exemptions described below also restrict where and how these birds can be marketed. Each of the exemptions has specific labeling requirements.

Producer/Grower – 1000 Bird Limit Exemption.

This exemption is one of the most important for small poultry farmers. It permits a poultry raiser to slaughter and process their own birds on their own premises for marketing within their state as human food without federal inspection as long as the number of birds does not exceed 1000 chickens or equivalent within one calendar year. For the purpose of this exemption, one turkey is equivalent to four chickens.

It is also important to note that both the USDA and NYSDAM interpret this exemption as per “farm” and not per farmer. If a number of farmers or family members operate on a given location known as “a farm”, only 1000 birds in total are allowed from this farm for the exemption. Each farmer or family member raising birds on a particular farm is not entitled to the 1000 bird exemption.

The PPIA does not spell out any restrictions on where the resulting poultry products can be marketed. However, interpretation of this exemption by NYSDAM Division of Food Safety Inspection restricts these exchanges to sales directly from the farmer to the consumer. Thus, birds slaughtered and processed under this 1000 bird exemption in New York can be sold to consumers directly by the poultry raiser from a farm stand, a store located on the farm, or from the farm’s stall at a farmer’s market. Birds slaughtered and processed under this exemption cannot be sold to an off-farm restaurant, to a retail store, or to wholesalers or distributors. The birds cannot cross state lines. At this time, there are no written legal opinion statements from NYSDAM formalizing this interpretation.

The slaughter and processing must be done on farm and the on-farm slaughtering premises are not inspected by NYSDAM unless problems with sanitation or compliance occur. Farmers may cut carcasses as a service to a customer, but may not manufacture any food product from the poultry. NYSDAM recommends that a farmer sell only whole carcasses, as selling parts or cut up pieces makes traceback difficult. While selling cuts is allowable, a farmer doing so should plan for trace-back by implementing thorough record-keeping.

The farmer must keep flock records, slaughter records and records covering the sale of poultry products to customers (i.e., sale receipts) to verify that they are staying within the 1000 bird limit. The poultry raiser can only process poultry of their own raising. They cannot buy or sell any poultry products other than those from poultry of their own raising.

Although the slaughter and processing must be done on farm, the equipment used may be rented or provided in the form of a mobile unit. Some counties in New York have mobile poultry slaughter/processing units available for farmer use. The South Central New York Resource Conservation and Development Agency of New York no longer has a unit available. However, building plans for the unit they used are still available. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Allegany County has a mobile unit available but requires that farmers complete a short certification course they also offer on poultry slaughtering and processing prior to using the unit.

Exemptions Requiring a 5-A license

In New York, any slaughter conducted under the remaining exemptions must take place in a state licensed 5-A poultry plant or food establishment. A business can operate under only one of the following exemptions. Each facility must operate under its own license.

The first three exemptions below are limited to slaughtering and processing no more than 20,000 poultry in a calendar year where a single turkey, goose, chicken, or duck equals “one poultry”. The poultry and poultry products cannot be marketed out of state. The facility used to slaughter and process poultry under each of these three exemptions cannot be used to slaughter or process another person’s poultry unless the Administrator of FSIS formally permits an exception to this regulation.

A 5-A poultry facility is a considerable investment. Many growers have concluded that building and operating a 5-A facility is not feasible given the small number of birds they raise unless they can share the facility with another small producer. However, the PPIA is quite clear that the facility used to slaughter or process the poultry under this exemption cannot be used to slaughter or process another person’s poultry unless the Administrator of FSIS grants an exemption to this restriction. Several New York poultry slaughter and processing businesses with help from NYSDAM have petitioned the Administrator of FSIS for permission to allow plants to be shared between two or more producer/growers but thus far, all have been denied. The state of Kentucky was granted an exception to the regulation for a mobile plant that is parked at a neutral docking station. Producers go through intensive training on the mobile plant’s HACCP plans, SSOPs and SOPs and act as the plant’s on-site manager on the day their birds are scheduled for processing. Each farmer provides their own labor and no birds from other farms are allowed on the same day. After processing, the products are reclaimed by the farmer for marketing or storage. They attribute their success in obtaining an exemption to 1) the location of the docking stations at neutral sites, 2) the intensive training farmers undergo to act as plant managers, and 3) the farmers maintaining control of their individual products before, during, and after slaughter.

Below are the poultry exemptions requiring a 5-A slaughter/processing facility in New York State.

Producer/Grower or Other Person (PGOP) Exemption – 20,000 Limit Exemption

The term “Producer/Grower or Other Person” (PGOP) refers to a single entity, which may be 1) a  poultry grower who slaughters and processes poultry that he or she raised, or 2) a person who purchases live poultry from a grower and then slaughters and processes these poultry.

The business is limited to slaughtering and processing no more 20,000 poultry in a calendar year that the producer/grower or other person raised or purchased. A business preparing poultry products under the PGOP exemption may not slaughter or process poultry for another person.

Under this exemption, a business is limited to marketing their poultry products directly to: 1) household consumers, 2) restaurants, 3) hotels, and 4) boarding houses for use in dining rooms or in the preparation of meals sold directly to customers within the jurisdiction where it is prepared. A business preparing poultry products under the PGOP exemption may not sell the products to a retail store or other producer/grower.

These poultry products can only be distributed by the manufacturer and cannot be marketed out of state. The producer/grower or other person cannot buy or sell poultry or poultry products prepared under other exemptions in the same calendar year that he or she claims the Producer/Grower Exemption.

Similar to the Personal Use Exemption and Custom Exemption, any shipping containers must bear the processor’s name, address and the statement, Exempt P.L. 90-492. Additionally, a statement of “Safe Handling Instructions” needs to be included. Please note that the “Safe Handling Instructions” for the poultry exemptions must be modified so that the standard clause stating that product is “USDA inspected” has been removed. Wing tags and safe handling instructions are the responsibility of the 5-A facility and must be approved and filed with NYSDAM.

Producer/Grower – 20,000 Limit Exemption

This exemption is designed for poultry growers who raise more than 1000 and less than 20,000 birds in a calendar year for slaughter/processing. The birds must be slaughtered and processed at a 5-A facility on the farmer’s own premises and the facility cannot be used to slaughter and process for another producer.

The grower is permitted to use rented equipment (including an approved mobile slaughter/processing service), but the equipment cannot be used to slaughter or process another person’s birds while on the grower’s premises. The grower is required to have a 5-A license for his or her own premise, even when using a mobile service or rental equipment.

Poultry processed under this exemption can be marketed within state by the grower to any type of business or consumer including a household consumer, hotel, restaurant, retail store, institution, or distributor.

Unlike the rules for the other exemptions, under this exemption, the producer is NOT the only one permitted to distribute the poultry products that he or she produced under the exemption; however, the birds must have been raised by the producer/grower. The birds slaughtered and processed under this exemption may be sold to a wholesaler or other distributor, though the poultry can only be sold within the state in which it was raised, slaughtered, and processed.

The grower may not buy or sell poultry products prepared under another exemption in the same calendar year in which this exemption is claimed.

Instead of the required features of a label of inspected product, the label only needs to bear the producer’s name, b. producer’s address, “Safe Handling Instructions” (see above), and the statement, “Exempt P.L. 90-492.” Wing tags are required for birds being processed under the producer/grower exemption.

Small Enterprise Exemption – 20,000 Limit Exemption

Under this exemption processing of birds is limited to the cutting up of dressed carcasses. No manufacturing of product is allowed. For example, turkey sausage cannot be made under this exemption. Slaughtering of birds is allowed. A business can dress no more than 20,000 birds in a calendar year under this exemption.

Poultry can be marketed to any type of business or consumer including a hotel, restaurant, institution, retail store, or distributor.

A business that qualifies for the Small Enterprise Exemption may be 1) a producer/grower who raises live poultry, 2) a business that purchases live poultry, or 3) a business that purchases dressed poultry for further distribution.

A small enterprise is not required to have slaughtered the poultry it cuts up under a Small Enterprise Exemption. Instead, it may purchase poultry slaughtered under USDA federal inspection or at another instate 5-A facility processed under the Producer/Grower 20,000 Bird Limit Exemption.

A small enterprise may handle “pass through” product and may cut exempt product produced under the Producer/Grower 20,000 bird Exemption. A small enterprise may also sell live poultry to a customer and then slaughter, dress, and cut up the poultry for the customer.

A small enterprise may not cut up and distribute poultry products produced under the Small Enterprise Exemption to another business operating under the Producer/Grower Exemption, PGOP Exemption, Retail Dealer Exemption, or the Retail Store Exemptions. Further, this facility cannot be used to slaughter or dress another person’s poultry unless the Administrator of FSIS grants an exemption.

However, it is completely legal for a business operating under the Small Enterprise Exemption to buy live poultry from another poultry raiser, slaughter and dress the birds, and then sell the same birds back to the original grower who can now act as a distributor of the product and market it to retail stores, restaurants, and direct consumers. The farmer/distributor cannot hold a 5-A Producer/Grower license. It is important to note that these two buy-sell transactions be recorded separately and that receipts be kept for both purchase/sale be recorded. Receipts should not indicate any charge for slaughtering or dressing.

Wing tags are required for birds being processed under the small enterprise exemption. Labels for poultry products marketed under the Small Enterprise Exemption must include plant owner’s name, address, product’s name, ingredient list, date of packing, “Safe Handling Instructions” and the statement, “Exempt P.L. 90-492. The 5-A plant can also add the statement if the 5-A plant is providing the labels.

If the 5-A plant is providing the label then the statement “Manufactured by __Plant ABC” must be on the label. In addition the words, “Manufactured for _Farmer ABC____” or “Distributed by _Farmer ABC_” may be added to the label to indicate the name of the distributor (farmer). The address and phone must be that of the processor, but may also include that of the distributor.

If the distributor (or farmer) is providing the label, then the distributor’s name (the farmer) should predominately appear on the label and the statement should read “Processed for _ Farmer ABC ___” . In addition, the words “Manufactured by  _Plant ABC___” may be added to indicate the processing facility. The address and phone must be that of the distributor, but may also include that of the processor. All other labeling requirements apply.

A distributor can not resell birds under this exemption to another distributor. Rather the distributor can act as a transporter, simply carrying, trucking or moving the birds between the parties.

Retail Exemptions (Store/Dealer/Restaurant)

A retail business is a facility where poultry products are sold to a customer (household consumers and hotels, restaurants, and similar institutions) at the retail business and the amounts purchased by the customer are considered normal amounts for retail purchase. These exemptions are not commonly claimed by poultry growers.

The Act provides for several types of retail exemptions: (1) the Retail Dealer Exemption, (2) the Retail Store Exemption, and (3) the Restaurant Exemption. The type of poultry transactions and slaughter and processing operations a business conducts, determines which retail exemption under which the business may produce poultry and whether a 5-A license is required.

Retail Dealer Exemption

Businesses operating under this exemption are not permitted to slaughter poultry. Instead, they purchase poultry carcasses or parts. They are not permitted to process any poultry but are only allowed to cut-up USDA inspected poultry. No other forms of processing are allowed under this exemption. In addition, a 5-A license is required.

Any out of state sales they make are limited to their USDA inspected poultry products. Any poultry products they sell to instate customers must either have been USDA inspected or slaughtered/processed at an instate Producer/Grower or Small Enterprise Exempt plant. Keep in mind that birds slaughtered/processed under the PGOP Exemption cannot be sold to retail dealers or stores.

There is no limit on the pounds of poultry products a retail dealer can sell to his or her customers under the Retail Dealer Exemption. However, sales to hotels, restaurants, and similar institutions cannot exceed 25% of the dollar value of their total poultry product sales. In other words, 75% or more of their sales have to be to household consumers. They are not permitted to sell to other retail markets or distributors.

Labels for poultry products produced under the Retail Store Exemption which was not slaughtered and processed at a USDA federally inspected plant must include product’s name, ingredients statement, statement of quantity of contents (weight or measure), name and address of manufacturer, date of packing, “Safe Handling Instructions” and a statement indicating why the inspection legend is not permitted such as “Retail Exemption from inspection.

Retail Store Exemption

Many of the live poultry markets in New York City are licensed as 5-A facilities under this exemption. The only poultry that can be slaughtered under the retail store exemption is poultry that is purchased live at the retail store by the customer and then slaughtered, dressed and prepared according to the customer’s instructions at the same retail store and delivered back to the customer. If the store takes orders for dressed poultry before the arrival of the customer (for example, by phone), and slaughters several birds at one time for various customers, the birds must be identified throughout the process so that the processed bird that each customer receives is the same live bird originally selected by or for them.

The retail business is not allowed to custom slaughter live birds delivered to the facility by the customer but can custom process poultry carcasses delivered by the customer if they were slaughtered under USDA inspection or an acceptable poultry exemption.

Similar to the previous exemption, any other poultry products the retail store sells to instate customers must either have been USDA inspected or slaughtered/processed at an instate Producer/Grower or Small Enterprise Exempt plant.

Exempt retailers are not permitted to sell to other retail markets or distributors, nor can any of their federally exempt poultry products be marketed out of state.

The allowed processing operations under the retail store exemption include boning, cut up, stuffing, smoking, rendering, and salting. Canning is not permitted.

Poultry sales are limited to “normal retail amounts”. These are considered less than 75 pounds for household consumers and less than 150 pounds for hotels, restaurants, and similar institutions. Sales to hotels, restaurants and similar institutions cannot exceed 25% of the dollar value of their total poultry product sales nor can these sales exceed the dollar limit for retail stores set each calendar year by the Administrator of FSIS. This dollar limit is published each year in the Federal Register and does not include pass through poultry products derived from federally inspected poultry that are not further processed at the retail store.

Labels for poultry products produced under the Retail Store Exemption which was not slaughtered and processed at a USDA federally inspected plant must include product’s name, ingredients statement, statement of quantity of contents (weight or measure), name and address of manufacturer, date of packing, “Safe Handling Instructions” and a statement indicating why the inspection legend is not permitted such as “Retail Exemption from inspection.

Retail Restaurant Exemption

The poultry used in the preparation of meals at a restaurant with this exemption must either have been slaughtered under USDA inspection or at a 5-A plant which is permitted to sell to restaurants (PGOP, Producer/Grower or Small Enterprise) While a 5-A license is not required for this exemption, restaurants are regulated by the State or local Departments of Health and are required to have an appropriate permit.

For more information on poultry processing in New York and to apply for specific poultry exemptions, contact the NYSDAM Division of Food Safety Inspection at 1-518-457-8835. The

FSIS District Office is located at 230 Washington Ave. Extension, Albany, NY 12203-5369 and can be reached by phone at (518) 452-6870