Choosing a meat processor is a big decision. Start by making a list of inspected processors within what you consider a reasonable driving distance from your farm, and then do research.
– Do some Google searching to find out if the processor has a website. Some have very comprehensive websites where you can learn just about everything you need to know.
– Check with other meat producers you know to find out if they have experience with any of the plants on your list. Farmer experiences are very useful pieces of information, and can help you avoid trainwrecks. Even if a processor is great, they likely have quirks such as needing a certain amount of lead time for scheduling, or wanting animals brought in at a certain time of day, or needing you to do your own unloading — tips like that.
– Visit the plant yourself if at all possible, just to see it with your own eyes. Will your livestock hauling equipment work with their unloading facilities? That can be a problematic issue.
Here are a few tips for searching the MDA and USDA databases of processors, in order to compile a list of those within reasonable driving distance:
MDA: Equal-To meat processing plants are listed on this web page:
Depending on what kind of animals you need to get processed, look at EITHER
- “Meat Slaughter Facilities: Plants that slaughter and further process meat only,” OR
- “Poultry/Rabbit Processors: Plants that slaughter and process poultry only”Red meat and poultry slaughter have different requirements. Most plants don’t do both.
Do not choose plants from the list titled “Meat and Poultry Processors: Plants that further process meat and /or poultry.” That is the longest list, and those plants do not do slaughter and processing of whole animals. They are inspected Equal-To plants because of state and federal requirements for inspection of food manufacturing facilities that make food products containing meat — so this list includes sausage-makers; pizza-makers; producers of soups, sambusas, etc.
That narrows it down considerably, to about two dozen plants that do inspected slaughter & processing.
USDA: The list is humongous, but again there are ways to pare it down to just the few that are relevant. Use the searchable database on this page:
Scroll down that page to find the directory you can sort and search by column headings.
Put “MN” in the State column first, to get just Minnesota plants.
Then look at the “Activities” column, which is second from the right-hand side; and the “DBAs” column, which is all the way to the right.
The database includes poultry processors; egg facilities; meat processors; food manufacturers that use meat, egg and poultry products; and some cold storage warehouses and distributors. You can figure out from the Activities column which plants are relevant to you. Looks for ones that say BOTH “meat slaughter” and “meat processing.” That will winnow the list considerably.
The database includes very large corporate plants as well as smaller plants. Generally, if you see a bunch of brand names that you recognize from the grocery store in the DBAs column, the plant is not going to serve small-scale farmers. If it includes some DBAs that might be specialty brands of that processor, then the plant might be small enough to serve individual farmers. For example, Deutschland Meats in Lindstrom, MN is a USDA processor that has three DBAs of specialty meat brands; but they aren’t major store brands. Deutschland is a processor that serves farmers.
You can also get some clues from the business names. If it has “Locker” in the name, it’s a pretty safe bet that it serves individual farmers. If the business name includes a major national brand, leave it off your list because it won’t serve small farmers.