Press-Republican

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January 22, 2012

Producers market local meat

One of the things I have learned from the livestock farmers in our area is that marketing their livestock is one of the toughest jobs they have.

Raising beef cattle, sheep or goats is often a labor of love. Owning some land and using it to raise a food product and generate some income is the dream of many. The producer may not be depending on farming for their livelihood but still wants to have a sustainable and profitable enterprise.

So, while owning and raising livestock is by no means uncomplicated, often the biggest hurdle for the livestock producer is selling their product. Unlike our local dairy farmers and apple growers, there is a lack of infrastructure for the local slaughter and processing of livestock products to be sold at retail.

There are several avenues by which a livestock farmer can sell his or her product. The first option would be the wholesale market where the producer would sell his animal as a commodity. In this case, the farmer usually takes his cattle, sheep or goats to an auction where buyers from near and far purchase livestock for other growers or large meat-processing plants located far outside our region. This method requires the least amount of marketing but generally offers the lowest profit margin.

Another common method that many livestock producers use to sell locally grown beef, sheep and goats is to sell to the "freezer" market. Consumers can purchase all, a half or a quarter of the live animal and have it processed locally at a custom slaughterhouse. Since the consumer is purchasing a portion of the live animal, this allows them to be in control of how their share of the animal is processed.

While this is often more profitable than selling your livestock at auction for wholesale prices, it does still involve finding one to four customers, timing and arranging the details and keeping everyone happy. This marketing effort is not always easy and some farmers just don't want to deal with customers.

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